Who could not have felt that the Australian Government showing at COP26 was a failure for all businesses committed to making change in their operations for the betterment of the environment and saviour of the planet? In essence a slap in the face for all work being done by businesses to meet corporate goals for increasing sustainability, enhanced drivers for betterment of planet, workers, animals.
As the founder of James&Co a small Australian brand in a niche fashion category that, if/when it scales to larger size, will drive change with impact in its niche area, I certainly felt rebuffed. And determined to find a way that gives prominence to the James&Co contributions and the actions underway and possible in the whole fashion industry for the environment and society.
I’ll start with an abbreviated ‘the James&Co story’ which can be read in more detail on the website.
James&Co is a for-purpose and for-profit business.The brand of apparel and accessories for women and men that is top quality tailoring of classic styles in fabrics that are both cruelty-free vegan and more sustainable. Starting in 2012 with the available traditional polyurethane (PU) fabrics, we made the major pivot in 2018 to ditch that fabric. Increasingly PU became known for its toxicity because of chemical component and found its way onto regulators’ lists of Substance Of Very High Concern starting in the EU.
Innovators focussed on finding alternative synthetic lether™ (more about that terminology later) fabrics that did not contain harmful chemicals. Waterbased PU (WBPU) was developed in laboratories and factories predominantly in China. Synthetic lether™ that was made without the toxic chemical and in materials suitable for fashion products, upholstery and wherever real leather and traditional PU could be replaced.
Innovation has continued in making alternative more sustainable synthetic lether™ with plants/part of plants as the major component. Pinatex pineapple leaf leather, apple leather, cactus leaf leather, grape skins. Read more about them on our website here.
Hence in 2018 James&Co ditched the use of the toxic traditional PU and is the pioneering brand in the niche fashion category for top quality vegan more sustainable leather apparel & accessories. It operates with the purposes of:
- contributing to ending tailoring in real leather and making a difference to growing cruelty-free stances
- contributing to eradicating toxic leather alternative traditional PU and toxic raw materials in vegan leather alternatives
- contributing to meeting global sustainability goals
And with an overriding aim to support work to raise awareness of mental health issues and lower the high rates of suicide by vulnerable people.
It is important to highlight that WBPU and plant-based synthetic lether™ fabrics make a major contribution to eliminating chemicals from the environment and improving working conditions. They are certainly ‘more sustainable’ than toxic traditional PU. However, WBPU has some degree of petroleum-based component as do the plant-based fabrics because they all contain WBPU as a component to some degree. The result being that the fabrics are not biodegradable. (Query whether any human-made synthetic, as opposed to organic, will ever be biodegradable).
None of these ‘more sustainable’ fabrics are ‘fully sustainable’ or ‘100% sustainable’ or such description. James&Co uses ‘more sustainable’ in our descriptor because that is the true status of the fabrics. There is quite an amount of greenwashing going on by fashion brands and this status reality is important to know.
As is my wont, I could not put the James&Co brand on the bandwagon of ‘sustainable fashion’ without verification, certification, respectability, trust. When we started business in 2012, I could not use the terms ‘vegan’ and ‘vegan leather’ without being accredited by Peta as Peta-approved Vegan.
Since our commitment to more sustainable operations in 2018, significant achievements to establish the credibility of James&Co as a pioneer in its niche fashion area are:
- accreditation of James&Co as a Certified B Corp
- writing, publishing and updating by me of the book For The Planet By 2030: Why We Need To Switch To More Sustainable Lether™ 3rd ed
- establishment of accountable James&Co Sustainability Goals and Policies
- alignment of James&Co sustainability process with the UN Sustainable Development Goals
- accreditation of James&Co as a Bluesign® System Partner for synthetic leather textiles
- application for trademarking the word ‘lether’ following decision in the Italian courts that fabrics not made from animal-based components could not use the word ‘leather’. Read more.
The significance of the Bluesign System Partner accreditation cannot be overstated. James&Co is the first Australian brand ever to be an accredited Bluesign System Partner. And the first brand ever globally for synthetic lether™. We will work with manufacturers of lab-grown and plant-based synthetic lether™ to address the component issues to make them more sustainable and kinder to the planet and people.
Is there any other brand in Australia or globally that is such a driving force for sustainable change in its niche fashion area, more verified, more transparent in its operations, more engaging with stakeholders, offers the best quality more sustainable lether™ fashion apparel and accessories than James&Co? The answer is no.
So back to the starting point of this treatise. In response to the Australian Government presentation of Australia’s commitments respecting climate change, I propose that we seize the opportunity to promote what Australian fashion industry is actually doing with the James&Co example:
- James&Co is the unique pioneering Australian brand for eradicating the use of toxic traditional PU as the vegan leather fabric in fashion. The knowledge of the brand be promoted to retailers, fashion industry stakeholders and climate change organisations
- Retailers’ awareness of the toxic traditional PU leads to retailers transitioning away from brands manufacturing their vegan leather apparel and accessories with toxic traditional PU
- Retailers query the claims of brands about the sustainability of their vegan leather products
- The more sustainable lether™ fabrics used by James&Co are not biodegradable. We all focus on how to deal with the circularity and end-of-life issues of vegan lether™ fashion products.
- We all take this opportunity to develop partnerships for growing the James&Co brand into the Australian and global market - so that it becomes a brand that rolls off the tongue and is on the Australian map of iconic brands for its impact on contributing to achieving climate change targets.