Did you have any idea that the Brazilian rainforest is taking a major hit due to the demand for Italian-made luxury leather goods? Brazil has become one of the top exporters of tanned leather (when it’s re-tanned in Italy, the “Made in Italy” label is applicable) and the country’s ranches of Nelore cattle are mostly located in the Amazon biome.
A 2009 Greenpeace study found that every 18 seconds, one hectare of the forest was lost to ranchers. Many of the ranchers are flouting the Forest Code, a Brazilian law established in 1965 meant to keep an 80:20 ratio of trees to cows. With government regulation clearly not as effective as it needs to be, the means to curb the ranches’ destruction is in the hands of the companies buying the leather. For instance, the Leather Working Group, whose members include Nike and Timberland, was established in 2005 to rate tanneries on their environmental practices; members only buy from those who are doing well.
Gucci, meanwhile, actually halted all its use of Brazilian-made leather in 2009. However, the brand is bringing it back as a bid to call attention to the area’s problems. In conjunction with Livia Firth’s Green Carpet Challenge (one of our favorite fashionable and eco-friendly style organizations), Gucci is a producing their 60-year-old Jackie bag with Brazilian, deforestation-free leather. They’re making the effort as public as possible by debuting the new bag tomorrow during Paris Fashion Week. The Jackie even comes with a “passport” of sorts, tracing its ecologically safe supply chain, and ensuring that the women who carry it are aware of its roots (and the problems happening down in the Amazon).
Particularly when it comes to luxury goods materials, where it seems there’s no end of money to be made, governments alone can’t be the entities solely responsible for ensuring safe production throughout the supply chain. It’s up to companies to make sustainable sourcing the norm — while Gucci’s step is a one-off, it’s the right move toward both a safer system of sourcing and a means of making the customer aware of the supply chain.