Inside the leather brand that relies on offcuts

How Felix von Bahder of eco-leather brand Deadwood scaled a niche supply chain.
Offcuts hero

When friends Felix von Bahder and Carl Ollsen opened their Stockholm clothing store nearly 10 years ago, they had no plans of later setting up an eco-friendly leather brand.

‘We couldn’t find a good-fitting leather jacket we wanted to sell; the new ones lacked beautiful leather, while the vintage [ones weren’t] fashionable enough,’ von Bahder says. The pair came up with a hybrid solution, taking leather from several old jackets and upcycling into a modern piece. 

It was a one-off – but customers asked for more. Von Bahder and Ollsen had a convoluted method of keeping up with demand – taking trips to Thailand’s vintage markets, which carry an abundance of cheap leather coats, and cutting and hand assembling into jackets at a workshop near Bangkok’s Chatuchak market.

Rethinking the supply chain

It was a process that worked when they were only making 10 or so jackets a month. But by 2012, when the jackets had become so popular that they had closed the shop to focus solely on making leather goods, the founders needed a new way to get their hands on quality leather.

Rather than finding a supplier that could sell new leather to them in bulk, the Deadwood founders preferred the look and feel of recycled leather, which ‘adds character to the garments,’ von Bahder says. 

So they started looking for scraps. The fashion industry is notoriously wasteful, and von Bahder knew that there was a lot of good leather getting thrown away – it’s estimated that around 290 million cows are killed each year for their hides, but up to 40% of those skins end up as waste.

‘I picked up the phone and called some manufacturers in the industry. After some hesitation, they admitted what I had heard was correct. It’s a very inefficient industry in terms of waste,’ he explains. By buying waste skins, von Bader reckons Deadwood spends 30% less on material than if it was buying new leather.

The brand moved production to India, where there is a thriving leather industry (the country produces 13% of the world’s leather), and made contacts to help them source waste leather from local factories. 

A world of waste

Deadwood has also identified multiple sources of leftover leather to ensure their supply doesn’t dry up. Its jackets and accessories are now made from a patchwork of rescued deadstock skins, repurposed vintage clothing and post-production waste.

‘It’s an easy and logical way to scale because the waste is just there. It’s going unused otherwise, and there’s a whole world [of potential suppliers] we haven’t even tapped into yet,’ von Bahder adds, saying that Deadwood is also looking closer to home for ready and available sources.

The brand has found that furniture and car manufacturers are also willing to donate offcuts – seeing the PR benefits of helping out a brand that recycles waste materials – and Deadwood is currently in talks with other companies in the hopes of finding even more suppliers.

This article was first published in Courier Issue 28, April/May 2019. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

You might like these, too