Among various industrial sectors, the fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters. We tend to see only its beautiful, glamorous side, forgetting that the new apparel we keep on buying comes from an industry with tremendous negative impact on the environment, including the over-use of land and water resources, the amount of waste produced and the use of chemicals that harm our health and surroundings.
Sports equipment giant Nike recently announced an innovative development – a new raw material for shoes which it claims can greatly reduce the consumption of resources and the ecological footprint of shoe manufacturing. Flyleather is made from leather scraps that were once simply discarded, creating growing mountains of waste. Now, they are ground into a fine powder, mixed with polyester fibers and used to produce a new material that looks, feels and smells like genuine leather – yet is 40% lighter and 5 times more durable, thus giving it a longer lifespan.
According to information published by the company, the new production process results in great economization of resources as compared to regular leather – an 80% reduction in carbon emissions and 90% savings in water usage. Considering the environmental damages caused by the leather industry, this represents the beginning of an important change. The commercial use of leather also involves industrial livestock raising, consuming tremendous quantities of food and water, as well as the widespread use of antibiotics. Furthermore, industrial cattle raising also results in massive methane gas emissions, which contribute significantly to global warming.
But, while Flyleather can bring about a significant reduction in the amount of genuine leather required to make shoes and lower the environmental burden this causes, we are still left with the very serious ethical concerns that stem from industrial livestock raising.
Even if this is only a marketing gimmick meant to provide Nike with a relative advantage in the highly competitive fashion market (the new shoes were launched in parallel with New York’s environmental quality week) or an attempt to distract us from the less glamorous aspects of its manufacturing processes, when a large company like Nike puts environmental damage and sustainability on its agenda and into consumer dialogue, it’s a good first step toward bringing about major change. Considering the fact that consumption habits and manufacturing methods tend to change very slowly, Nike’s new development gives us reason for optimism.