Sustainability Lens: Latitudes of Leather

Lusting for leather is an American pastime that conjures visions of cool, daring style with a subtly rebellious edge – but the material known for its quality, versatility, and coveted look and feel is leading its own sustainability narrative, as tanners such as PrimeAsia are engaging with different initiatives to show how responsibly made leather are a sustainable alternative to plastic, and other synthetic materials.

PrimeAsia, a manufacturer of high-quality lifestyle and athletic-inspired leathers for
the global branded footwear and leather goods markets, is resolute in its quest to redefine transparency, and continue to support the sector by developing new approaches to its supply chain and processes, emphasizing leather’s natural beauty and sustainable qualities.

The tannery that makes finished leather for brands the likes of Nike, Adidas, New Balance, and Timberland, approaches sustainability through the lens of transparency.

By engaging with and generating scientific based data, providing LWG verified 100% traceability to slaughterhouse level for all leathers, sound animal and environmental welfare standards, the brand is committed to enacting socially responsible and ethical practices across all its engagements with customers, employees, and the communities it serves. Guided by the belief that responsibly made leathers have an important role in improving supply chains, PrimeAsia is a standout in the market for its relentless journey toward improved efficiency and transparency.

PrimeAsia began as a joint vision between two leading companies, from wholly separate industries: PrimeAsia Corporation was created by the Pou Chen Group, the world’s largest branded athletic and casual footwear manufacturer, and Prime Tanning, a globally known leather producer based
in the U.S.

What started as a small tannery in Taiwan, it is now a business division within the Pou Chen Group, with tanneries in China and Vietnam, and marketing and sales offices in Europe, USA, India, Indonesia and Thailand, providing great flexibility and service levels to its customers. Jon Clark, Chief Executive Officer at PrimeAsia, told FN that since the brand’s founding in the early 1990’s, PrimeAsia centered its strategy around innovation, sustainability, security of supply and speed, aiming to bring the leather sector in line with the needs of the footwear and fashion industries.

“Investments in technology, state-of-the-art facilities, human resources, and research and development, followed by a continuous focus on efficiencies and sustainability, positioned PrimeAsia as a strategic partner for leading athletics and casual footwear brands,” he added.

Leather Reimagined

At the time of its founding, PrimeAsia understood that brands needed more than just leather, Clark explained. “They were looking for companies that were able to support them in terms of developing new trends, dealing with supply chain challenges on an ever more complex world, and capable of coping with continuously growing requirements to make products in a cleaner and more transparent way.”

“Sustainability is a strategic part of what we do, and it helps us to add value to our business as well as our customers,” he said. “The fact that we have been developing scientific, verifiable ways of measuring, reporting, and improving our efficiencies is becoming increasingly important not only for our company, but also for the brands we work with.”

From PrimeAsia’s view, it is gratifying to see its customers view the brand not only as a supplier, but also as a strategic partner that can help them deliver their commitments. “This is only possible if you have clear goals, projects, and a transparent process of communicating the outcomes. This is the direction PrimeAsia has chosen and will continue to follow,” Fernando Bellese, Chief Sustainability Officer at PrimeAsia told FN.

“Leather is a unique material. Its natural origin – a by-product of the food industry – and intrinsic properties make it an incredible component that adds great value to the end products that are made from it. Breathability, durability, comfort, resistance and more importantly, an incredible look and feel,” Bellese said. “Those are just some of the many attributes that leather carries. There is no other material that holds all those features, making it a perfect replacement for synthetic fossil-based materials.”

The brand’s message is timely: Between the ongoing discussions about climate change and the need to halt the extraction of fossil fuels, PrimeAsia is aware of leather’s importance in the fashion segment and the impact it can have across the industry as a solution for brands seeking sustainable materials.

“There is – of course – a lot of misinformation about leather making and the sector carries an outdated image. Modern tanneries are highly efficient and utilize advanced approaches to cleaner production,” Bellese explained. “Just as an example, we have been able in the last 13 years to reduce the water
and energy usage in our largest tannery in Asia by over 46 and 53 percent respectively. This is the result of important investments in efficiencies.”

Data Differentiation

PrimeAsia said that the verifiable data and information it generates can help the industry engage in multi-stakeholder initiatives to communicate the real impact and benefits of leather.

For example, in 2019, PrimeAsia started one of the most comprehensive Life Cycle Assessments, covering 11 different supply chain configurations and operations in five different countries – and its results were independently verified and published on the Higg MSI v3.3.

“Companies in the fashion and footwear industry can have access and start to understand the real benefits of responsibly made leathers. The results have shown that PrimeAsia leathers have a carbon footprint that is at least 70 percent lower than the global average and uses between 54 and 85 percent less water,” Bellese noted – and the brand’s scientific approaches are meant to not only measure and report its impacts, but more importantly, manage and reduce them, he added.

Perhaps what is most differentiating about PrimeAsia’s approach to leading leather’s sustainability is its investment in transparency and traceability. “Traceability is a very exciting topic and PrimeAsia has always seen it with a special attention. It is not only about knowing the origin, but more importantly, understanding the main aspects of its value chain, ensuring consistency and the quality of the processes.”

Bellese said that those processes equip the brand with a clearer view of its supply chain, ensure a higher level of compliance, and create opportunities to work with each player to promote best practices.

In 2020, PrimeAsia launched its Responsibly Raised initiative, a project that promotes sound animal welfare standards, environmental management leading to lower emissions, and fair labor conditions that can be traced all the way to the origin – or “birth farms” – of those materials. Bellese emphasized that its process is “only possible if there is a traceability system that includes all the partners in the supply chain and results in continuous improvement that will benefit all those players and sectors.”

The company said that as a strategic partner for some of the largest footwear brands in the world, innovation in all areas of our business will continue to be the key to its ongoing success. “Leather has and will continue to be a material choice, but it is no longer about just making leather.
Our customers’ needs are continuously evolving and to supply them with products that meet their needs as it relates to trends and sustainability, making investments in new technologies, efficiencies, and projects across all areas of our business is fundamental.”

“PrimeAsia was built on a strong foundation with a vision centered around innovation, sustainability, and security of supply. As we look to the future, those core principles will be instrumental to ensure that we continue to maintain our position as a leading company in the leather industry, a best-in-class supplier – and a strategic partner to our customers.”

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