Make The Best Out Of Waste: Upcycling Leather

Leather as a material is a divisive topic of conversation for those within the industry and those wanting to live more sustainably. Undoubtedly it is still one of the most durable materials out there. Yet, tonnes of this resource intensive material end up in the landfill everyday.

Some of the biggest names in fashion and lifestyle have seen a backlash for contributing in major ways to this excessive waste production:

left: slashed nike shoes; right: Burberry spring 2021 runway, ChromeFree Leather Alliance
Left: Slashed Shoes Discarded outside of Nike Store, NYT; Right: Burberry Spring 2021 Runway, Vogue

After facing major backlash around the world, fashion companies have stepped up to the plate and promised to do better. One way they are attempting to reduce waste and increase sustainability is by harnessing the power of upcycling.

For the leather industry, a little creativity can go a long way.

What is Upcycling For The Leather Industry?

Upcycling leather is the reuse and repurposing of discarded leather offcuts and scraps to create products of higher value than the originals.

For example, in 2018, Burberry teamed up with sustainable luxury company Elvis & Kresse to upcycle 120 tons of leather offcuts into brand new products — a process that was far more useful and environmentally friendly than setting the goods on fire.

“Leather is a precious material, yet many of the off cuts generated by the design process are seen as worthless. We believe that this can change, and we are proud to lead the way in showing how creativity and craftsmanship can play a part in solving this issue.”, said Christopher Bailey, former president and Chief Creative Officer of Burberry Group.
Burberry upcycling leather for handbags
Upcycling Leather, Elvis & Kreese

In 2019, Nike teamed up with MINIWIZ to design and build the groundbreaking Nike Kicks Lounge X Xinyi A11, a Nike store constructed from over 250 pairs of used sneakers. The project also recycled 12,000 PET bottles into the lounge’s Air Brick wall and transformed the soles and insoles of discarded shoes into carpets and various other furnishings.

Nike Kicks Lounge Showroom Store Taiwan
Nike Kicks Lounge X Xinyi A11, MINIWIZ

Benefits of the Upcycling Fashion Industry

Upcycling promises to transform the economy in ways that benefit companies, consumers, and the environment alike.

Instead of defaulting to the “take-make-waste” economic model, upcycling helps to support the development of a circular economy. With a circular economy, materials that are already in circulation get continually re-used and repurposed, helping to reduce manufacturing costs and preserve precious environmental resources.

shoe soles made with upcycled leather scraps
Footwear soles made with leather scraps by designer Jake Sketch

For Companies Using Leather

Brands and businesses can launch take-back programs, which are initiatives that allow customers to return leather items in a certain condition in exchange for gift cards or other benefits and rewards.

Barely worn and used leather can be refreshed and resold, while lightly used or damaged clothing can be upcycled to create new products. Companies can, of course, also upcycle unsold stock in lieu of sending it to the incinerator or the landfills.

  • Take-back programs can help companies acquire more customers, since having the option to return used leather products in exchange for rewards will encourage people to appear again and again as repeat customers.
  • Upcycling leather lets companies profit from products that aren’t selling or profit more than once from old products.
  • Repurposing existing materials enables manufacturers to skip over several stages of traditional processing and thereby reduce production costs.

For Consumers

In today’s day and age, consumers across the globe are educating themselves and becoming increasingly environmentally conscientious. They expect major corporations to do their part in preserving natural resources, curtailing greenhouse gas emissions, and reducing waste.

  • Purchasing upcycled leather products will allow conscientious consumers to shop with confidence, knowing that the products they buy do not contribute to global waste production.
  • The upcycling leather industry can produce products that are trendier and more unique than what currently exists in the market, increasing variety and offering consumers fresh, new styles to love and enjoy.
vase made with upcycled leather
Vase Made by Dutch Designer Pepe Heykoop

Get great content updates from our team to your inbox.