Timberland takes first steps towards 'regenerative' leather supply chain

Outdoor clothing brand Timberland has forged a partnership Other Half Processing - an organisation advocating for 'regenerative' animal supply chains - in a bid to bring products incorporating 'net-positive' leather to market during 2020.

Regenerative sourcing, in theory, sequesters more carbon than it emits, while also providing a boost for biodiversity. Image: Timberland

Regenerative sourcing, in theory, sequesters more carbon than it emits, while also providing a boost for biodiversity. Image: Timberland

Through the partnership, Timberland will source traceable hides from regeneratively grazed cattle raised in the US. Such grazing methods involve ranchers, farmers and tribespeople managing their cattle in a way that mimics the natural movement of animal herds, allowing for plant regrowth.

This plant regrowth has been proven to make the land more productive with greater resistance to both drought and heavy rain, while boosting the landscape’s ability to sequester carbon.

Other Half Processing additionally believes there are social benefits to regenerative grazing. The US-based Minnesota Specific Benefit Corporation claims that this approach enables producers to increase overall returns and avoid costs associated with poor soil health and poor water cycling.

Timberland’s sustainability director Colleen Vien said the first hides sourced through the brand’s partnership with Other Half Processing will be incorporated in products set to go on sale in autumn 2020, including footwear and accessories.

“At Timberland, we are committed not only to minimize the negative impacts of leather production, but to drive environmental benefits through our sourcing approach and ultimately develop a net positive fashion supply chain,” Vien said.

“We are proud that our consumers will be able to buy products where the leather has been sourced in this way and hope to inspire others in the industry to move in this direction as well.”

Net-positive push

In a recent exclusive interview with edie, Vien explained that while Timberland would “love” to switch its entire portfolio to regenerative leather, challenges remain in helping ranchers to change practice and to achieving traceability at scale.

In fact, the latter of these issues recently led to Timberland’s parent firm VF Corporation pausing its sourcing of Brazilian leather; there was simply not enough data or metrics to certify the hides as deforestation-free, amid the rapid spread of wildfires in Amazonia.

Nonetheless, Vien explained that she believes regenerative or net-positive supply chains will continue to grow in precedence in the fashion sector – largely driven by a new wave of climate and biodiversity activism.

“In the past, the key players in the leather industry may have said ‘we can only influence the environmental and social impact product back to the point at which it becomes a hide’,” Vien explained.

“But there’s now been a turning point, whereby brands across the value chain are realizing that it’s not the meat industry alone that is capable of influencing the way cattle are raised.” 

Evidencing Vien’s claim is the Leather Working Group – a coalition of 15 retailers and 55 leather suppliers co-founded by Timberland in 2005. Through the Group, members have access to resources including best-practice protocol, an auditing checklist, scoring and reporting mechanisms, a guidance document and agreed structures for audit visits.

Sarah George



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