written by Charlotte Turner
We recently had the pleasure of welcoming Leatherteq to the London College of Fashion, to debut their innovative Litehide technology for the first time in the UK. The Sustainable Angle’s director Amanda Johnston hosted the evening lecture, led by Desmond Ko of Leatherteq with guest speaker Morgaine McGee, Vice President Product Development for Signal Brands, one of the world’s largest global distributors for leather accessories.
The lecture was designed to engage both students, and those already working in industry, with what’s involved in earlier often forgotten stages of the leather supply chain, and to find out ways we can reduce the impacts caused by existing leather preservation processes. Litehide offers a solution, as an innovative patented system designed to address the regulatory and environmental challenges now faced by the global leather industry, through reducing the impact, and increasing the performance of hide preservation.
We spoke to Desmond Ko, Leatherteq Limited’s Director, to find out more about the inspiration behind Litehide, and the impact it is set to have on the leather industry.
TSA: Can you tell us what was the motivation to develop Litehide?
DK: Salt is currently the main method of preserving hides. About 20lbs of salt is typically used per hide. The used salt is contaminated with biological waste material. Salt, when introduced in high quantities is detrimental to both subterranean and ground fresh water supplies. This is a problem associated with the leather industry that has not been truly addressed. Litehide is an alternative method of preservation that completely eliminates the need for salt and therefore the salt pollution issue associated with it.
TSA: We think it’s important to be clear about the language we use, so is there a way you define ‘sustainability’ in relation to your work?
DK: I think more in terms of sustainable development rather than sustainability.
Borrowing a definition from the International Institute for Sustainable Development, “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:
- The concept of needs, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
- The idea of limitationsimposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.”
Litehide addresses both concepts as:
- The majority of hides are currently preserved using substantial amounts of salt (as mentioned, 20lbs per hide). The majority of these salted hides end up being in developing countries for tanning. This results in significant salt pollution for these countries, and this is on top of the tanning chemicals used.
- Before Litehide, there has not been another cost effective and efficient manner for hide preservation. As Litehide is a salt free dehydrated hide ready for the art of tanning, this replacement technology is sustainable, saves money and provides a better form of the same raw material.
TSA: With this in mind, can you tell us a bit about your goals for Litehide?
DK: We have a simple goal, that is, to replace salted hides with Litehide on a global scale. To achieve that, we start with meatpackers (whom harvest the hides and traditionally salt them). Now we also share this idea with brands that collectively have the commercial authority to demand greener hides for their leather.
TSA: From the outside it looks like Litehide wasn’t a straightforward innovation to develop – how has it has evolved since its inception?
DK: The vision and the strategy of the business has largely remained the same. That is to license the technology. I think the evolution is for the people that work within the company. Most of us have business or finance backgrounds. It has been a challenge for us to learn the leather business. That goes for the whole supply chain from meat packers to fashion brands. The learning curve has been steep but we have had fantastic support all along….
Luckily, Litehide, the product, has not needed to evolve from its original concept. We and our partners continue to find benefits and advantages as a better form of the same raw material.
TSA: Can you tell us about any positive impact you have seen as a result of Litehide technology?
DK: We know we are impacting positively upon the global environment. Particularly rewarding is how well received Litehide is from meatpackers, tanners through to brands (these include automotive, upholstery, shoes, clothing and handbags companies). Our partners appreciate the sustainability credentials, supply chain and cost savings….
TSA: Litehide is a very specific solution for an early stage of the leather supply chain. What do you think are the most pressing environmental and social challenges in the leather industry?
DK: Perhaps correctly, the world has largely focused on the tanners being the main polluting party. Most tanners are attempting to adopt the 3Rs (Reuse, Reduce, Recycle). Hence, they are able to “do something” with the tanning chemicals. However, typically 60% of the total dissolved solids of a tanner’s effluent stream come from the salt used in preservation, which they do not have much control over. Hence a technology like Litehide will help both at source (the meatpackers), at the tanner and resulting in greener leathers for the brands.
TSA: Do you think there are any aspects the industry needs to improve on overall?
Not so much things for the industry to improve upon but matters for the industry to consider. I think it is unusual for someone to have access across the entire leather supply chain. We have been privileged. We see a few recurring themes….
- Hide prices continue to rise due to demand exceeding supply. Hide prices have risen 60% over the last four years. Hence this has a direct affect on finished leather prices.
- Brands are trying to be sustainable but are still very cost sensitive whilst margins for tanners are very thin. We see a wave of sustainable capsule lines for leading brands. We see more tanners going for green audits/certification. We also forecast consolidation for tanners where the big and the niche will survive.
- Consumers are used to purchasing flawless leather articles and I (as a consumer) can identify with that. However, each animal is different and its hide/skin is usually not perfect. It would be great to see consumers celebrate the imperfections of each individual animal in leather articles.
TSA: Industry is slow to change the way things are done and the impact we are having. What do you think can be done to become a more sustainable and less harmful industry?
DK: Thinking about leather, two quick fixes spring to mind. Addressing chemicals used in preservation and tanning goes a long way. Brands and consumers understanding the beauty of individual animals (with their natural flaws and all) and hence using more of the hide rather than discarding the flaws….
TSA: Can you tell us about your plans moving forward?
DK: We are a new growing business. One thing we have not been doing is marketing. The lecture at London College of Fashion in March was our first “public” Litehide event. Now that we have signed up clients that will have product in the market in 2015, we are preparing to be more public about Litehide in the second half of this year.
TSA: And finally, how can industry professionals and consumers get involved and engage with the work you are doing?
DK: The reality is that consumers buy finished articles and the brands source finished leather. It would be ideal if both parties can consider the leather’s origins, which in this case is the often imperfect hide and how much of a miracle tanners perform in turning these into seamless articles.
The easiest way to get involved is to contact us. We are reachable via our website www.litehide.com