The Berlin brand LEIT & HELD specializes in genuine leather products that combine traditional craftsmanship and high quality with humane practices and sustainability.
The conventional fashion and leather industry is a major contributor to global air and water pollution, obscene wastage, and human and animal exploitation. Due to the desire for consuming less meat and living an eco-friendlier lifestyle, it is not only our food consumption that has changed, but also the clothes we wear. Alternative leather materials – such as cork, recycled plastic or even apple skin – have become more and more popular. But are vegan alternatives or other materials actually more sustainable than genuine leather if produced under the right circumstances? The Berlin fashion-brand LEIT & HELD has worked to answer this question and developed a new way of producing leather goods: sustainably, consciously and with a high transparency of their supply chain.
In 2018, Art Director and Designer Pia Held, Interior Architect Dana Mikoleit and Sustainability Manager Nina Conrad founded the Berlin based business. Their aim: rethink the traditional leather industry and build a holistic company culture by enabling complete transparency to their consumers. “One of the greatest myths about leather when talking about sustainability is that animals are kept especially for the leather industry. It’s simply false. Who would keep these animals, and where? I don't know any farmer who gets a single cent for the skin of his animal.”, says Nina Conrad, co-founder and Sustainability Manager at LEIT & HELD. Leather, except for the exotic ones, is always a by-product of the meat and dairy industry. In fact, some of the lowest value hides are simply being disposed of, if there is not enough demand on the market. “Animal hides are an essential by-product of the local meat and dairy industry. As long as the consumption of meat and dairy products is an undeniable fact, there is nothing more meaningful than to use these hides – instead of burning them – and to process the resulting leather as a positive natural material with unique and irreplaceable properties.”, says Nina Conrad.
All products come from a consistently sustainable and traceable value chain; the production takes place as close as possible to the natural origin of the animals. Therefore, the brand works exclusively with certified farmers in Southern Germany, who guarantee an appropriate animal husbandry. Meaning, the animals are being held according to animal welfare standards, transportation routes are being kept as short as possible, and the brand remains a close relationship with the farmers to enable complete transparency of the entire process. Nina Conrad says: “We go one step further than most other brands that call themselves sustainable. ‘Made in’ is not enough for us, we go back to the origin of the raw material, the animal, and make the whole supply chain transparent – also for our customers.”
Currently, the only feasible alternative to genuine leather that is available in large amounts appear to be fossil fuel-derived, non-sustainable synthetics; the production of leather alternatives in times of a worldwide plastic-avalanche must be taken into consideration when discussing sustainability. Even green alternatives, such as the aforementioned apple skin or even newly developed materials like Mylo, always rely on chemical binders and coating for their manufacture. Done properly, the production of leather can be an environmentally sound process that recycles and transforms a potential waste product into a long-lasting, repairable, biodegradable, beautiful material.
The processing of the leather – the tanning – also plays an important role at LEIT & HELD: instead of using conventional tanning methods, such as chrome tanning that involve highly toxic chemicals, the brand uses a vegetable tanning method to obtain a fully natural product. LEIT & HELD uses tanning agents such as valonia oak and chestnut wood, mimosa bark and quebracho wood. With its high durability and completely unique traits, the product becomes far superior to most synthetic materials and lasts for a lifetime.
All additional parts such as buttons, threads and buckles are carefully selected by the founders themselves.
At LEIT & HELD, they not only want to create products for conscious consumerism, but to design bags for a lifetime: with a durable material and timeless designs, regardless of the materials’ age or unique natural imperfections.
– by Marie Klimczak