Jan 20, 2023
by Karl Smith
ECCO Leather’s Deadstock Vault Is a Byproduct of Industry Fantasy
by Karl Smith
Jan 20, 2023

First of all, let me just say: we love deadstock. As a concept and as a practice, it aligns with our values in terms of circularity and a waste-not-want-not mindset that ought to be more prevalent in the fashion and footwear industries. We even collaborated on a deadstock project of our own, “Mission Deadstock,” just last year.

With that in mind, believe us when we say that not all deadstock projects are created equal, and – to that end – ECCO Leather’s new deadstock project is just not the progressive move it claims to be.

Yes, there is a point to be made: it is potentially true that in opening its vault to independent designers, students, and small-scale brands ECCO ensures maximum take-up on product otherwise left idle; even that such a scheme has the potential to foster creativity by lowering the barrier to entry.

But, beyond those generous top-line and somewhat conceptual pro points, this is just the continuation of an otherwise negative cycle. And, in the end, there’s very little forward-thinking here to speak of.

We say this is not because deadstock in and of itself isn’t a smart way of eliminating waste – again, it is – but because the project’s sustainable credentials are based almost entirely on a falsehood; on a fabrication perpetuated by the leather and meat industries to placate consumers and justify what it is they do. (And, really, we all know what it is they do.)

The fact is, regardless of what you’re told, leather is not simply a byproduct of meat production. If nothing else, the scale doesn’t allow for it. If you sincerely think that the meat industry, with such a colossal turnover that 95,000 cattle are slaughtered per day only in the United States, is maintaining the quality and integrity of animal skins en masse – and doing so to a standard that the fashion industry finds acceptable in terms of aesthetics and structure – then we would urge you to look at those numbers and to think again.

Even if the machinations of the industry permitted it, tanneries aren’t just accepting every cow hide hurled their way: there are basic quality standards to abide by and even more stringent ones when it comes to high fashion.

Or, at least, there would be. Realistically, big-name brands and luxury houses are working with leather-producing farms, not with off-cuts. What’s more, as The Guardian noted back so far as 2008, “The softest, most luxurious leather comes from the skin of newborn or even unborn calves, cut prematurely out of their mother’s wombs,” taking a cleaver to the industry line that leather is just a way for producers to make the best of a foregone conclusion.

Still, even if that were true – if hides were only gathered from wastage – then what ECCO’s project points to is a further trickledown of that waste: deadstock of, well, dead stock. The waste of waste.

We’ve spoken about ECCO before; about their sustainability efforts and the shaky “progressive” logic behind them. Just last year, in an article on their collaboration with Ecovative, we had cause to question the tannery’s motives: “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.”

And, in this same sense, acting like leather just happens is an untenable standpoint: there is an idea industry built on the production, distribution, and retail of just that one material. There is demand – demand which has nothing whatsoever to do with meat. Access to ECCO’s EL3 Vault isn’t free, after all – they aren’t giving this stock away, they’re selling it. And, in selling it, they’re creating demand; keeping the chain of supply in motion.

And, so, here we are again – asking those same questions. Not just of ECCO but of the animal leather industry as a whole. How can a byproduct have its own commercial ecosystem – its own set of standards – its own distinct and strict taxonomy, and an estimated $629.95 billion USD market size by 2025? How can a waste product have its own wastage and where, exactly, does that cycle end?

HYPEBEAST notes that the EL3 project is “part of ECCO’s design and sustainability drive to reach carbon neutrality by 2028,” although does not caveat this with information on how easy this system is to game through initiatives such as carbon credits and by dusting its hands of the wider industry’s footprint. The article also but – despite partnerships with mushroom leather pioneers – has no similar commitment to animal-based material divestment to mention; they refer to the initiative is “a stock shop open to the public and emerging designers to help reduce the waste of the production of materials, the biggest contributor to fashion’s environmental impact,” but aren’t able to offer any insight as to how – if animal leather is a byproduct of meat production – there can ever be a zero-waste, or even low-waste animal-leather industry.

This isn’t down to faulty reporting, but down to a falsehood – even if the right questions were being asked, there’d be no answers. There’s nothing sustainably-minded about this deadstock initiative; at the end of the day, it isn’t about lessening impact – there is a higher CO2 footprint for cow skin sent to leather tanneries than sent to decompose in landfill, at an astonishing 110.0kg of CO2e per square meter, and this does nothing to change that.

Instead, it’s another way for the industry to expand. It isn’t about waste, it’s about wasted opportunity.

From ECCO’s point of view, it feels like this is about putting paid to the wasted opportunity of languishing product. From an environmental and ethical standpoint, it’s a wasted opportunity to push for tangible change; to take this product out of circulation and in doing so highlight a stark if uncomfortable reality. To reduce supply and reduce demand even by even the smallest amount – just enough to show that a better, more conscientious way is possible.

Images: ECCO Leather – blacked out here because they have no part in the FUTUREVVORLD.