Ecotan, the leather that comes from the future

A new innovative and sustainable material is taking the fashion and lifestyle world by storm: it’s called Ecotan and is produced by the Italian company Silvateam.

Silvateam, with offices in over 60 countries and a turnover of more than €250 million, has established itself as a global leader in the production of natural ingredients. Founded back in 1854 in the Monregalese valleys, in the province of Cuneo (Northern Italy), Silvateam extracts tannins from various raw materials, including chestnut, quebracho and tara. Drawing inspiration from nature, the company has developed Ecotan, an innovative sustainable tanning technology that skillfully combines tannins with biopolymers free of harmful substances for both humans and the environment. This creates biocircular leathers that meet the growing consumer demand for products in harmony with nature.
“A recent study by PWC Italy, presented by the University of Prato, highlighted the shift we are experiencing towards consumption models that are much more environmentally conscious; a remarkable 60% of the interviewed Millennials claim to buy from companies with genuine green values,” remarks Alessandra Taccon, Ecotan Project Director. “All of this should incentivize our industry to rethink the traditional chemistry used in leather tanning.”
The ecological approach extends beyond fashion leather production; it can also meet the most stringent requirements for automotive interiors and furniture. In collaboration with partner tanneries, Silvateam has extensively demonstrated that the Ecotan technology allows for the development of high-quality leather articles that combine technical performance with the beauty of materials and a wide range of colors and finishes. Furthermore, the Italy based company has introduced the concept of safe leather, free from allergy risks and skin reactions, a crucial characteristic for product categories like those for children. “Thanks to the tannins’ ability to inhibit bacterial proliferation, we can produce breathable, hygroscopic leather that prevents the formation of unpleasant odors, an extraordinary benefit for shoe inlining and soles, for example,” emphasizes Alessandra Taccon. “And the sustainability cycle is closed by designing a “biocircular” program for Ecotan leather that can be recycled and transformed into organic fertilizers, returning to nature the substances we originally took on loan.”
What is Silvateam’s commitment to sustainability?
“Silvateam has always been committed to the responsible use of natural resources and environmental preservation through policies of energy and water conservation and the conscious use of raw materials such as wood, of which it recycles 100% of the waste. Its long history, product quality, and environmental focus make it a reference company in the sector, listed by Forbes in 2023 among the 50 most sustainable Italian companies. With the increasing demand for eco-friendly and natural leather products, Silvateam is at the forefront and continues to innovate by anticipating market needs, paving the way, with Ecotan and its biopolymers, for a radical transformation of the tanning industry, which in 2024 will also see the introduction of new EU directives, such as the one related to the Digital Product Passport (DPP).”
What have been the main stages of your geographical expansion, and how have you managed to generate interest and collaborations with tanneries in such diverse markets?
“We are currently expanding our reach as part of our development strategy. A couple of years ago, we began promoting the Ecotan technology, focusing mainly on Europe, the heart of the high fashion sector. We believed that luxury, given its positioning and choice of materials, was well-suited to be among the early adopters of new green technologies. The trend is heading in that direction; however, fashion is slower in adopting innovations compared to other sectors such as automotive and lifestyle. Just consider that, according to recent studies, the global green fashion market is worth a total of €6.8 billion, and by 2025, it is expected to reach just over €8 billion, still relatively modest figures when compared to the overall market size.” She adds: “Subsequently, we expanded our partner network in South America, the hub for automotive leather, where we are directly present with our offices capable of supporting tanneries’ ecological transition. Networking with producers is essential today. Furthermore, we have expanded our presence in the United States to be close to many mid-segment brands that truly believe in sustainability. The last development in 2023 was entering the Asian market, a real surprise for us.”
How was the project received in Asia?
“Asia is focused on wet blue and large volumes typical of economies of scale, so we didn’t know how a high-value project like ours would be perceived. In reality, we have found that, although the leather sector is going through a difficult period, there has been excellent reception for our innovative technology, motivated by various reasons. Many tanneries have lost revenues because China is no longer the most cost-effective country for production, and many activities have been moved to Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cambodia. Therefore, local companies are looking for new ideas and innovations to regain competitive and identity space with brands. We found several tanneries not only interested in our project but embracing it immediately, developing the first collections presented at Lineapelle 2023.”
How is the environmental aspect perceived in these markets?
“In Asia, interest in more environmentally friendly solutions is rapidly growing. In fact, recently, with one of our Asian partners, we were invited by the government of Taiwan to present our chrome and heavy metal-free tanning philosophy to evaluate new forms of processing waste recycling. Also in China, the issue of wastewater contamination is significant, so many tanneries are considering alternative paths for their productions.”
What actions are you taking to assess the sustainability of Ecotan leathers?
“One of the most interesting aspects of the Ecotan proposal is the possibility of recycling leather waste and end-of-life articles into fertilizers. Recycling leathers and scraps avoids the release of methane and/or carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which would be released if the leather decomposed in a landfill or was incinerated. Ecotan leathers, thanks to their high protein nitrogen and biocarbon content, can instead be transformed into high-quality fertilizers. These excellent nutrients will feed plants that can absorb more carbon dioxide. A double advantage that can result in a reduction in environmental impact, measurable in lower CO2 emissions per kg of leather, a certification we are developing with the scientific partner Ars Tinctoria.”
And regarding the LCA of Ecotan leathers?
“We have conducted Life Cycle Assessment analysis on over 40 Ecotan products in collaboration with Spin360. An important investment that we expect to complete in 2024. We are working to reduce the GWP parameter, demonstrating that we can measure the savings achieved.”
What is your next step?
“As I mentioned before, the fashion industry is experiencing a slower transition to green compared to other sectors like automotive, which is moving faster. This is because the automotive industry has a forward-looking approach to technology and project development, operating with long-term projections that typically span seven or eight years into the future. Additionally, it’s an industry that pays close attention to early warnings issued by regulatory authorities. It is an industry in constant evolution, especially when considering the development of electric vehicles, which is experiencing significant growth in Asia compared to the rest of the world. That said, our goal is to bring together, at 360 degrees, all those who wish to promote the transition to a chromium- and metal-free system that makes leather even more unique and natural. At Silvateam, we have the ambition to lead this change and inspire the entire industry, including brands that want to embrace the same philosophy, sharing our values of beauty, sustainability, and all-in-one performance.”
What are the company’s main objectives in terms of Ecotan leather product development?
“There is a lot of excitement right now. Our 40+ partners are beginning to launch the first productions of leathers for accessories made from 100% recyclable Ecotan. For instance, in the United States, a handbag has recently been launched, which we believe will achieve great success; a well-known European brand has created the first footwear prototypes, with plans for widespread commercialization. Lastly, we have established a partnership with an Italian start-up that has created the first sneakers for online sale.”
Can you provide an update on the project’s progress?
“We are progressing according to the objectives we set. Silvateam strongly believes in this project and considers it an integral part of its DNA. We take pride in contributing not only to the development of an innovative and sustainable solution but also to a historic transition in our industry. While this transition may be complex, we view it as inevitable in its progression. Ultimately, we want to leave a legacy of active environmental protection for our children, creating a world increasingly free from substances that pose risks to health.”

Alessandra Taccon, Ecotan Project Director