A better environment with leather tanned in a vegetable process.

The textile and footwear sectors are showing a growing interest in issues related to environmental and social responsibility. Shoe factory Kavat in Kumla, Sweden, founded in 1945, has found a niche in environmentally friendly children’s shoes.

“A few years ago we invested in an organic line of children’s shoes,” says Anders Folkö, Kavat’s President. “Especially in Belgium, Holland and Germany, there are many customers who are prepared to pay more for organic shoes for their children. In 2008 we were the first in the world – and we are currently the only shoe manufacturer in northern Europe – that have children’s shoes which are labeled according to the requirements of the EU Ecolabel. We now have more than 20 models with the Ecolabel, with more to come.”

Global industry with long supply chains

The Swedish footwear industry has a long history dating back almost 135 years when the first factory was opened. By the 1960s, most shoe companies closed or moved production to
low cost countries in Europe. In the 1990s, production moved to Asia and Eastern Europe.

The manufacturing of shoes is now highly globalized. The design may be Swedish, but the materials are from India or Pakistan and assembled in China, Vietnam or any other Asian country. The final finish may take place in another European country. The supply chain is therefore long and difficult to control.

Many companies in the footwear industry have realized the importance of sustainable development and as a result have developed environmental policies and codes of conduct. Some companies carry out audits and inspections of its suppliers.

Kavat has invested in its own production in Sweden and Bosnia-Herzegovina to ensure that its range of children’s shoes has an ecological profile.

Kavat has chosen to use locally produced and vegetable-based tanned leather as a raw material and to eco-label the finished products. It started with the ‘Ecologic’ line of children’s shoes. In 2010, Kavat launched an organic collection of women’s shoes.

Eco-labeled children’s shoes

The labeling of Kavat children’s shoes with the EU Flower eco-label means that:

  • The products have the least environmental impact of their kind.
  • Quality and function are at least as good as in comparable products.
  • The products do not contain substances that are harmful to health.

Kavat’s eco-shoes are carefully controlled to ensure that they do not contain residues of hazardous chemicals and heavy metals. They are made of leather that is tanned with a vegetable-based process. The shoes also meet the requirements for long life and high quality. To be eco-labeled, the shoes must undergo strenuous mechanical tests in the laboratory. The leather on the top of the shoe must adhere firmly with the sole, and the shoes should resist bending and wearing pressures.

Vegetable tanned leather

The Swedish company Tärnsjö Tannery supplies the leather for Kavat’s children shoes. The tannery produces long vegetable tanned leather from skins that mainly come from local slaughterhouses. The process of tanning leather with plant tannins is very old and involves putting the skins in a mixture of salt and oak bark, a process that could take a year to complete.

The Tärnsjö Tannery uses wood extract for results in five to eight weeks instead. The result is chrome-free leather on Kavat’s children’s shoes that are certified by the German certification body.

The article was published in September 2011