The Ethical Leather Dilemma & FAQ's
Is it possible for leather to be real but also at the same time sustainable and ethical?
Before having started Kokumo, I have to admit that the term ‘ethical fashion’ only sporadically crossed my mind. For a long while, I had thought that, if I avoided certain shops, I would contribute the little that I could to this idea. However, after having talked to so many different friends and people in the community; I found out that there were so many different interpretations to this term. Some completely ban leather and fur from their closets, while others like me, sometimes have second thoughts before buying an article fabricated from an non-descript foreign country.
What you wear is a personal decision, whatever your believes may be. In my case, I have always appreciated my leather handbags. I understand leather to be a by-product of the meat industry and as long as people need their meat, leather will always be around. So, what practices does Kokumo do to ensure that we are pitching in to this ever changing world?
Firstly, the goods are made from locally raised animals in Nigeria and the bags are handmade there as well. You can see it on the ‘Made in Naija’ (Made in Nigeria) labels that are embossed proudly on each bag. Usually, the A-Z leather trail would look something like this: cattle are raised in Brazil, tanned in India, dyed in China, stitched in Vietnam and the end product is then sold in Europe. You can imagine the carbon footprint of one bag! While relying mainly on the Nigerian supply chain, Kokumo hopes to lower carbon dioxide emissions but also support the local leather craftsmen.
On my page What it Means to Produce in Nigeria, there is a brief explanation on how difficult it is to produce in Nigeria. With Kokumo, it tries to preserve the artisanal traditions that were once thriving in Nigeria, but somehow almost gone today. If these practices aren’t reinforced economically, they will fade away – as well as the source of income for the small group of people who are active in this sector. This is my small way of supporting these craftsmen.
So why don’t we keep it simple; buy good, feel good.
- Is the leather a byproduct of meat farming or are the animals deliberately killed to produce bags?- The agrobusiness industry is still very 'primitive' in Nigeria and the leather industry is also still in an infant stage. A farmer would not be able to survive by raising cattle solely for their skin(there is not enough demand!). The leather used for the bags are a byproduct of meat farming. Fun fact: there is actually a shortage of cattle skin treated to be leather because Nigerians prefer to eat cattle skin (pomo)!.
- Are there toxic chemicals used to turn animal hide into leather? Like for example formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, or some cyanide-based oils and tars? Kokumo strives to used vegetable or semi-vegetable tanned leather, meaning that the acids used are derived from natural products (I know, that it is common to use ash and pigeon droppings as a derivative of the acids)
- Do you have a view on how the animals are treated? Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to visit a cattle farm, however, the herding lifestyle is still very predominant in Nigeria, especially in the North with the fulani herdsmen. This means, migrational seasons, roaming on free land, etc.
- Do you have any further information on the production process that is fair, eco and cruelty-free? Using leather from Nigeria was a conscious choice, in order to support the tanneries in Nigeria. However, it's not without it's challenges. Production/supply is not always dependable, (shortage of power, low demand, shortage of raw materials, lack of infrastructure etc.), and prices fluctuate (the local currency, naira inflates!!). This is one of the reasons why my bags are only available in brown and black, because these are the leathers that are most dependable...
Any other questions? Or is something not clear? Don't hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.