Today, we are asking ourselves a new question:
What is the true cost of doing business with a company that is only interested in maximizing profits?
In the apparel and accessories industry this new consumer consciousness has manifested itself as what I call the Heirloom Movement. You've probably noticed it too: a growing interest in high-quality, hand-made accessories, jewelry items and apparel from local artisans and designers. These high-end items are built and designed to last, and they are growing in popularity right now, particularly in places like New York and Tokyo.
I see this movement as a result of the following 5 factors.
1) Social Consciousness
As consumers, we are growing in awareness of human rights abuses in 3rd world "manufacturing" countries, and we are questioning the ethics of supporting these governments with our purchases.
2) Economic Consciousness
Recent economic shifts have increased our interest in purchasing higher quality, longer-lasting goods. We want to own fewer things that last instead of more things that fall apart quickly.
3) Regional Consciousness
The loss of traditional manufacturing jobs to low-wage nations has triggered a growth in interest in supporting local artisans to counteract the effect on our local economy.
4) Ecological Consciousness
The popularity of "disposable" or "landfill" apparel and jewelry is falling because of our growing concern for the future health of our planet.
5) Resource Consciousness
The growing awareness of the amount of non-renewable fuel involved in transportation of goods across the world has encouraged consumers to find local producers of the same product.
A Case-Study of Leather: Vegetable-Tanned & Chrome-Tanned
Vegetable-tanning is an organic process that uses the natural tannins found in bark and leaves to convert cowhide into usable leather. Vegetable-tanned leather retains the original surface grain and markings of the cowhide. It also darkens over time with exposure to the elements like sunshine and water, developing a rich patina characteristic of the owner. Most Barrett Alley products are made from natural, vegetable-tanned leather.
Chrome-tanned leather makes up 90% of worldwide leather production due its versatility and resistance to the elements. Chrome-tanned leather often looks less natural than vegetable-tanned leather and is the leather that sometimes demands the question: "Is this real leather?"
Though most bulk tanning processes create environmental waste, the chrome tanning process is often criticized for its unsafe emissions - namely chromium compounds. Leather tanneries in developing countries sometimes dump their chromium wastewater directly into the environment, creating high levels of harmful pollutants. Discarded chrome-tanned leather also presents a problem due to carcinogenic chromium compounds that develop if the leather is disposed of improperly or incinerated. As the European Union strives to have 95% of its automobiles recyclable by 2015, chrome-tanned leather interiors must be replaced by an alternative material. In addition to this, the element chromium is a rare non-renewable resource with only about a dozen sources of the ore across the world.
As we study our habits in light of new information, we become part of the movement in conscious consumerism. The word "cost" ceases to be only about money. We carry on as integral players in a consumer society, but liberated from old patterns. Our knowledge influences our behavior. Our behavior affects our habits, and our habits affect our planet, our environment, and our society.