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Ganni: Selling Leather Footwear Will Soon be ‘Outdated Like Smoking’

Leather is on its way out at Ganni. Coming in? Grapes.

The Danish fashion label, which emphatically insists that it’s “not a sustainable brand,” revealed this week that it’s partnering with Italian manufacturer Vegea, as “a step” in its “journey” to phase out cowhide by 2023.

For its spring/summer 2022 collection, Ganni will include eight pairs of shoes clad in a vegan leather alternative derived from the stalks, skins and pips of grapes that are usually discarded during wine production. The same collection, Ganni said, marks the end of the use of bovine leather in its ready-to-wear, previously a profitable category for the brand. The brand is also pivoting away from conventional leather in accessories and shoes and plans to ditch the material entirely in two years’ time.

“Selling leather products, although highly profitable, will soon be as outdated as smoking on TV,” Ganni founder Nicolaj Reffstrup said in a statement. “We’re phasing out leather completely by 2023, as it conflicts with our efforts to minimize our impact due to high levels of methane emissions from the livestock. Introducing Vegea, a plant-based alternative made from agricultural waste is a step in the direction towards more responsible collections.”

Reffstrup said Ganni had struggled to find the right leather alternative because of quality concerns and the high levels of plastic in many available materials, which often rely on petrochemical-based polymers, solvents, binding agents or plasticizers to mimic the structural integrity and technical performance of cowhide. Vegea, a winner of the 2017 H&M Foundation Global Change Award, comprises 55 percent bio-compound and 45 percent water-based polyurethane—a “relatively low” amount of plastic compared with market standards. And though a recent study by a German research institute found traces of the restricted substance toluene in a sample of Vegea it tested, Ganni said that Vegea’s REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals)-compliant “rigorous testing” meets its high standards.

Ersatz leathers made from pineapple leaves, mushroom mycelium, and even cereal grains are gaining traction as consumers increasingly shun animal-based materials. Pageviews for the term “vegan leather” have surged by 178 percent year over year, fashion search engine Lyst noted this month, while searches for garments made from mushroom-based materials like Bolt Threads’s Mylo ticked up 38 percent. If technological advances keep pace with consumer enthusiasm, annual sales of “low-complexity” leather alternatives made from plants, fungi and leather waste could soar past $1 billion by 2025, according to Boston consultancy Lux Research.

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The eight styles, which include sneakers, sandals and loafers in pink, baby blue, burgundy, black and white, will be available at Ganni.com and select retailers from early 2022.

Ganni x VegeaBiomaterials aside, Ganni is also making a play for pre-owned. Together with resale-as-a-service platform Reflaunt, the label plans to roll out its own resale website in 2022. The move was a logical one for Ganni. Working with the Royal Danish Academy to map its performance after the point of sale, the brand found a high level of engagement in the resale of its products. In the case of styles that were especially exclusive or produced in small batches, many were resold at prices higher than what they initially went for. Items with responsible attributes such as recycled materials, too, maintained more of their value in the secondhand space.

“What we found was that Ganni is a very popular resale brand,” Else Skjold, associate professor at the Royal Danish Academy, said at CFS+, the digital version of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, earlier this month. “It’s actually No. 1 and 2 every year in Denmark.”

Researchers uncovered a greater demand for larger sizes than smaller ones in the resale market, which Ganni CEO Andrea Baldo said is likely due to the “digital experience” of most secondhand platforms. “That has given us the opportunity to understand that if we think about secondhand, we need to think about sizing and size inclusivity in a different way,” he said at CFS+.

The study also found a growing number of “entrepreneurs” or “retailers of the future” who weren’t just Marie Kondo’ing their wardrobes to “make a few bucks,” as Baldo put it, but actively purchasing products with an eye on their future resale value. “When we combined all these learnings, we felt there was really a business case [for resale] because there is value that we can capture after the first purchase,” he added.

Ganni’s resale element will reside on the brand’s website in a “simple and seamless manner,” said Stephanie Crespin, CEO and co-founder of Reflaunt, which recently partnered with Yoox Net-a-Porter to resell products across its Net-a-Porter, Mr Porter and The Outnet properties. Customers will be able to resell their past purchases with a “click from their Ganni account” that “broadcasts” the item listing across a network of marketplaces worldwide. Once sold, the product will ship to the buyer and the Ganni customer will receive payment either in cash or Ganni shopping credits.

Such a strategy, rather than a stand-alone marketplace, is better-suited for brands like Ganni that have an international audience, Crispin said. “Here, the brand and the retailer still own the resale experience—customers are selling through Ganni.com,” she said. “But the sale is done through external marketplaces that already have their secondhand database, that already have that knowledge and reach out to customers that are looking to buy secondhand.”

For a not-sustainable sustainable business like Ganni, the shift to resale is an obvious one. “It makes a lot of sense if you’re a sustainable brand because you obviously want to extract more value from the resources you’re using for producing,” Baldo said. “We are trying to say, ‘How can I develop, to still be able to find business, without growing my impact?’ But it also makes sense when you think about the long-term value of your customers beyond a single transaction.”

The “stickier” the platform, he said, the more value a company captures from customer engagement. Providing a resale channel allows Ganni to convert third-party transactions that are already happening into direct-to-consumer ones.

“It’s also a way to reduce customer acquisition costs,” Baldo said.