When we talk about sustainability, we don't often talk about leather. We should. As so many of our maker partners in Turkey remind us, leather is perhaps the world's oldest example of upcycling.
Take a brand like Uniqka, which crafts modern—almost sculptural—homewares from naturally tanned leather, all of which is sourced from cattle—essentially as a waste product from the global food industry.
As Uniqka founder Kerem Aris points explains, it's about making the most out of a less-than-ideal reality. "Today, billions of people eat beef—and that presents plenty of problems, like carbon emissions and such. But the food industry produces this natural material and, by tanning it, we are able to create a material that is durable for ages—shoes, chairs, homewares, everything. It's like upcycling plastic waste. When you are able to make something new and beautiful out of a discarded product, you say 'bravo'."
Turkey has long been a source for high-quality leather goods. It is the world's fourth largest producer of leather behind Italy, India and China. And its history with the material dates back nearly a thousand years, coming into the fore in the 14th century when the Turks conquered Istanbul—then Constantinople—establishing it as center for leather tanning, due to its geographical access to so much water.
Today, there are 13 leather industry zones in Turkey, and 70 percent of the leather produced uses environmentally-friendly methods—a fact that the Turkish leather-goods makers on PBP are insistent on. Take a brand like Tirski, which produces highly functional yet stylish wallets, satchels and key fobs. It specializes in dying its leather with all-natural, eco-friendly materials such as tree bark and mimosa plant. These vegetable-tanned leathers deepen in color and create a soft, lived-in feel with continued use over time.
Accessory brands Mozza and Khilios take the opposite approach of fast fashion. They craft high-quality leather bags, in timeless styles, designed to last—so you’re not running out to buy next season’s bag.
Turkey's leather community has lasted a millennium and, as Uniqka's Aris points out, it's built to live on. "Leather is an expensive material," he explains. "But in Turkey, we have the tanneries—good ones. So, unlike so many other countries in Europe, we can source the best quality leather locally. We don’t have to worry about transport and logistics. It's a huge advantage for Turkish leather makers."