Here’s a case of tradition meets innovation; heritage thinking meets future gazing; boomer meets Gen Z. ECCO Leather, first established in 1991 as part of ECCO Shoes, has partnered with Ecovative, a materials science company that works with mycelium.
The partnership aims to bring mycelium products at scale to the footwear and fashion market by combining ECCO Leather’s industry experience with Ecovative’s next-gen expertise. And the work’s already started. This year, Ecovative’s mycelium materials have been put through their paces, being tested to the same high performance standards that commercial leather products have to meet.
Ecovative’s AirMycelium™ technology, which can be used to create 100% mycelium based products like foam for cushioning, plant-based leathers, and even food, will now be exposed to some of ECCO Leather’s innovative tannery processes. The DriTan™ tanning process, which requires less chemicals and water compared to traditional tanning, brings another eco-layer to the eco-friendly mycelium material.
These self-described “custom-tuned” materials will be used by ECCO Leather to create new products for not only its own brand but also to supply its material partner network.
What’s interesting to see here is how the partnership is working in both directions. “The best and fastest way to advance new materials with biology is through partnerships,” says Gavin McIntyre, Chief Commercial Officer of Ecovative. “By combining our expertise and capacity to grow mycelium at scale, and ECCO Leather’s extensive understanding of what’s needed for the best leather products in the world, we will help bring the industry closer to true sustainability and circularity.”
But how will this collaboration really help bring the leather industry closer to “true sustainability and circularity,” if it refuses to divest completely from animal-derived materials?
There are a couple ways to look at this partnership. Either ECCO Leather is a brand that’s really committed to changing itself to protect the planet. Or, it’s just another old-school brand operating in a dying-out industry trying to stay alive by any means necessary.
It’s hard to say at this point, but with no commitment to divest from animal-derived materials, ECCO Leather seems to fall into that second category. We welcome these kinds of partnerships that look to scale Earth-friendly materials and techniques to mass markets, but at what cost? More and more, consumers are wanting brands to take an all-or-nothing approach. Either go 100% plastic-free or don’t bother; get rid of all animal products or maybe it’s time to move on.
ECCO Leather claims that it is keeping a “waste product in the value chain” by using animal hides that are a byproduct of the meat industry. It’s true that this puts more of the animal to use, but if the market for leather was removed completely, how might that impact the meat industry? Might meat production fall if the financial gain from its waste was taken away? As with all “sustainable” claims, it’s worth keeping the bigger picture in mind.
Let’s hope that ECCO Leather and its industry competitors make a bigger shift in their thinking sooner rather than later. Let’s hope the boomer can fully embrace the Gen Z mindset.