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Leather Suppliers at Lineapelle New York are Working Their Way Into the Circular Economy

Leather goods makers are stepping up their sustainability quotient.

The nature of the leather industry’s supply chain, with animals the most common source of raw materials, has presented special challenges to manufacturers, but exhibitors at Lineapelle New York said they are taking steps to meet those needs.

Many companies at this week’s show were touting certification by the Institute of Quality Certification for the Leather Sector (ICEC), the only certification Institute in Europe and worldwide that is specific to the leather sector.

The ICEC issues certifications on sustainability topics that include environmental stewardship, social accountability, quality, product, traceability of raw materials and chemicals usage.

Its tanneries, according to a brochure, recover 76 percent of the waste produced by the meat industry, making leather “an authentic…example of the circular economy.” ICEC said the Italian tanning industry has created sustainable programs and strategies that have helped reduce water, energy and chemical usage, as well as worker safety initiatives.

[Read more about leather goods: Bangladesh Plans to More than Quadruple Leather Exports to Boost Footwear Sourcing]

At Pan American Leathers Inc., vice president Abam Mendal, said, “The leather manufacturing industry in the United States is so regulated and controlled, that companies have to operate with sustainable methods. Most of what we do is about conservations of species and ethical treatment of animals.”

Pan American Leathers is a third-generation exotic skin tannery, wholesaler and retailer with tanneries in New York and Colombia. The company tans, colors and finishes alligator, anaconda, crocodile, lizard and python skins at its tannery in Gloversville, New York, and caiman skin at its tannery in Colombia tannery. Mendal noted that customers can buy from stock on its website or at its New York showrooms, or they offer a make-to-order option.

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Mendal noted that alligators in Louisiana, for example, are farm raised so they are not exposed to predators.

“A lot of leather manufacturing is local and is great for the local community as a job creator,” he said. “We also have our own water treatment plant so we can control that end of the manufacturing.”

Pan American Leathers is a member of the IUCN-SSC Crocodile Specialist Group, a worldwide network involved in the conservation of the world’s 23 species of alligators, crocodiles, caimans and gharials. The CSG network of experts advises governments and wildlife management agencies, evaluates the conservation needs of crocodilian populations, initiates research projects, conducts surveys of wild populations, provides technical information and training and initiates conservation programs.

Similarly, American Tanning and Leather, located in Griffin, Georgia, was showing its signature alligator leather from Louisiana. A representative for the company noted that all skins tanned by American Tanning and Leather are hand-selected directly from Louisiana’s alligator fishermen and manufactured in the U.S.

Jose Galles Fuster, chief executive officer of Inter Leather, based in Barcelona, said that company has developed a motto–“Better Leather, Better World,” that it uses in promotional material and its operational standard.

“We want to produce leather in the right way that better for the environment, for the industry and for the world.” Fuster said.

Inter Leather produces various collections for the footwear, leather goods and upholstery sectors. Fuster showed a leather made entirely from recycled materials, and also markets some vegetable-tanned leathers.

He noted that all Inter Leather products are chrome free, meaning the pre-tanning is done with vegetable extracts, neutralizing agents and finishing agents, all of which are free from chromium. This method yields a leather product that doesn’t use toxic chemicals or leave a negative impact on the environment.

Inter Leather’s production facilities operate on a closed-loop system, recycling waste and generating its own energy, which Fuster noted has taken substantial investment.

Black Diamond Alligator tannery in Lecanto, Florida, also said it only uses humanely harvested wild American Alligator, and that it ensures environmental integrity in its operations.

The facility features a modern water treatment plant that processes all water used during the tanning process. The tannery only tans sustainable wild skins, meaning the alligators have lived their lives in natural environments and are humanely harvested for their meat, not solely for their skins.