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TEXAS – US non-profit Textile Exchange has released a new definition of ‘leather’ which includes only materials which are derived from tanned hides and skins. In recent years, a number of vegan ‘leathers’ have entered the fashion space but there has been disconcertment among leather proponents, who claim these materials are misusing the term leather.

Earlier this year, Portugal went as far as banning use of the term ‘vegan leather’ and other leather prefixes in marketing because they are “technically incorrect and misleading to consumers.

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Textile Exchange has now released a new definition of leather. In a statement, TE said: “At Textile Exchange, we define leather according to the following criteria, aligning with the EU directive 94/11/EC, ISO 15115, and EN 15987:2015.”

This criteria, said Textile Exchange, includes a, “hide or skin with its original fibrous structure more or less intact and tanned so it does not rot … either with or without hair or wool attached.”

Textile Exchange added: “The term ‘recycled leather’ should only be used if the fibre structure remains intact during the recycling process. Leather disintegrated into fibrous particles, small pieces or powders and combined or not with chemical binding agents, and made into sheets, with a minimum amount of 50 per cent in weight of dry leather fibres should be referred to as ‘recycled leather fibre’.”

Textile Exchange continued: “Materials that do not meet the definition above will not be described by Textile Exchange as leather, regardless of any past designation or common usage of the term.

“There is currently a gap in the legal framing of the classification and naming of the diverse materials sold as alternative materials to leather. This leads to misleading labeling where a fossil-based synthetic material could be referred to in the same way as an innovative plant-based material, making it difficult for a consumer to differentiate the two.”

Stephen Sothmann, president, Leather and Hide Council of America; Executive Director, Meat Import Council of America, Inc, welcomed the move.

He said: “There is currently a gap in the legal framing of the classification and naming of the diverse materials sold as alternative materials to leather. This leads to misleading labeling where a fossil-based synthetic material could be referred to in the same way as an innovative plant-based material, making it difficult for a consumer to differentiate the two.    

“We’re encouraging policymakers to close this gap.  For now, these diverse manmade materials, fully or partially plant-based will be grouped in the ‘Manmade non-fiber materials’ category of our reports and programs, until further legal guidance on the naming and categorization of these materials is available.”

Sothmann stated that a July 2022 consumer survey from Leather UK revealed that 54 per cent of consumers did not know what “vegan leather” and similar confusing marketing terms actually mean, nor could they identify the material’s composition.

He added: “It’s time to end this facade in the fashion, footwear and home furniture industries when it comes to material labeling and transparency. Leather is leather, and everything else should simply be called something else. Kudos to Textile Exchange for understanding this simple fact. I hope their brand members will follow suit.”

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