Fashion: Five Key Things You Need to Know About Your Leather Bag, by Andrew Dale

People often ask me what it’s like to launch a fashion startup with no prior fashion experience. The answer often surprises people: It has set me up for success more than I could have ever imagined at the outset.

Coming from a senior role in the investment industry, I was trained to sniff out the BS in facts, figures, and CEO speeches.

My company, LeDaveed, has a mission to create the best fashion products, and do so in a way that applies stringent environmental standards. We’ve already earned B Corp Pending certification. B Corp status is reserved for top performers, like Warby Parker and Patagonia. We must pass difficult tests regarding our supply chain and transparency to maintain our standing.

Our first task is designing a line of bags that we believe will be the world’s best in terms of not only beauty and performance, but social responsibility.

For those in the business community, elegant bags often mean leather. Here’s the rub: I have rarely seen a greater lack of authenticity (and sometimes, outright fraud) spewed than when it comes to the leather industry.

Of the dozens of companies we diligenced – tanneries, distributors, and fellow fashion brands – there is just one – in a small European town – that meets our criteria regarding respect for local craftsmanship; water, energy, and chemical use; and the treatment of animals and workers.

We’ll share more about this special find at a later time.

For now, we’d like to share five key ways, gleaned from our deep research, in which leather-related brands often mislead consumers, workers, and the planet:

1. Masking production location: In briefcases, there is no difference in the average price of those produced in developing countries like China, and those that are locally produced, as clever branding often allows the location of production to be glossed over. Even those claiming to be disrupting the luxury industry by offering bags at under US$1,000 are frequently doing so with low-cost production. Many of these brands, therefore, have margins of 60-80%.

2. Avoiding responsibility for killing tannery workers: The average life expectancy in Bangladesh’s tannery district, Hazaribagh, is under 50 – 20 years less than its national average. 75 percent of the world’s bovine production is completed in developing countries – often at the encouragement of large corporations, which wish to shirk environmental laws to save money when the animals are processed.

3. Not disclosing existence of hexavalent chromium: A 2007 German study revealed that over 50% of leather goods contained hexavalent chromium. For those familiar with the movie Erin Brockovich, this is the chemical that poisoned the water in Hinkley, California. In bags, while not a carcinogenic killer, hexavalent chromium can cause severe contact dermatitis in sensitive individuals.

4. Using “genuine” leather: Genuine leather is great, right? Wrong. Genuine leather is among the lowest quality leathers out there. Because of the use of the word genuine, one of the worst-quality parts of the hide is sold at massive markups. Full-grain leather is top quality – and if a company uses it, it’ll say so. Otherwise, assume it’s not.

5. Vegetable tanning: Vegetable tanning of leather is a method that is often marketed as a return to the ways of old. However, it’s often extremely water intensive, and by focusing on the method of tanning, brands ignore the myriad of other harmful chemicals often included in this leather, as well as the frequent mistreatment of animals on factory farms.

Be on alert – if a company cannot answer questions regarding all of these topics, they are likely hiding something!

Andrew Dale is a financier – previously one of the youngest executives on Bay Street – turned entrepreneur, who recently founded a fashion brand, LeDaveed. He is a two-time nominee of the Out on Bay Street Emerging Leaders award, which recognizes LGBT business leaders, and graduated in the top 1% of his class from the Schulich School of Business in 2009 with an Honours BBA, specializing in finance.

Andrew Dale headshotAndrew Dale is a financier – previously one of the youngest executives on Bay Street – turned entrepreneur, who recently founded a fashion brand, LeDaveed. He is a two-time nominee of the Out on Bay Street Emerging Leaders award, which recognizes LGBT business leaders, and graduated in the top 1% of his class from the Schulich School of Business in 2009 with an Honours BBA, specializing in finance. You can reach Andrew at andrew@ledaveed.com.

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