Leather, Italy and Sustainability Gets Put to the Test

Volpi Conceria tannery

All too often, these familiar claims are thrown around when condemning the use of leather:

“Leather is a byproduct of the meat industry.”

“Cows are killed for leather.”

“Leather tanning is toxic for the environment.”

Vegan leather is more eco-friendly than leather.”

Being a materials-driven designer, I grapple with the balance of creating with beautiful yet durable materials in a sustainable factor.   I have been quite outspoken on this issue, as I don’t think it’s a completely black and white answer when it comes to whether a material is eco-friendly.

Volpi Conceria tannery

So through my Venture Fellowship at BF+DA, I’ve been provided the opportunity to participate in first person full sensory experience in the cultural context in the birthplace of vegetable-tanned leather at Pelle Vegetale Consortium, in a tiny village called San Miniato in Tuscany. During my stay here, I will be exploring ancient techniques of this luxurious material often called ‘vacchetta’, which is imbued with historical and social value.

This lush agricultural region’s reputation to being connected to the land in a mindful way will be my backdrop while I immerse myself in this experience. Hopefully finding out the truth behind those claims (and others) that are thrown around. I will be joining a hand-selected group of academics and students visiting vegetable leather tanneries to learn where the leather comes from, tour one of the most advanced water treatment systems in the world, meet other small-batch leather designers, and learn centuries-old techniques from master craftspersons from the region.

Volpi Conceria tannery

As an artisan, this invitation is obviously a bucket-list opportunity. And I won’t lie: It is also a welcome catalyst to experiment – to stretch myself in ways I don’t usually have opportunity or resources to try. As a designer who cares about sustainability, I want to investigate further in a creative and explorative manner and to share with you all my experience.

Got a question? Email me on my site Crystalyn Kae and let me know what you think about knowing where your leather comes from or whether you have your own challenges with accepting it.

Volpi Conceria tannery

Since 2001, Author Crystalyn Kae has designed handbags and accessories produced from ethically sourced and reclaimed materials. Beloved by fashion mavens and independent spirits alike, the Crystalyn Kae handbag is a symbol of socially-conscious style.

This post was originally published on Crystalyn Kae.