Netherlands based Ecco Leather has developed a technology that could take the industry a step closer to water-free leather tanning by using the moisture already present in the hides.
The new DriTan technology gives a product that is indistinguishable from traditionally tanned leather in terms of quality, characteristics, stability and lead-time, the company says. Besides saving huge amounts of water, it also minimises the discharge of waste water and the use of chemicals.
At its tannery in the Netherlands, Ecco Leather says it will eliminate 600 tonnes of sludge per year, translating to 40 truckloads of sludge deposited in landfills per year.
“This process only involves what you already have at hand,” says Thomas Gøgsig, head of applied research at Ecco. “You don’t have to invest in new equipment. You don’t have to look for new exotic chemicals. You just use what is already available at the tannery, only in a different way.”
Ecoo Leather tans 1.25m hides a year to supply leather goods and shoes to over 2,200 Ecco shops and more than 14,000 sales points worldwide, as well as selling externally to luxury apparel brands.
With DriTan, the company saves 20 litres of water per hide, equal to 25m litres of water annually – enough water to keep more than 9,000 people hydrated for one year, according to WHO figures.
The Leather Working Group – a group of footwear brands, tanneries and retailers that promotes responsible practices within the leather industry – estimates that the total water consumption worldwide in bovine leather making is 400bn litres per year.
“Covering both tanning and shoemaking, Ecco is in the perfect position to make the first step in developing a more sustainable tanning process,” says Gøgsig. “Our starting point was the very fundamental question: How can we tan without water in a world of increasing water scarcity, and is it even possible?”
Ecco will showcase the DriTan technology at the IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition, which runs from 16-21 September 2018 in Tokyo.
The company is also re-launching its Ecco Soft 8 sneaker using DriTan leather, which will be sold exclusively at Ecco’s flagship store in Ginza, Tokyo, during the IWA World Water Congress 2018.
Ecco Leather is currently scaling the technology internally to its tanning operations. “We hope to find ways to share the new technology with our partners and the industry worldwide. But first, we must learn from how it unrolls in-house,” says Gøgsig. “In fact, DriTan is just the first step in our ambitious scheme to make the entire leather manufacturing process waterfree.”