When the biodegradable leather reaches the end of its natural life, it breaks down without the help of any harmful chemicals
For Maj-la Pizzelli, the Co-Founder and Creative Director of Scandinavian designed, Italian crafted leather goods brand, ATP Atelier, a sustainable stance is taken from a perpetual standpoint. “Sustainability has been our why, or reason to be since day one. When founding ATP Atelier, I had no interest in putting yet another brand on the market just because. Following working at Swedish brand, Filippa K for so many years, initiating their work with sustainability, I realized there was no one focusing on high quality leather goods from that same standpoint. Our mission then became to challenge the concept of luxury- to make it smart, not redundant.”
“I think something that is holding the industry back right now is the lack of courage to say ‘we are not perfect,’ because as of now, none of us are. If you don’t dare to start with [something small], in fear of being imperfect, you won’t get anywhere when it comes to sustainability. I say start small. Of course, that’s way better than doing nothing and it will hopefully encourage others to follow. It’s not true that you need to be a big player with huge resources to make an impact.”
Smart Luxury, is defined by the brand as a lifestyle – one based on conscious choices, from a socially, ecologically and emotionally sustainable point of view. A concept translated through the manifold marketing messages exhibited by the brand. A call to give oneself permission, instead of following the broadest path, to rather invest time, energy and money on the experiential aspects of life that last – both for the sake of oneself and that of the world we live in.
For ATP Atelier, the brand has always manifested itself from the combination of heritage and modernism, luxury and sustainability. For it is through contradiction, that something can be born that does not already exist. “The combination of traditional Italian craftsmanship and modern Scandi design was one of the starting points when founding the brand and is something we will never compromise on. The Italian heritage ensures quality and breathes respect, while our Scandinavian aesthetic speaks to the future and a more spirited side of the brand.”
In speaking to the marriage between luxury and sustainability, the backbone of every collection is comprised of vegetable tanned vachetta leather. “The first shoe we ever made was in vegetable tanned vachetta leather – a material, as opposed to traditional leather, that is not treated with any harmful chemicals, is biodegradable and can be easily discarded at the end of its lifetime,” Pizzelli explains. Today, only approximately 10% of all leather produced worldwide is vegetable tanned.
How long does vegetable tanned leather take to biodegrade? The length of the process can vary. What is known, is that the leather is biodegradable and when it does reach the end of its natural life and it degrades, it does so without putting out any harmful chemicals, such as azo-dyes, nickel, PCP or chrome VI – chemicals found in traditionally tanned leather – into the ecosystem.
“We’re always eager, [as a brand], to continue to learn and test ideas, of which, our metal-free nappa is a great example. The nappa leather is born through a unique, patent-pending process, based on rapidly decomposing organic chemicals. The tanning process is non-polluting and has a very low impact on the environment and virtually ninety-eight percent of the water used is recycled,” Pizzelli divulges.
Today, with sustainability, also comes a fluidity in compromise. ATP Atelier’s suede and printed leathers are not treated with natural tannins for example, simply because the brand has not yet developed an efficient way of doing so. They are however, still treated in a way that has a more minimal impact on the environment, by solely employing factories that use closed-loop water systems- meaning that both the synthetics and the water used in the tanning process is recycled and reused.
In pursuit of the process, Pizzelli illustrates that the tanneries the brand employs reclaim hides from the food industry, making the leather a bi-product, preventing waste to a large degree. In justification to the widespread unsustainable perception of leather, Pizzelli justifies, “Leather is a durable material, more so than current vegan alternatives, meaning it has a longer lifespan and is promotional of a slow fashion cycle. An unfortunate fact in today’s climate is that most vegan options are oil-based, often made from plastic or other materials that just simply cannot justify themselves as being more sustainable. From our [brand] point of view, leather is the more conscious offering.” In future-proofing, “Going forward, we’ll see how things develop. Waste from the meat industry might be reduced due to our diminishing consumption and new technology will probably enable the production and innovation of contemporary and intriguing sustainable materials.”
Society begs the question- how circularly integrated can sustainability be from a lifestyle and longevity perspective? What defines sustainability from such a stance? For ATP Atelier, sustainability is not merely defined by the materials used and incorporates the notion of product lifespan into the equation. “We work with many of the same shapes and silhouettes, updating slightly from season to season, rather than following short term trends. We want our pieces to feel relevant for many years.” ATP Atelier also educates the consumer on a conscious level from purchasing behavior to caring for their pieces to allow for a graceful aging process, rather than discarding.
“In addition, we have a very close and long standing relationship with our suppliers. It is priority to protect the Italian artisanal tradition of handmade leather goods, that has been innate for generations. We work with what Italians call laboratori- small factories with up to twenty employees- based in Tuscany. This is not only socially sustainable, but also allows us to have very short lead times and no minimum quantities. In turn, this means we never have to produce more than we actually know for sure we will need [and as a result do not promote mass production through our production process.] As our suppliers are located in Italy, we only work with hides from within the European Union, where there is high traceability and transparency of raw materials,” Pizzelli adds.
For ATP Atelier, the approach has lastingly remained- materials first, design second. Vegetable tanned vachetta is not as soft and supple as chrome-treated alternatives, inevitably affecting the creative process. The leather may not hug a form, or shape as originally ideated, but the brand finds beauty in the compromise out of respect of the raw material and the planet.
“Sustainability is [simultaneously] an integral key when building our actual ATP Atelier team. I’ve always built teams on the basis of people’s varying personalities. If you’re a diverse group, with different perspectives, you’ll be strong in the [longevity race.] It also aids to have a more holistic understanding of one’s, hopefully, diverse customer. Diversity in this instance is not just geographical, but inadvertently based on culture, age and other combined factors. If one cultivates a team representative of this, one can in turn, handle adversity way better than any homogeneous group,” Pizzelli grounds her opinions on diversity in the living truth of her brand. It is with this acceptance and encouragement of individuality, that charged the arousal behind the brand’s Spring Summer 2020 collection, ‘Fueled by Differences’.
“Unlike common practices, our brand has defined its core mission to continuously push personal and industry standards in an effort to align with our end goal- creating beautiful, long-lasting and versatile pieces that are crafted with the intention to respect the planet and its people.” A collection where the dualities of heritage and modernism, luxury and sustainability and minimalism and spirited can lay in harmony.
As with the brand’s preceding collections, the majority of styles are made from vegetable tanned leather, allowing them to age over time, receiving a personal patina, if you will, shaped by its wearer’s lifestyle. The brand focuses relentlessly on the advantages of naturally treated leathers from an aesthetic point of view, revealing the colors and textures that exist naturally due to the material, resulting in an honest form of beauty. The handmade collection pieces cease to be identical, now or ever and are crafted with the intention to be individual and celebrated for their differences.
In today’s climate, it’s more than evident that society is conflicted in a period of appreciating the beauty of the world inhabited, while battling the challenges of a pretty harsh reality. The process of questioning our own and our industry’s policies and practices is ongoing. In the midst of the daunter, where does the progression lie? One can argue that widespread progress is derivative from approachability and accountability- a vision of self-reflective improvement and acknowledgement.
Pizzelli remains open minded and curious for innovative alternatives in all aspects of the industry. “ATP Atelier doesn’t do enough [on the sustainability front], but we’re continuously eager to learn, challenge ourselves and be more transparent, not only from a production and traceability point of view, but also from a more socially sustainable stance. It’s always better to live by example rather than just talking a big game, right? We have great ambitions when it comes to measuring and reporting on the work we do. We want to be able to disclose our CO2 emissions and our overall impact on the environment to include our community in the educational journey of sustainability,” Pizzelli concludes with a breath of optimism for an industry with a changing air.