If you’re familiar with Coach, then you probably know it as a leather-led brand – perhaps even the leather-led brand, when it comes to North American fashion labels. And, as a result, you may not have given much thought to the idea of Coach brand as one particularly concerned with sustainability. Understandable – but not entirely correct.
En route to divestment, which is certainly where we’d hope to see fashion heading in the not-so-distant future, animal leather brands do have an essential part to play: without the big names coming to bat for progress, creating change within the industry at the highest level, it’s unlikely that smaller brands focused entirely of next-gen innovation will be able make an impact. Enter Coach. And enter Coachtopia.
Essentially a sub-brand of the Coach house, the newly-launched Coachtopia line is dedicated to products that are primed for circularity – crafted with the same attention to detail and artisan quality, but without the use of virgin materials (wherever possible), and with the capabilities to either be recycled or degrade with minimal impact.
Notably, it’s not only a philosophy applied to Coach’s signature bags, but one which extends from product through to packaging – the latter of which is made from at least 75% recycled materials and is printed with Living Ink‘s renewable, nature-rooted Algae Ink™ technology – to realiz a more wholistic vision.
It’s important to note that this hasn’t come out of nowhere for Coach – that this isn’t a sudden pivot or precarious leap to the bandwagon. Coachtopia is, in many ways, a natural extension of the work already being done by Executive Creative Director Stuart Vevers. As Vogue notes, “Stuart Vevers has been using the Coach runways to experiment with more sustainable design. Recent collections have included leather jackets and skirts made with odd-shaped pieces of scrap leather; Aran sweaters put together from other knits and visibly mended with bright colorful thread; embroidered jeans constructed out of recycled denim; and even sneakers cobbled from “a little worse for the wear” 1970s Coach bags.”
Circularity, then, has been on the mind and in the designs of Coach for a while now – and it shows. Yes, these are still animal-based products, but they are products created with the intention of doing better; of being better. They are products indicative of progress. The kind of progress which opens the door for change at every level.
As always we have questions about whether sustainability-focused sub-brands are the answer versus applying these same principles to mainline products – but we also know these changes don’t happen overnight. Just because it isn’t perfect, doesn’t mean it isn’t progress.
Speaking with Coach’s SVP of Sustainability, Joon Silverstein, FUTUREVVORLD had the chance to ask questions about Coachtopia – about its intent and its impact – and the way circular philosophy is applied practically to design. And, of course, about animal leather’s place within a fashion industry desperately in need of ethical and environmental reform.
Can you explain what a fully circular model for Coach would look like in real terms?
Joon Silverstein: Coachtopia was founded with a mission to accelerate the transition to a circular economy in fashion. With our launch, we’re taking the first steps by crafting from pre-existing and waste materials, designing products for many lives and defining clear pathways for reuse, remaking and recycling.
Our vision at the moment is to progress to a closed loop system, where new products can be made from old, with as little use of virgin materials as possible, via the upcycling and recycling of waste materials, the restoring of pre-loved products, the remaking of products that are damaged or no longer can be used and the recycling of products into new recycled materials.
As we continue to innovate and experiment in Coachtopia, we’ll be guided by our Made Circular principles, and the fundamental principles of a circular economy as defined by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and seeking to find ways to align every more closely with these ideas.
As an extension of that question, then, what does it mean to “design with circularity in mind”?
JS: Designing with circularity in mind means thinking, from the outset, of our Made Circular principles, when we design products. Breaking that down, it’s about:
1. Material choice: Avoiding the creation of new materials by crafting from what already exists, i.e., recycled and upcycled materials
2. Designing for multiple lives: We’re designing our products not just to last but to be remade, crafting them from the start to be more easily disassembled, repaired and reimagined for second and even third lives. That way, we’re working to create products that remain in use and out of landfills.
3. Defining circular pathways – meaning that we don’t just create products that can be reused, but have designed processes within our business so we can take every product back, whatever its condition, and find a way to reuse, remake or recycle it.
How does the first Coachtopia collection follow these principles and how do you evolve from this point?
JS: The first Coachtopia collection follows these principles in many ways!
Firstly, all products prioritize materials that are recycled and upcycled. For example, in our leather goods, shells and linings are made from either Upcrafted Leather (upcycled entirely from Coach production waste) or Coachtopia Leather (made with at least 50% recycled leather scraps from tanneries). Our ready to wear is made from 95%+ recycled cotton. The resin hangtags and chain straps in all products (as well as some bag charms) are made from 70% recycled plastic. Totes come in a 100% recycled polyester canvas. Even the thread used in leather goods is a 100% recycled nylon.
Secondly, Coachtopia products include features that help them to be more easily repaired and disassembled. These include screw-back hardware that is designed to be more easily removed than typical luxury leather goods (and with less damage to the product’s original materials). Throughout the collection, we have also opted for a binding construction, which is more easy to repair and disassemble than in-seam and overlay constructions typically used in luxury bags.
Thirdly, we’ve planned pathways for each one of the products in the collection and have committed to taking them back whatever their condition. What’s more, we’ve equipped each product with a unique digital passport that records its journey and status as it is used and re-used. This is updated every time a product is returned to us for repair, restoring, remaking or upcycling. So when a customer does bring a product back, we have a clear idea of what stage it is at in its circular journey and how we might best prepare it for a new life.
How do you see animal leather’s place within the sustainability and planet-friendlier movements?
JS: The leather industry — like all industries that are based on linear systems and the creation of new materials — has significant environmental impacts. However, leather is both a by-product of the food industry* and a durable long lasting and natural material which supports the creation of high-quality products that last for generations (maximizing a product’s first life is a crucial part of reducing fashion’s impact on the planet). In Coachtopia, we focus on reducing the impact of our leather products by crafting with leather waste and scraps.
As a wider business, we are also working to improve the sustainability of our end-to-end leather value chain and change the leather industry for the better. For example: We prioritize working with tanneries that have been rated gold or silver by the Leather Working Group, which means that they have achieved the highest environmental standards in the industry. As of 2022, 95% of Coach leather goods and 99% of our footwear products are made with leather from these tanneries.
We’ve also partnered with the Savory Institute and Other Half Processing to support regenerative agricultural practices—those designed to maintain and rejuvenate grasslands and to increase biological diversity, soil health and productivity. We are committed to improving the sustainability of our supply chain by finding ways to use regenerative raw materials that have a net positive impact on the environment and result in a reduction of CO2emissions. As part of this commitment, 10% of leather will be sourced from farms using regenerative agriculture practices, made with recycled inputs, or made with next-generation materials by 2030.
JS: Coach is working in close partnership with NGOs, including the World Wildlife Fund and Leather Working group (LWG), to establish and improve our supply chain mapping capabilities. In early 2022, the Tapestry Foundation committed $3 million to the World Wildlife Fund to develop an innovative system to enhance traceability of the leather value chain in Brazil to drive a more sustainable future for the industry.
Tapestry is proud to take a leadership role in the fashion industry towards ending the sourcing of leather from deforested areas and we remain committed to achieving our 2025 goal of 95% traceability and mapping of our raw materials to ensure a transparent and responsible supply chain.
Thinking about the NFC chip, how important is transparency in this drive toward better practice?
JS: In terms of circularity, data-driven transparency is crucial for both our consumers and Coachtopia as a brand. The NFC chip provides access to the product’s unique digital passport which provides transparency on the product’s environmental impacts (including carbon footprint, carbon reduction, waste diversion), materials and Made Circular design details. It also allows us to track each product’s individual journey as it is used and reused.
In a truly circular economy, consumers have visibility about where a product has come from and its environmental impacts, and brands have visibility into the product’s lifecycle and journey, even after it is out in the world. Through our digital passports, we are better equipped to ensure our products live multiple lives and stay out of landfills.
View this post on Instagram
You can browse the full collection and find more on Coachtopia over on the new sub-brand’s official website. And, if you’re interested in reading more about circular systems and low-impact products, consider subscribing to the FUTUREVVORLD newsletter at the bottom of this page.
*FVV NB: The idea that animal leather exists as a by-product of the food industry is not totally incorrect but also far from accurate. Not all leather is sourced from meat industry wastage – in fact, much of it is not. You can read more on that here.