The motto of Leit & Held is “honest products with a timeless design”. Their leather bags are characterized by a refined essentiality that aims to maximize the material in which they are made: vegetable tanned leather with tannins.

The young brand has already acquired a large fanbase; in Germany and Switzerland it is already a “must have”. Nina Conrad, Sustainability Manager, tells us how the project was born.

“My partners, Pia Held and Dana Mikoleit, started working together in 2015 making leather bags. They wanted to stand out for the quality of the leather and the traceability of the supply chain, choosing hides from selected farms, attentive to the well-being of the animals throughout all their life cycle. At that time I was in Berlin for my last project, for which I had manufactured leather products from a traceable supply chain from Switzerland/Italy. When I met them, I was immediately motivated to build up a new supply chain in Germany together with them. So we joined forces.”

The difficulties were not lacking: “We even went to Portugal to find the right suppliers. We collided directly with a poorly transparent system. Yet it shouldn’t be complicated: in the food supply chain, the traceability of meat already exists, so the traceability of leather should exist accordingly! In the end we managed to find a small slaughterhouse in Germany that deals with small numbers and pays particular attention and respect to animals.”

The issue of animal welfare is very delicate and debated; it is also the main reason for the criticisms of the leather industry coming from several animal rights associations. And here comes a small surprise: Nina confesses to be vegetarian. Isn’t it a contradiction?

“Not at all – she explains – I eat cheese and other dairy products and this entails the need for farms. A great amount of animals that arrive at the slaughterhouses come from the dairy industry, i.e. older cows that no longer give milk and their male offspring for which there is no use in the dairy industry. Farms and slaughterhouses exist as a fact: We eat meat and dairy products. Using animal hides, which are a by-product, means being aware of this reality and making the most of a precious material that would otherwise become waste.”

Nina continues: “I love leather: it is resistant, versatile, sustainable and capable of defying time. Some brands treat leather with petroleum-based products to avoid wrinkles, but we don’t! It is a natural product and we want to emphasize its uniqueness.”

Nina Conrad

The choice of vegetable tanning therefore becomes a logical consequence of the brand philosophy. Nina says: “Since the entire process takes place in Germany, we were looking for a tannery that works with exclusively vegetable tanning extracts. We soon found what we were looking for and are very happy to work with the tannery Renz in southern Germany. And that’s how we discovered tannin: it was fascinating to learn where it comes from and the many benefits it brings, not only in vegetable tanning. A pity that people don’t know anything about it! Unfortunately consumers know very little about the products they buy, and there is a lot of confusion around: many do not even know that the raw material comes from animals intended for human consumption and not killed solely for their skin.”

We need to find a new way of communicating. But that’s not enough: “We must evolve towards a new, more local way of producing, capable of making objects that last, instead of cheap accessories that you buy and throw away. Leather is a precious material and should be treated as such. Now, after the pandemic, we will necessarily have to switch to a new way of approaching consumption and defining trends. Rediscover production on a local basis and, above all, say goodbye to unnecessary seasonal fashions!”

The public proves them right: “Consumers value quality: we have excellent feedback. Many customers understand the value of leather, how it ages acquiring unique characteristics over time; many of them search online for secondhand objects precisely because of the “patina” that covers them.”

What about the so-called “vegan alternative”?

“But it’s based on synthetic materials derived from oil! I’ll tell you this anecdote: a company I work with has decided to launch a “vegan” sneaker into the market. All “plant based” material (or “oil based?”). Well, inside the shoe they had to insert a vegetable tanned leather insole. The reason? The material of the shoe was not sufficiently breathable and consequently a leather insert with tannin was needed to counteract bad smells!” (A topic we know well …)

If it is not greenwashing, we are close to it. Better the authenticity of leather. Simple, essential, and above all honest.

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