from the dinner plate to your handbag… it’s not what you think it is

from the dinner plate to your handbag

I should start by saying, I am going through a bit of a personal surrealistic art phase right now, so I hope you can enjoy the comedic humour of the image above.

After reading BOF yesterday, this particular article “Chanel Acquires First Tannery to secure Luxury Bag Supplies” captured my attention and raised many questions for me. One of which I have considered before however hadn’t quite addressed with any conclusions or further investigation.

Chanel is among the luxury conglomerates (Kering, LVMH, Hermes) that are acquiring tanneries under their namesake, to which they’ve had long-standing relationships; all in efforts to secure long-term control of supplies and quality. More than ever, vertical integration from the raw goods to the retail shelf is prevalent and according to the article posted by BOF sited from Reuters, Chanel has this control right down to the plant growers for their No. 5 perfume (as stated in the article). This makes sense, since the company represents the utmost in quality & luxury. Now bear with me as I discuss a few different topics, correlating fashion to animal food consumption.

I was particularly intrigued when the article spoke to the importance of securing leather tanneries as the prices of lamb and cow hides are increasing as the population is eating less meat, while the demand for leather goods continues to grow. According to the article, Bruno Pavlovsky, chairman of Chanel’s Fashion Business “estimated the price of lamb skin had risen by about 25-30 percent in the past three to five years, about the same for calf leather”… “We are eating less meat yet there is more demand and production is not rising, Pavlovsky said”

This article doesn’t dive into this topic heavily, so there is no mention as to where these luxury companies and their tanneries source their hides. After reviewing Bodin-Joyeux’s website (the tannery acquired by Chanel) it doesn’t state their leather source either. Assumingly, these tanneries work directly with the European/ North American farmers. It is not surprising as there is a western movement to consume less meat as the population (particularly the middle to upper class) becomes better educated about food choices, quality, ethics and standards. I can certainly say, I see this happening all around. People are no longer fooled, they want to know what exactly is going into their food, shifting back to natural & organic products and thus demanding this information in order to have a choice to make an informed decision. However without side tracking down the entire food debate, which I could talk days about… I will attempt to stay on topic.

Meanwhile, in fast rising developing countries such as China, India, Russia and Brazil, animal consumption is on a sharp increase, according to numerous articles, and specifically discussed here in Voice of America “VOA”. There is a growing middle class and as income increases, their discretionary money is going towards “better” food quality and in many cases a Westernized diet, including however not limited to more meat, dairy and cheese…. Which in many countries meat, dairy and cheese were not a prominent part of their diet (i.e. China and dairy)  [errr, again trying stay on topic…]

All this said and it makes me wonder about the future of luxury leather goods. An obvious conclusion would be further price increases in leather goods from shoes, handbags, belts and beyond. Or will these particular luxury companies and their tanneries begin to source their hides outside of Europe & America to these fast rising nations where animal consumption is steadily increasing? Seems unlikely, as Bodin-Joyeux (for example) is acclaimed for their environmental and sustainable practices.

I can’t see Alexander Wang, Diane von Furstenberg, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Coach or any of the former faced with leather shortages as many of them source & produce a good percentage of their leather products overseas, primarily China. We may safely assume that the learning curve about food knowledge and potential decrease in animal products in these developing countries is a distant number of years away when compared to the current Western movement of reducing consumption of animals. Secondly, the population in these countries is significantly greater than Western countries, so consumption is far greater regardless, resulting in ample supply of animal hides.

Another alternative would be an increased use of synthetics. Which isn’t such a farfetched idea. Many high-end & luxury designers are already deliberately using faux furs, plastics & synthetics throughout apparel & accessories, whether for ethical, sustainable reasons (not wanting to use animals) or purely for innovative & aesthetic preference. Which albeit, is an alternative to animal products, however not surprisingly, this has an adverse effect on the environment due to the production process at every level to produce synthetics, as well as the end-of-life of these products that don’t degrade for hundreds of years… And don’t get me wrong either, I wear nylon, spandex, polyester… too!

We could just say, ‘Hey lets revert back to a more basic way of life’, a lifestyle that is not so demanding and wanting… of everything… however I don’t see this settling well with the bottom line nor the appetite of consumers, myself included.

There’s just no winning, so it seems…

I don’t have a solution per say, sorry to disappoint. Other than a few thoughts: I recently read there are too many designers, too many collections and seasons which require new designs. Really, there is just too much of everything, that I believe we are being over stimulated and teetering on boredom. We simply are no longer surprised, shocked, or at least very seldom. This begs the question how a designer aims to stay inspired each season with a new concept and story, without fatiguing by the sheer volume which they are to design into.

Ultimately, I won’t be surprised if we see designers start to pull back from four to two collections a year (Spring/Summer & Fall/ Winter, except couture) focusing on a clear concept & fewer products without over designing. Because, as we all know, trends don’t change that much every three months, season or year for that matter. At the very least, this may allow designers to safely secure a steady future in their resources, leather & beyond.

Thoughts anyone?