Interview with Luca Boltri, Deputy Director of UNIC Italian Tanneries

No, Animal Skin is not about the deliberate killing of living beings to obtain it. And yes, it’s eco-friendly. But these net statements are from Luca BoltriDeputy Director of UNIC Italian tanneries: the most important association of tanning industry professionals, ranging from promoting the interests of the industry to strengthening its social and environmental role. Not an easy task when it comes to leather. Even when it comes to leather and the art of tanning, from a scientific point of view it is “You know everything and also the opposite“. But that was exactly the intention Find out what the manufacturing of leather products is all about to draw the true portrait of a sector born with man.

UNIC Italian tanneries

The interview with Luca Boltri

Skin and leather are often associated with atrocities involving animals…
It’s fake news. Unfortunately, a not inconsiderable part of public opinion is of the opinion that the skin used to make accessories, furniture or other things requires the animal to be slaughtered. But that’s not true, because over 99.5% of the skins processed in the tannery come from cattle, sheep and goats. These are farmed and slaughtered for their meat, so the hide is nothing more than a by-product: essentially a waste that we recover, recycle and stabilize through the mechanical-chemical tanning process. And if the skins were not collected by us, they would have to be disposed of as normal waste, with significant economic and environmental costs.

So, paradoxically, leather is an ecologically sustainable material, much more than eco-leather…
We avoid generating waste, one of the main causes of global warming. We define ourselves as circular by nature: since hunting, humans have been using hides and skins as food after killing the animal. In fact, UNIDO, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, estimates that if the tanning industry were to disappear in the future, an additional amount of greenhouse gases would be between 3 and 5 million tons. An effect that should be evaluated when it is said that we are not sustainable.

But everyone thinks that using faux leather is more ecological and saves animal lives…
Not being understood can be frustrating, and that’s partly because of the changing relationship between humans and animals. Fifty, sixty, a hundred years ago, people knew better what I just told you. Greater weight was given to these aspects. Today there is a lack of knowledge.

Why do some people say your industry is a cruel industry?
We ignore the fact that we are not loved by the more radical animal rights activists who are campaigning for the total abolition of the use of animal products. There is a lot of personal ethics in all of this. And also the opportunism that attacks us with the excuse that skin is not a primary good but, unlike meat, something we can do without. For many our product is a luxury product and in my opinion we are doomed to this inappropriate definition.

What’s wrong with this skin narrative anyway?
The extremization. As long as humans consume animal flesh, they will have to deal with raw hides. So we will be there too.

In an article published here on Artribune, a journalist explains that “leather producers would also indirectly pressure farmers to slaughter more animals, whose waste ends up subsidizing the fashion industry”. It is true?
No, because we have no control over the breeding and killing dynamics of the animal. This dynamic depends on the demand for meat and is regulated in every respect by the European Union. The rawhide value is about 1% of the total animal, so our roll corresponds to this percentage.

We often talk about alternative materials to leather. Which are they?
First of all, the synthetic materials, i.e. the plastic. An example is the previously mentioned leather, incorrectly called “eco-leather”, which in Italy, thanks to a decree, can no longer be called that, since in fact it is not leather. Only the natural is, now also legal. Synthetic materials that imitate leather, as we call them, come from fossil sources and therefore from petroleum, with all the consequences related to sustainability both at the end of the product’s life and during production. Then there are plant materials of plant origin. The problem is that components such as fruits or vegetables are mixed with others of fossil origin. Otherwise, for technical reasons, they could not have the necessary elasticity and tightness.

So are these alternatives valid?
We’ll have to wait for a review and see how long these materials last as they’ve only just come to market. Some studies have shown that the maximum organic content of any leather alternative is around 40%. Contrary to what appears from their communication. Nowadays, fashion and media pay a lot of attention to these innovations in the industry, and I also understand that there is a need. But only time will tell whether these are viable alternatives, because they first have to be industrialized. Then they have to guarantee performance, quality and sustainability, and not everyone can do that. But I don’t see any materials that respect these aspects, such as leather.

Do you think something needs to change about the narrative of alternative materials?
The attack, with false arguments, on the skin. And greenwashing, because sustainability must be based on scientific and objective parameters that are on par with marketing. Otherwise everything is sustainable and everything is not sustainable.

Should something change about the way fashion is using animal skins instead?
It is intended to give greater importance to leather as an element of the sustainability of the fashion product. Just look how long a leather garment or accessory can last: usually it lasts three times as long as the same but made of synthetic materials. Perhaps you are afraid to take sides on this issue? Now the existence of the garment matters less than changing a pair of shoes every season.

Probably some brands are scared at this specific historical period. So do you think leather is the future?
If the future wants to be sustainable, yes.

And how can you, as deputy director of Italian tanneries, convince those who don’t know that today?
We have no direct relationship with the consumer as we sell the leather to the shoe manufacturers. Often people don’t understand who we are and this makes skin awareness and education difficult. However, the internet and social networks help us, hand in hand with relationships with students and journalists.

Giulio Solfrizzi

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