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Enviu’s pathways to change in the leather sector

After last week’s article about our issue analysis in the leather sector and field research in India by our Venture Builder Dieuwertje Nelissen, it is time to look at the bright side. Because there are so many opportunities! Enviu sees that fundamental long-lasting change is needed in the leather value chain and has come up with entrepreneurial solutions to disrupt the current system and create a ‘new normal’. At the same time, Enviu recognizes that short term action is needed now to address challenges in the current value chain. During the ideation phase the Enviu team came up with three innovative directions that can create massive and necessary impact. We would love to share them with you!

The ideation phase is a creative process in which we come up with innovative business models that can tackle the environmental and social challenges that we identified. To come up with future proof solutions for the leather industry, we have investigated trends and made use of scenario-thinking. An example: In 2050 technology will be even further advanced than it already is, what does this mean for the leather sector? A wall full of post-its and ideas has been transformed into three preferred innovation directions.

Our long-term vision is to create a circular value chain. To fundamentally disrupt the sector and create this new chain, we envision two long-term and one short-term pathways:

  1. Making cultured leather in a laboratory, bypassing very polluting parts of the current chain
  2. Circular leather, made without harming the environment and where no waste is generated and all leather can be re-used and recycled.
  3. A more short term direction is the Innovation Lab, bringing proven technological innovations, that contribute to a circular value chain, to the Indian leather sector.

1. Cultured leather

It may still sound very futuristic, but it is already possible: Growing leather in a lab. Yes, the white coats, goggles, and petri dishes kind of lab.

“We see collagen-based leather already being grown in labs. The technology is further advanced than you can imagine. We thought it would be a very long-term idea, but we found out that some companies are already working on it!” Dieuwertje explains. “People like leather for a reason: it is very durable and can be very beautiful. Cultured leather will have the same characteristics as leather, which thus far has been a difficulty for alternative materials.”

“We believe in growing it as a raw material because you would not have to kill animals and you can skip some very polluting parts of value chain, of which animal production takes up a huge portion. An example of a process step which we wouldn’t need anymore: Currently the hide is preserved in salt and we use water to wash it off which pollutes fresh water. You wouldn’t have the environmental impact of livestock and cattle anymore. This is a potential game changer.”

It is great to see that initiatives have already started, and we are currently looking how we can boost this innovation.

One of the many, many post-it sessions captured. Beware not to interpret them out of their context!

2. Circular leather

Nothing really happens after a leather product has been used. It ends up in the bin or is burned. Considering all the financial, environmental and societal production costs of leather, it would be great to be able to use it again. Circular leather would minimize new leather having to be produced, and make use of what already has been made. This applies to leather goods that have been used and to leather waste created during the production of leather goods.

But this is easier said than done. It would take radically re-imagination of the current value chain. “If you look at a circular value chain you already have to start with differently designing a product as well as processing and manufacturing it in such a way that you can re-use, re-purpose and recycle all resources used and the leather at the end of the product’s life,” explains Marieke Lenders, Venture Builder at Enviu and part of the Leather Matters team. Marieke is an expert when it comes to sustainable value chains.

“This is challenging but can also be a huge opportunity. In textiles there are multiple existing ventures, also built by Enviu, that re-use and recycle, from which we can draw important lessons. As there are only a few initiatives active in leather, there’s a huge potential to disrupt.”

3. Innovation Lab India

As there is an urgent need for change, this direction focusses on improving existing issues in the current value chain. We see that sustainable innovation in the leather sector can be accelerated. So, we plan to bring proven sustainable innovations to the sector, that contribute towards a circular leather value chain. Starting in India, a major production country facing severe challenges.

To tackle some of these issues, we will build and scale social ventures that leverage proven technological innovations and adapt them to the needs of the Indian context and local market. We are continuously looking for proven innovations that tackle some of the biggest issues in the leather industry, such as water usage, water pollution, waste and poor working conditions.

“There are some solutions available, but the difficulty is making them commercially viable. We’re looking for innovations that combine environmental and social impact with a positive business case. At Enviu we believe this is a prerequisite for adoption on a large scale and incentivizing sector change,” Marieke concludes.

The next step

Currently we are further testing and validating these innovation directions following the Lean Start-up methodology, to fully understand what potential customers want and find a business model that fits their needs. We are looking for funders and potential partners with complementary skills so we can strengthen our business model and deepen our impact. Because we firmly believe that, if you think you can do it on your own, you’re not dreaming big enough!

Looking forward to collaborate with us, or simply want to know more?

Let us contact you

Get in touch with

Dieuwertje Nelissen

Country Director Chile

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