Luigi is a living encyclopedia of all-things leather. Ask him anything on the subject and he’ll deliver honest, insightful answers with genuine enthusiasm. This is why we consult with him to find the finest, most environmentally responsible leathers for Koio. Ahead of Earth Day, we spoke with Luigi about how tanneries are working to operate more sustainably in the short term and the long term.

One sustainable initiative that’s gaining a lot of traction right now is the Leather Working Group (LWG) protocol, which audits leather tanneries and then assigns a rating—Gold, Silver, Bronze, Pass, or Fail—based on the facility’s emissions, energy consumption, water usage, and waste management.

Luigi says many smaller tanneries initially resisted the certification when it emerged in 2006—some felt it was an attempt to make money off of tanneries, and chose instead to continue refining their traditional crafts without a certification. But now that consumers and brands are demanding responsibly manufactured leathers, tanneries are racing to get audited by the LWG. In fact, the organization is “backed up in terms of auditing processing,” Luigi says. “There is […] a six to twelve month wait for the first audit.”

With Luigi’s help, we were able to make the switch to LWG-certified hides very early on. All of our new styles are crafted with Gold-rated leathers, and we’re updating our core styles with them, too.

The LWG’s standards are certainly helping establish more sustainable practices throughout the leather supply chain in the short term, but there’s still work to be done in the long term.

“I think that in terms of sustainability, the traceability aspect [is] gonna be one of the most important parts of the whole conversation,” Luigi says. Conscious shoppers want to know where the leather in their wardrobes comes from, just as they want to know where the food in their fridges comes from.

Right now, it’s nearly impossible to determine the origins of leather because it’s a byproduct of the meat industry. Hides are collected in bulk and then sorted based on their quality level—higher quality pieces with minimal imperfections are used for products like luxurious leather handbags, while lower-end pieces with more imperfections are used for cheaper, smaller goods.

Luigi says tanneries are hopeful about making leather traceable in the future. With the help of tech companies, they might be able to. The same tech organizations that work with food manufacturers to trace the origins of ingredients are considering adapting their technology to the leather industry. This would involve creating massive databases to connect people at every level of the leather supply chain, or developing ID chips to attach to the hides. It’s a huge project, but a necessary step toward greater transparency.

If traceability becomes a reality in the leather industry, we’d be able to ensure all of our leathers are sourced from farms where livestock are responsibly raised, and land is responsibly cared for. That said, it’s no wonder Luigi sees traceability as the next “big thing” in the world of leather.

Words by Koio