Highlighting the steps involved in production — from farm to tannery, cow to slaughterhouse — Swedish designer Josefin Liljeqvist wants to introduce her supply chain to customers
Swedish designer Josefin Liljeqvist — behind her eponymous fashion-tech brand founded in 2015 — noticed that there was a lack of animal welfare legislation and the United Nations Global Goals did not seem to reflect increased consumer awareness and desires to protect animals. In an attempt to address the United Nations Ethical Fashion Initiative, she targeted the increased customer demand for transparency in order to create a connection between the consumer and their purchase.
She decided to reimagine her product’s supply chain, to reinvent the way that leather is produced in a way that values and recognizes the animal that is central to it. Instead of seeing leather production as its own entity, the designer worked to bring back the old notion of using every ounce of the animal so that each production step makes the most of the animal’s life and puts the animal into the conversation.
In order to do this, she focuses on storytelling as a way to engage her clients and to educate them on the journey of her shoes, from source to end point. «We always focus on the story coming from the animal in our leather goods. We build our designs on top of their legacy and focus on how this can make the world better». In creating this connection, she is making the story of a pair of shoes live on and believes that immortality is the highest level of sustainability. Liljeqvist thinks that priorities in this often-misleading industry are honesty, authenticity, and rawness, so that consumers can see the direct impact that their purchase has.
For many years, Liljeqvist worked to form relationships with the ISO-certified tannery Tärnsjö Garveri. Their relationship began during the period of her studies to become a footwear designer. She had set herself a problem to solve; to explore the different standards of animal welfare within the leather industry. During this period, she contacted Tärnsjö Garveri to ask for their help and landed an internship with them.
As her career led her to build her own brand with a keen focus on animal welfare, they were her natural first call. Josefin looked forward to a new challenge with her first product, willing to testify the impact of fashion tech and leather footwear traceability, encouraging the protection of animals as well as human and nature’s wellbeing. Combining this to supply chain transparency, it is about finding sustainable solutions that can be applied to the fashion industry. The mission of the brand is to improve brand sustainability by focusing on the protection of animals and the environment; seeing animals as a much-needed part of the ecosystem.
In order to move towards her dream of creating a story, Josefin ensures that all shoes are given a traceable six-digit code. Much like a cow’s ID number, they give the consumer a full history of the product. This code allows customers to access a gold mine of information, highlighting the steps involved in production; from farm to tannery, cow to slaughterhouse and all of the steps in between. The process of logging into the database is actively encouraged by Liljeqvist as she believes that relating an item to the reality of death prevents the sense of detachment that often accompanies receiving a garment.
While the software is still under development, the emphasis on connection to the animal is something that is becoming more important to Liljeqvist as she continues to make her dream a reality. The aim of this database will be to find «a new price model for industrial farming; one that economically rewards animal protection and decreases the number of animals living in traditional farming environments». The technology and nudge that this change in behavior can give will be key in leading this shift and movement. Having studied to become a footwear designer, Josefin maintains her production methods to the high quality of traditional shoemaking.
In doing this, she has re-envisaged commercial footwear to create a shoe that requires multiple components: the upper, the lining, the reinforcement leathers, the heel- counter, the clean insock, the insole, the welt, the heel and the sole. All of these are traceable and have been sourced individually, focusing on maintaining a small carbon footprint. «In some areas, they use two leathers due to the quality and tanning methods used, and the required weights and ages of the hides». Such complex efforts towards sustainability can take years to finalize, and Josefin’s efforts are still in their early — yet productive — stages.
There have been technological advances to move beyond the use of natural resources, using creativity to look towards alternatives. One of the pioneers of this new wave of materials is Modern Meadow — a Texas-based start-up that has managed to bio-fabricate leather without the use of animals. It relies on re-creating the central component of leather — collagen — to emulate the desired traits of strength and stretch. To do this it uses a sustainable fermentation process to ‘brew’ collagen directly in batches leaving a low environmental footprint and a durable product.
The motto animal products without the animal attempts to remove the environmental and ethical downfalls of the leather industry. Traditional leather supply chains are long and difficult to manage with price volatility; there is often high waste due to damaged skins not being suitable for the high-quality standards required for luxury clothing. By creating this vegan leather product, the manufacturer is able to dictate exactly the material produced.
Despite steps towards the creation of vegan leather alternatives becoming more sustainable and efficient in their production than leather, Liljeqvist thinks that we need to go beyond the vegan versus non-vegan leather debate. She believes that it is more important to understand the full production process to come up with sustainable solutions, something that she believes can be achieved by focusing on traditional leather products. In reimagining the supply chain, Liljeqvist is able to focus on making the most of a hide and the cow that was killed for it — even those slaughtered for meat.
Both Josefin and Modern Meadow believe that price competition is of little importance when positioned against the potential for environmental disaster. Both encourage product uniqueness in order to encourage efficiency in the market. In discussing the high price tag of 28,000 Swedish Krona (approximately 2,500 Euros), Josefin highlights the quality and care that has gone into the production of her shoes.
«What I don’t think the public understands is the level of perfection you need to work on in order to create traceable leather shoes that have the same quality, craftsmanship, and components as an identical non-traceable shoe. Each component has a specific leather, tanning method, animal age and weight required to create that exact leather and you need to know all of this before tanning so that you can get the best product in production that lives up to the quality we desire to offer».
It is the combination of artisan shoemaking and technological advances that give Josefin Liljeqvist its luxury price bracket. «Our price range reflects our focus of perfection. It is about creating perfect, flawless leather without stretch marks and scars». Even though Josefin Liljeqvist focuses on highlighting the story of a life well-lived, they still have to think about placements, quality of leathers and how they can use leather. Their designs walk a fine line between sustainability and quality which inevitably comes at a higher price. Josefin believes that «the price should be a reflection of integrity, intelligence, and innovation where the product should lead the pricing».
We cannot shy away from the issues surrounding cattle farming. In 2009, the Greenpeace report Slaughtering the Amazon made a connection between leather production (which the fashion industry relies on) and environmental degradation. 290 million cows are killed every year, and this is expected to increase to 430 million annually by 2025 — numbers that the earth might struggle to sustain. The global leather goods business is worth over 100 billion US dollars a year, with leather being both strong and flexible, having been used for thousands of years for footwear. The leather production industry, being based in the raising and slaughtering of billions of animals every year, contributes to climate change, land devastation and water contamination and is the third most polluting industry in the world. Any change to the status quo can seem unimaginable and unachievable.
The road towards sustainability does have its drawbacks but Josefin believes that sustainable growth is something that can be achieved by other companies. As these waves are being made in the fashion industry, it will be interesting to see if innovative supply chains can be emulated by other industries as we progress towards environmental change.
«The world does not need another fashion house. The world needs and deserves us thinking twice and creating design with integrity, intelligence, and beauty. Our mission is to improve global animal protection using impact, fashion, and tech. We believe that the only way to make this mission globally is to reward good animal welfare and add traceability; this will allow a decrease in the numbers of animals living within industrial farming by increasing their quality of life. This is why we started to develop our own technology to help support this mission». By 2018, their leather and production lines were entirely traceable without compromising quality or design.