Launched Thursday, the “Deforestation-free Call to Action for Leather” represents an opportunity to unify the fashion industry’s efforts to improve transparency in leather sourcing. The initiative looks to set guidance on leather sourcing, with the WWF, the National Wildlife Federation and the Accountability Framework initiative as consulting partners.
Early signatories include Adidas, American Eagle Outfitters Inc., AllSaints, Arezzo&Co, BMW Group, Capri Holdings Ltd., H&M Group, Icebug, Kering, Mango, Marks & Spencer, Puma, Range Revolution, Reformation, Roots, R.M.Williams and Tapestry Inc.
Brand signatories offered supporting statements for the initiative with Puma, for one, addressing its climate concerns. Cattle ranching alone is responsible for 80 percent of total forest clearance in the Amazon, per the Yale School of Forestry.
“With growing concerns about climate change, the loss of biodiversity and plastic pollution, our world is facing an environmental crisis. At Puma we are ready to act and contribute to solutions,” a brand representative said. “Puma aims to reduce its impact on biodiversity, so we commit to sourcing all the bovine leather used in our products from verified deforestation-free supply chains by 2030. Puma aims to end deforestation to protect wildlife habitat and biodiversity and preserve carbon stocks to mitigate climate change for bovine leather (from cattle, primarily raised for beef production).”
For many signatories, leather is ingrained into brand DNA, and targets were already established well before this initiative took hold. By the numbers, brands are sourcing a significant portion of leather from LWG-certified facilities. This includes American Eagle (claiming to source 100 percent of its leather from LWG-certified facilities), Icebug (100 percent), Puma (100 percent, for footwear), Range Revolution (100 percent, for luggage), Reformation (100 percent), Adidas (99 percent), Capri (91 percent), M&S (90 percent) and Coach (70 percent for leather goods, 99 percent for footwear).
The rest are also taking up traceability ambitions. Kering said wool and leather are more than 95 percent fully traceable in its supply chain. Mango said cotton, cellulosic fibers, wool and leather represented a priority portion, or 56 percent, of its material mix and the company is looking to set clearer parameters in 2023. H&M, meanwhile, said 75 percent of its leather was “chrome-free tanned leather,” (up from 51 percent in 2021). AllSaints does not disclose its leather sourcing but said it is a member of LWG. Arezzo&Co. said 23 percent of its leather could be traced back to national meat-packing companies in 2022.
The Leather Working Group is one of the most used international leather certifications for tanneries and manufacturers in fashion. LWG audits facilities by their environmental credentials (including chemical and waste management) with medal levels awarded at 85 percent (gold), 75 percent (silver) and 65 percent (bronze). Facilities must score above 65 out of 100 in the assessment. The organization does not do audits at the farm level.
Christina Trautmann, head of Leather Working Group, told WWD fashion’s commitment is expanding.
“Over the last few years, this commitment has been steadily increasing as more brands set time-bound targets to increase the volume of LWG-sourced leather in their portfolio. Particularly in the last year, this has increased by almost 15 percent.”
Leather certifications only go so far. That’s where “conversion-free” leather fits into the sustainability picture. The term arose, in earnest, via Textile Exchange’s Leather Impact Accelerator, or LIA, which was a pilot trial that began in 2021 in Brazil. Brands including H&M participated in the pilot to help establish guide-rails on a more responsible leather supply chain. Textile Exchange defines deforestation or conversion-free leather as leather that requires third-party verification, and essentially, little to no land conversion — or deforestation to make way for cattle — at the farm level (give or take one hectare of variance).
LWG and Textile Exchange’s initiative requires farm-level deforestation and conversion-free leather sourcing goals. Signatories must set and meet supply chain targets, make farm-level financial investments, implement a traceability system, abide by human rights codes of conduct and report progress on an annual basis via Textile Exchange’s designated leather road map under its Materials Benchmark. Under the deforestation-free initiative, brands need to establish targets in the first six months of signing on, per the groups, and by the first year, they must demonstrate their first financial investment.
“By 2030 or earlier, signatories are committing to buying all leather from verified, deforestation/ conversion-free sources. We encourage brands to set an earlier target if it is practical and sensible to do so,” Anne Gillespie, Textile Exchange’s director of Impact Acceleration, told WWD. “We recognize that not all brands are starting with the same level of knowledge and visibility of their bovine leather supply chains and additional time may be required for the development and implementation of activities critical to ensuring deforestation/conversion-free supply chains.”