The fashion industry accounts for as much as ten per cent of global carbon emissions, according to United Nations Environmental Programme—more than international flights and shipping combined. To achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius within that time, at COP26, the latest UN climate summit, signatories to the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action—including Burberry, H&M Group, Inditex, VF Corporation and Kering—upgraded their commitment, pledging to cut emissions by 50 per cent in the next ten years. “We have to do it; there is no choice unless we have already planned to head to Mars,” says Dr Gloria Lei Yao, the director of project development at The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel Limited (HKRITA) and director of the Textile Bioengineering Informatics Society. “We should be realistic: it will be a challenge for everyone to survive on the planet if we don’t change.”
In the race to decarbonisation, one pivotal change to the supply chain is the sourcing of sustainable materials. In the luxury fashion market, there are numerous leather products—largely handbags and shoes. Leather’s carbon footprint is relatively huge because of the emissions associated with animal husbandry and the toxic chemicals used in the tanning process. Let’s face it: while brands may be shifting to organic cotton, upcycling, natural dyes and offsetting the emissions from fashion shows, they’re unlikely to ditch leather any time soon. For luxury brands such as Hermès, Prada and those in the Kering group, leather products account for about half of their sales; if the industry really wants to achieve its environmental impact goals, this would be the place to start.
Vegan Is Fashion
There is now a middle ground between plastic and animal skin: leather alternatives come in the form of lab- grown biomaterials and plant-based leather not made from polyurethane—a plastic derived from fossil fuels, which has its own environmental problems. Brands including Stella McCartney, Nike and Adidas are the early adopters of these alternatives.
Last March, Hermès collaborated with MycoWorks, a Californian biotechnology firm, on the Victoria travel bag, which combined canvas, calfskin and amber-hued Sylvania. This is a material made using Fine Mycelium, a patented technology developed to grow mycelium—the root-like structure of a fungus—with the qualities of leather. In January, the Hermès-backed startup raised US$125 million funding to scale up production of its Reishi textile, another result of Fine Mycelium technology, giving it the capacity to produce several million square feet of it each year.
In case you missed it: Stella McCartney Launches World’s First Vegan Mushroom Leather Garments