Last week I wrote about if leather could be eco-friendly, and something I touched on there was vegetable tanning as a slightly better alternative to conventional tanning. Vegetable tanning is the use of natural dyes, such as saffron and poppy seed over conventional chemical laden alternatives, such as toxic chromium. I don’t think the leather industry will ever be completely eco-friendly, particularly due to the huge amounts of water and resources involved in it’s production, but vegetable tanning is a positive step in cleaning up this industry.
One of the flag bearers for vegetable tanned leather in Europe is Gusti Leather, who recently got in touch and asked me to review one of their vegetable tanned ethical leather bags. They have a lovely range of women’s and men’s ethical leather bags – I didn’t really need a new bag, but my other half, in definite need of a new bag, picked out this goat skin travel bag:
Gusti say their bags are made by small family run businesses, predominantly from goats, and are tanned using natural dyes such as saffron, indigo and poppy. With ethics firmly at the forefront of their operations, Gusti also look to minimise leather wastage – they say when you buy their ethical leather bags then there may be cases where additional patches of leather are sewn on to their products, which they hope adds to the charm of the product, as well as to its uniqueness.
My other half’s first impressions are that the bag is really well made and built to last: they’re not the cheapest bags you can buy, but certainly not the most expensive, and it is the kind of thing that you would need to buy once. It’s also beautifully hand crafted with soft and supple high quality leather, and really roomy, perfect for travel or for sports. Aesthetics aside, what he appreciated the most was the repair centre, where you can send your bag to be repaired should it get damaged or develop a fault – showing that Gusti’s ethos is not built on the principles of throwaway fast fashion, but of durability, longevity and quality.
The only thing he wasn’t keen on was the strong leather smell. We don’t own many new leather goods, so it may be that this is the norm, but it was a little pungent when he first opened it. A few weeks in and the smell hasn’t yet dissipated – Gusti do say this smell soon goes with regular wear. We haven’t got to that stage yet but it has definitely reduced in strength: I think it needs a good air outside on a nice windy day!
To find out a little more about Gusti Leather and their ethical leather bags, I’ve got a short interview with Kerys from Gusti:
1. Can you introduce Gusti Leather to Moral Fibres readers?
Gusti Leather is a German firm, based in Rostock. It was established in 2011 by Christian Pietsch. On holidays to India and Morocco, the high quality of the handmade leather products in various markets caught his eye. He began meeting directly with small family-run producers and started to set up business relationships. This led to the delivery of their leather bags and accessories directly to us here in Rostock.
We have a small store and workshop here where customers can directly buy and repair their items. We are also really proud to be able to offer Unique Designs, where customers can send us designs they would like to have sewn onto particular bags.
2. Why do you use goat skin, instead of cow skin?
We use both goatskin and cowhide in our products, however, the large majority are indeed made using goatskin. The main difference between the two leathers is the thickness: goatskin is a little thinner and more flexible, whereas cowhide is thicker and not so easy to bend or fold. It is therefore the smoother leather.
3. Why is vegetable tanning so important to Gusti Leather?
The use of vegetable tanning is an important part of our production as one of our core principles is to remain as environmentally friendly as possible. The vast majority of our products are tanned and dyed using vegetable based solutions- completely without the use of chemicals. During this process, the leather is soaked in a water-based solution containing various tree barks (for example, Mimosa bark, indigo, saffron, and poppy) and left for around two weeks. It is then sun-dried to give it a lovely golden brown tone. This also adds to the natural look of every item, and makes each one unique – it is absolutely ideal that no two pieces of leather look the same.
4. What do you mean when you say your leathers are produced in an environmentally sustainable manner?
It may sound strange to some to consider leather as a sustainable product. However, we regard our products as just that based on the high level quality that we are able to offer. We expect that when a customer purchases a leather bag from us, this bag will last them a lifetime. We consider our products to be investments that will not need to be disposed of after a couple of years of use: this is reflected in our prices.
Regarding the actual production of the leather, all of the skins we use are sourced as by-products of meat slaughter. We do not in any way support the slaughter of animals simply for their fur or skin. We use the hides from animals which are slaughtered for Halal meat production, which, when you consider the amount of useable meat and the bones/innards from each one, amounts to only around 4% of the total animal.
5. How do you ensure your products are produced ethically?
We are really passionate about maintaining strong, ethical working relations with each of our producers. We feel that this is one thing that really sets us apart from other leather dealers, and we like to focus on this as a form of a Unique Selling Point.
Christian regularly make spontaneous visits to the producers to ensure that they are following regulations on fair working conditions and fair pay. Through his hard work over the past 3 years in supporting family-run businesses and providing them with safe and secure employment there is a level of mutual trust between our producers and us.
6. What are your future plans for Gusti?
We are currently increasing our market presence in the UK and USA. Although we already ship via eBay and Amazon to these countries, we are looking to attract more customers to our own webshop.
We are simply looking to spread the word that leather can be ethical and sustainable, whilst still remaining affordable and stylish. Our new designs including leather bicycle attachments (saddles, bottle holders etc.) and promoting the use of recycled leather shows that a controversial material can be contemporary, and can be produced in a way that its wearer can be proud of.
7. What’s the best way to care for your beautiful ethical leather bags, to ensure their longevity?
Each of our items is packed and delivered with a small pot of leather balm. This balm is colourless and based completely on plants, such as castor oil and rice bran. It can be used as often as required in order to increase the shine of the leather, and to cover or smooth out any scratches or scuffs.
Disclosure: Gusti sent us a bag to review – see my disclosure policy for more information.
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