What Is Gold-Rated Leather?
Well, you might know the story of how Jason won the golden fleece. Or the adventure of Jack and the golden goose eggs.
But do you know the one about the golden leather?
Ok, gold-rated leather doesn’t involve slaying giants, or defeating undead warriors - and it’s not actually leather made from a golden cow - but it does set us on a hero’s journey to try to make a positive impact in the World through our choices and our purchases.
It also involves a great challenge. The tanneries that attain the gold rating need to push themselves and prove their ethical standards.
And it’s not the gods of Olympus who decree, but rather the decision is based on a complex global standardization of environmental and workplace norms.
This allows you to compare the leather you buy.
Gold is the top rating - and the leather you must seek, my fellow traveler.
What is leather and how is it tanned?
Let’s start at the basics.
For millennia humans have made leather. In its most basic form, it is the dried hide of an animal.
As human technology advanced, we found out new ways to preserve the hides and make them softer and easier to manipulate for clothing.
We know that tanning has been around for at least 9000 years. This is a way to prepare the hide by leaving it in concoctions of natural ingredients for around a month. (The word tanning comes from the Latin tannum, meaning oak bark - one of the central elements). This softens the leather and allows a broader variety of uses. It also means you can dye the leather different colors.
Enter the modern era, and all sorts of chemicals and metals started to be used - most importantly, chrome. This was called non-vegetable tanning (or part-vegetable tanning for a combined method).
Chrome plays an important role in making a leather that is soft and pliable - and means the process can be done in only one day. Because of this, this method has almost entirely replaced the traditional approaches.
The downside of chrome and the other chemicals involved, however, is that they can be bad for the environment and dangerous for the health of the tanners.
But not only this, many unsustainable practices crept into the trade, such as poor waste management polluting water systems, in order to produce leather quickly and cheaply for the market demand.
In recent years, many tanneries have tried to find innovative ways to improve, such as replacing the chemicals being used, and making their practices more environmentally conscious.
However, it remained nigh impossible for consumers and manufacturers to verify the genuine facts and figures about the process behind the leather they buy.
This is where the leather rating system comes in.
What is the leather rating system?
In 2005 the Leather Working Group was formed with the intention of promoting “sustainable and appropriate environmental business practices” within the leather industry.
The group is made up of brands, NGOs, suppliers, manufacturers, retailers, and more.
The role of the Leather Working Group is to assess the environmental compliance of leather manufacturers. In doing this, they promote improvement in the leather manufacturing industry by creating alignment on environmental priorities.
This helps the tanners that are making an effort to work toward sustainable goals to stand out from the crowd.
They also support the UN’s sustainable development goals, such as improving water quality and protecting the good health of the workers.
The rating system brings visibility to best practices and provides guidelines for continual improvement.
So how does it work in practice?
The group visits leather manufacturers around the globe and inspects them. The tanneries are given a rating from 0 to 100.
The scoring system takes into account a variety of factors. To select a few that jumped out at me as important:
- traceability of the hides
- environmental policies and procedures
- energy consumption
- water usage
- air and noise emissions
- waste management
- worker safety
They score the visits from fail, to audited (which is a low pass), then upwards of 65 gets a bronze, from 75 gets silver, and 85 plus gets a gold rating.
Why we decided to use gold-rated leather
All that shines isn’t gold - but now all our shiny shoes are!
Being a responsible company is an ever-evolving process, not a state. You can never sit back and say, “job done, that’s us ethical now.”
At Beckett Simonon, we always strive to be more and more responsible in our practices.
In all our products we use the best full-grain leather. We are very conscious of the ethical questions that come from leather production, and especially the importance of sourcing our leather from a traceable and transparent source.
We also use white leather for many of our sneakers - and why is this important? To produce white leather is difficult, and implies a lot of bleaching. To achieve this, tanners often use more chrome than they do for other colors.
For this reason, we are especially happy to have found a tannery that has reached the gold standard, and is producing beautiful white leather. This signifies a gigantic reduction in the impact that our products are having on the environment.
Our previous tannery used part-vegetable tanning, looked after its workers, and had beautiful full-grain leather at the end of it. However, there remained ground for improvement.
We looked to Leather Working Group standards to guide us toward a tannery that could supply us with more environmentally-friendly leather, and a process which we could confirm had the health and wellbeing of the workers at its heart.
This allows us, as a company, to have peace of mind, and consumers who buy our products to be able to wear them knowing that they are contributing to a better, healthier planet.
So where did we find the tannery that now makes the leather for our Beckett Simonon products?
The tannery in Italy
The leather comes from a beautiful, small, Italian town called Arzignano.
Arzignano is in the very heart of the leather producing region of Italy - with a tradition that dates back many centuries. The tannery was founded in 1958, and over the years has remained in the hands of the same family - la famiglia is always important in Italy!
Brothers Santo and Bruno Mastrotto started the company with their father Arciso. They decided to give it the family name - Conceria Mastrotto (Italian for Mastrotto Tannery). Now called Mastrotto Group, over the decades the company has grown - in size, reach, and reputation, but also in its sense of responsibility.
We were impressed by the tannery’s environmental credentials, and the way they treat and protect their workers.
They have invested in technology so that the workers’ backs don’t have to take the strain of moving heavy hides.
With a genuine concern for the environment, they adopted a water-based tanning process, as well as building a water treatment plant. Energy generation through a novel heat powered system has also helped reduce the amount of CO2 emissions.
But there’s more! The tannery also actively contributes to the community around them.
For example, they fund several social-advancement projects - such as a foundation that promotes the values of community, tolerance, and mutual respect. They also supported the construction of a recreational center for senior citizens in Arzignano.
Furthermore, across Europe there are also high standards of cattle care, enshrined in law. This includes regulation on feeding and transportation, and bans on genetic modification and injecting steroids.
Apart from being a positive company, which we can work with, the standard of the leather is also amongst the highest in the World - it is arguably even more durable than our previous leather, because of the care they take in tanning. This could mean that our products will last even longer, again making a positive impact on the environment by reducing waste.
Making the change to this new tannery has been a learning experience for us, and we are excited to embark on the next stage in the journey.
The golden boot
Gold-rated leather is an amazing step forward for the leather industry, and for manufacturers across the globe. It is a joy to be part of this.
We know that this rating doesn’t answer 100% of the questions we have to make our leather ethical, and we continue to strive to improve.
However, using gold-rated leather helps us to be confident about the impact that our products have from the source.
It also means that our customers can buy from us in the knowledge that it is a responsible product, from the materials, right through to production and delivery.
You can read about how we design our shoes in this blog, The Anatomy of a Shoe, and find out more about our manufacturing process and the amazing artisans who create the products in our Craftsmanship section.
Go ahead and look through our catalog of products - knowing that we have golden standards when it comes to our leather!
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for upcoming posts.
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