2nd report on POLOLO’s special fiber lecture in Berlin
In our second blog article on POLOLO‘s special fiber lecture, we now cover the subject of leather. The natural leather used by POLOLO nestles like a second skin to soft children’s feet. Our leather slippers are therefore the best alternative to healthy barefoot walking. This lecture given by Franziska Kuntze was also filmed – you can find the video at POLOLO on YouTube (only in German): “Ecological natural leather – POLOLO retailer presentation” (c) POLOLO OHG
Franziska Kuntze, the host, welcomed the guests with a brief introduction to POLOLO and emphasized that all slippers as well as kindergarten and wool models are handcrafted by 13 employees in the company’s own manufactory in Oberreichenbach, a former PUMA production hall.
Non-dyed, plant-tanned cow skin as a visual object
She then introduced the subject of natural leather. She had brought a five square metre undyed, plant-tanned cowhide with her, which also showed traces of life and therefore did not have a uniform structure.
Leather has been a well-known natural product for thousands of years – animal skins have to be preserved by tanning in order to be used for production then. POLOLO uses nappa or suede leather:
Suede leather is leather with a buffed and more or less velvety surface. They are also referred to as “nubuck” (on the grain side). Suede leather from the meat gap is called “velours leather” – suede leather is the generic term for all velours surfaces in the leather sector.
As a little background knowledge she told us that today – in German – we often talk about “wild leather” when we actually mean suede leather – real hunting calf indeed comes from wild animals such as deer, roe deer etc.
Chromate: Threat to environment, health and reputation
Kuntze reported that today the leather used for the production of clothing and shoes is mainly made of chrome due to the faster and cheaper tanning process – approx. 95 percent of all leather originates from chrome tanning. In the case of controlled processes and established high environmental standards, tanning with chrome is acceptable – in practice, however, incorrect handling repeatedly leads to the undesirable formation of the harmful chromate. This is considered to have an allergenic effect and is also suspected of being a carcinogen. In addition, considerable waste water and disposal problems arise (e.g. chromate formation may also occur during the burning of chrome-tanned leather residues).
Chromat poses a threat to all those involved along the value chain, as leather with a content of three milligrams or more per kilogram is no longer considered marketable. Unfortunately, children’s shoes in particular are subject to recalls from time to time – customers often look for cheap offers without paying attention to quality. A look at the so-called RAPEX list shows, by the way, the current product recalls for children’s shoes.
POLOLOs only from vegetable tanned leathers –
without PU treatment and chemical finishings
For the reasons mentioned above, POLOLO relies on safe products, also suitable for allergy sufferers, and uses exclusively vegetable tanned leather. Kuntze showed Valonea acorns as an example of a vegetable tanning agent and green chrome powder as an example of a mineral tanning agent. Chrome-tanned leathers are grey-green and therefore always require subsequent dyeing.
Chemical finishing of leather
A further important aspect is the renunciation of further chemical finishings of the leather. Because there is no flawless surface without natural characteristics with leathers – just like with us humans, where the skin can have mosquito bites, pigment changes, injuries. Even under excellent husbandry conditions, cattle suffer minor injuries during their lifetime, which can be found on the leather surface.
In conventional production, however, a completely uniform surface appearance is important for leather without any natural characteristics in order to optimise the leather blend. For this purpose, coated or covered leathers are used. The coating or finishing of the leather equalizes the leather surface. Synthetics are used, which form a flat and uniform surface after their application. The process is supported by colour pigments that cover colour differences. After the coating, the leather is usually embossed. This gives the surface a leather-like surface structure again, which can, however, appear artificial on closer inspection because the natural features and irregularities are missing.
What looks immaculate has a chemical background. Synthetics such as polyurethane, acrylic lacquers, halogenated hydrocarbons, vinyl compounds and organic hydrocarbons such as butadiene pose health risks. The warnings for those substances range from triggering allergies to boosting illnesses.
In addition, the finishing of the leather changes its properties. On the one hand, the leather becomes insensitive to soiling and water-repellent because the pores of the skin are closed by the coating. On the other hand, the air exchange between the leather fabric and the environment is also cut off. This is how leather gained its reputation as a cold material. However, this only applies to coated leather. Natural leather is in exchange with the ambient air and is therefore always pleasantly tempered.
All leather POLOLOs carry the ECARF seal for allergy-friendly products. Kuntze stressed the claim that the material has to adapt to the foot and not vice versa.
The IVN, whose chairman is Kuntze, considers the entire process chain for its certification. Kuntze mentioned some key data: Transport distances of less than 400 kilometres to avoid refrigeration, salting or the use of pesticides, largely dispensing with packaging material.
Since 2012, POLOLO and its factory have been regularly audited and certified by the IVN according to the “IVN NATUR LEATHER” standard.
Sustainable production of beautiful children’s shoes
In conclusion, Kuntze once again focused on POLOLO’s claim: It is a matter of consciously using the best possibilities to produce beautiful children’s shoes in a sustainable way. In principle, every SOFT shoe made in Franconian Oberreichenbach is unique:
Although the punchers try to select pieces of leather with the same structure from the hides of the cows, which no computer could do yet, they are recognizable as natural leather – and that should be the case. By the way, the leather cut that is produced during punching is further used, for example for POLOLO’s doll shoes or key rings.