How are sustainable leather bags made?
Ad | In her Master thesis, AMD Berlin student Luna Mazzolini shows us modern design concepts for fashion accessories by the example of sustainable leather bags. Therefore she developed a sustainable leather bags collection with different environmentally-friendly materials and methods. I met her at the roundtable of Sourcebook, held at Fashion Council Germany in Berlin.
Luna, how did you come to take leather into consideration for your master thesis project?
As an accessory designer, I have always worked with leather. This is due to the fact that it is the most common material employed, which is further due to its durable properties and adaptability to different designs and functions.
Then, with this project I wanted to take the chance to research, study and get insights from experts of this extremely complex and controversial industry. I wanted to prove that it is possible to develop a product with a positive environmental and human footprint, of course analyzing the necessity of regulations, transparency and creative thinking to find new solutions to the sustainability issues.
Finally, I believe that leather, as a by-product of the food industry, if not processed into a useful material is at risk to become just waste, threatening to pollute our environment. Then, new creative solutions and more transparent processes to overcome the sustainability issues of the industry of leather are necessary.
Behind your sustainable leather bags collection is the goal of circularity by, e.g. using bonded leather and screwable metal parts and the idea of inheritance. Please, tell us more about that.
Everything started with the idea of creating some products which can belong to three different generations of one family, thus creating more emotional engagement with the consumer and a longer lifespan for the designs.
While researching and experimenting, I developed my own sustainable design strategy of Design for Inheritance, gathering approaches such as timeless aesthetic, technical durability, aging gracefully, formal sharing, and recyclability.
My main goal was to create a circular system for the collection through recyclability of the products, once they have reached the end of their lives.
With the support of some experts of the industry (e.g. Olivenleder ®), I developed a model visualizing the circular systems of the leather industry and identified a gap. In conversation with some bonded leather producers, I realized that nowadays this materials is produced exclusively with pre-consumer waste – or wet blue – due to the fact that facilities aren’t yet ready to process post-consumer waste.
However, this procedure is possible and opens up new possibilities for the recyclability of unwanted leather goods. Then, through a personally developed double hand-stitch seam, which results both extremely durable and easy to disassemble, along with the adoption of only screwable metal parts and monomateriality of the bodies, the collection has been designed to be recycled into bonded leather and be the material for the linings and tags of the future collection, successfully closing the loop.
Polyurethane coatings are used in the leather industry to extend the lifespan of the leather. For your leather goods, you took a bio-based polyurethane coating. How is that made?
During my research I aimed to find sustainable alternatives to the regular petroleum- and water-based polyurethane coatings. In conversation with some experts, I discovered that some companies developed new biotechnologies to produce another class of polyurethanes with particularly beneficial effects on the environment.
It is based on oils extracted from plants such as soybean, castor bean and rapeseed, which are then processed into a valid PU substitute. As a result, the bio-based PU shows to have the same performances of its traditional alternatives and even some better properties for durability and water resistance, proving a generally more positive environmental and human footprint.
In addition, I used this coating, which is a good UV protector, to develop an aging-gracefully effect on the surface of the leather. By using the technique of the stencil, I applied this coating to the surface. This has the effect that while the product ages, causing the leather to change its color because of the sun, the coating will shine brighter against the background.
In this way the product will evolve and mutually grow with the consumer, ensuring the product to become more aesthetically interesting and to emotionally involve the consumer, extending the lifespan of the leather good.
Your concept shall be a guideline for designers to produce timeless and environmental-friendly objects, which are an active part of the circular economy. I think that is a very good approach for the fashion industry and should be spread more. Are you planning to continue to work in this field?
I believe that circularity is an imperative need of the fashion industry and at the same time it is a powerful design tool, which can lead to extremely interesting new design strategies and creative solutions. Then, I believe my trip of researching and designing in this field has just started and I am really excited to see where it will take me.
What is your wish for the future of leather goods production?
I wish that designers will learn to cooperate more with the technical experts of the leather industry, in order to find creative solutions to rooted sustainability issues, together.
I believe collaboration, transparency, and the acknowledgement that a circular economy is the only possible economy will be the future of this industry and I look forward to giving my contribution.
More information about Luna Mazzolini and her sustainable leather bags project you can find on Instagram.
© Pictures by Luna Mazzolini
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