Every year, the world produces over 24 billion square meters of leather (enough to cover the state of New Jersey) 16% of this leather will end up as scrap, offcuts, or remnant material. Fair From Lost using fashion waste remnants for sustainable leather wallets & card holders.
We interview Michael Menninger, founder of Far From Lost the brand in which he shares the process of sustainable leather wallets. From sourcing, splitting, skiving, gluing, backing, stitching, edge coating, and stamping to get a finished product… This brand is truly a first stop: beautiful, sustainably sourced, handcrafted wallets made from pristine remnant leather.
Hi Michael, I would love to know your background and what led you to start this sustainable leather wallets brand?
I helped start a Made-in-the-USA leather phone wallet brand that was focused on selling our products online. I managed the operations and, after touring several larger leather manufacturers, I discovered the amount of leather wastage that occurs with specialized manufacturing.
There wasn’t a marketplace for scrap leather in place, and I saw a space for a sustainably sourced leather goods brand – and Far From Lost was born. You can read about my initial discovery in our journal.
What is the mission of Far From Lost?
We’re on a mission to set a new and thoughtful standard for premium leather accessories.
First stop: beautiful, sustainably sourced, handcrafted wallets made from pristine remnant leather.
Leather is a by-product of the meat industry, and we’ve seen many brands claiming to be sustainable because of that. What makes Far From Lost different?
It’s true that the meat industry is far larger than the leather industry, and the demand for cows is not being made from sales of leather goods. However, that doesn’t mean that leather production is sparkling clean. Leather tanning is a nasty business with a lot of chemicals being used to tan leather. Furthermore, in the fashion industry in general, there is a massive wastage problem. Meaning, from the production of goods, there is a lot of left-over waste that ends up in the trash or landfills. The most unique thing about Far From Lost is that we take our time to find the finest materials destined for landfills, and use them as our primary materials.
Because we source all of our materials as scraps, we are not putting any more demand for leather production, and we are reducing the amount of waste because of our sourcing. The materials we source are destined for the trashcan or landfill, as manufacturers have lots of off-cuts after their production. However, these offcuts are still the premium quality leather, just unused.Because we source all of our materials as scraps, we are not putting any more demand for leather production, and we are reducing the amount of waste because of our sourcing. Far From Lost - #sustainable leather wallets… Click To Tweet
So what is remnant leather?
Remnant leather is leftover leather scraps after a manufacturer does the cutting for a certain item.
Can you share with us the current problem the world has with the leather industry?
Every year, the world produces over 24 billion square meters of leather. It’s tricky to visualize this, but it’s enough to cover the state of New Jersey in its entirety. A conservative estimate is to say that 16% of this leather will end up as scrap, offcuts, or remnant material. The vast majority of this remnant material won’t be reused or recycled but committed straight to landfill. We sought to do something about it.
How did you get hold of those hundreds of cardboard boxes of leather that was meant to go to waste?
One of our best sources is one of the largest belt manufacturers in the United States. They make thousands of belts every day for some of the top luxury brands selling in the US. After they do their cutting for the belts, they pile the scraps into these cardboard boxes weighing over 100lbs. I went there one day after they did a big cutting round and loaded up my car multiple times over with these boxes of leather.
Even though being leather remnants, is there any way you can trace and know where it comes from?
Of course, any good manufacturer has relationships with specific tanneries in which they trust and value their finished leather. Each piece of leather we get we know what tannery it came from which is very important to us. Our leather isn’t just remnant but we source only the finest remnants. We want our finished goods to have the same or better quality leather in which the best luxury brands are using.
What’s the deeper meaning it holds for you to use remnant leather that otherwise would go to landfill?
This problem is really two-fold for me. The first is reducing waste with the hopes of preserving our environment. Everyone needs to take action, and this is my action. The second is the idea of making more from less. Overconsumption is such a problem in our world. There are tons of materials that are perfectly usable going to landfill every single day. Everyone needs to jump on this train.
So, what are the properties of leather that make it so appealing to work with?
Leather is a wonderful material, something that humans can really relate to. Leather is strong and reliable, yet moldable and tactile at the same time. It will change with you as you grow, either in color, shape, etc. It can be a status symbol such as a beautiful purse, or elemental to an action, such as a durable boot, or a baseball glove.
How does the handmade process look like for each of the sustainable leather wallets?
It all starts with the leather really. We take our time to cut from the very best pieces of leather we have. There are then many steps, from splitting, skiving, gluing, backing, stitching, edge coating, and stamping to get a finished product. I’m proud to say that each step is done by hand and by a very talented craftsman. Each of our wallets are world top class, and I’d be confident putting them up against any of the best leather brands out there.
Tell us more about the Far From Lost collection and limited series, and how every wallet and card holder is unique?
The Classic Collection is a statement piece for us. I set out to make a wallet that could stand up to any luxury wallet option you may find in a luxury retailer. But ours is made from remnant leather, and sustainably made, at a competitive price.
As of now, our products are unisex. We designed the Classic Collection bifold and card holder with men and women in mind.
The Limited Series is quite different. From the materials perspective, we are using remnant NFL football leather. I was able to create a relationship with an American tannery who makes the leather used in NFL footballs. I went to their facility in Chicago, handpicked the very best materials, and designed a product that really stands out. We were only able to make a handful of these with the number of materials we were able to source.
You can read the story of the sourcing journey here, which is pretty cool.
Aside from the sustainable element, another important area is that Far From Lost is ethically and locally made. What involves creating a fair trade brand in your industry, and what are the direct benefits to the community of London?
The approach from the start was to never cut any corners. I was seeing a lot of companies cutting a corner somewhere, whether it was with their manufacturing, sourcing, inflated price, etc… and I decided early on that I wanted to be a standout in all areas. There are many benefits of local making, such as investing in your local communities, being able to manufacture in smaller quantities, and reducing transportation costs and pollution.
We are headquartered in London, where I live and run the company. And we do all our sourcing and making in the United States where most of our sales are. We are working on a collaboration which would bring sourcing and making to the UK which would be great because we could expand a bit more of our reach to the rest of Europe.
What are other efforts to make right from the factory to improve sustainability?
Basically, we take the time to hand-make each item, which reduces our own wastage and ensures that we are investing in communities with skilled labor. Our making facilities are strategically located close to the area from which we source our materials. Importantly, it also cuts down on transportation pollution.
Could you please provide some data worth sharing on the impact the brand has made?
The facts are, in 2018, 4 billion square meters of leather offcuts ended up as scrap. This is a massive amount, about the size of greater Los Angeles (which is gigantic) four times over!
Our impact on reducing the amount of scrap going to landfill is relatively small, but we are making a dent. So far we have prevented 420 square meters from going to landfills.
Another thing to note is that we do all our making in the same city in which we source the material. And we are beginning to do our making in the same exact facility in which we do our sourcing! This reduces the amount of transport costs and pollution that most other companies go through. For example, many companies purchase their leather in Europe, ship it to China, do their manufacturing, then ship the goods back to the USA or Europe and then distribute. This is massively wasteful.
All of our packaging, it’s made from recycled or easily recyclable materials, and we give 1% of our profits to 1% for the Planet, something I would recommend every company to do.
What have been your challenges as an eco-entrepreneur?
The biggest challenge for me is to swing the non-eco buyers over to our side. Our challenge is our communication, how do we instill urgency into the buyer market? Obviously, there is a section of the market that is eco-focused, and it’s growing, but still, it is quite small compared to the rest.
And what has been the greatest success of the brand so far?
For me our greatest success is really our end product. I’m so proud of what we have been able to do, I really believe we are making the highest quality leather goods product while leaving the smallest carbon footprint.
Is there any advice you’d like to give to other small businesses trying to make a difference?
My advice would be first to find a topic or a problem that you are extremely passionate about. Secondly, it would be to find your inner voice, and distill all your thinking into something compact and digestible. And lastly, starting a business is very expensive, it is imperative to start as small as you can and validate each and every step along the way so you don’t go with a “spray and pray” approach.
Finally, where can we find you? Shop, online, worldwide…?
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