I set out to make a beautiful bag from responsibly sourced leather, without using any hardware and tanned in a way that meant that it could biodegrade and ultimately return to nature.
Supple, spacious, and equipped with our signature organisational interior pockets, the collection comprises seven styles of bag in six shades – now including elegant burgundy and bold red. – all formed from this pioneering natural leather, which will age in its own unique way. To keep it protected from rain spots, and to feed and enhance the leather, it comes with a tin of our specially developed Chambers Wax Polish.
Arizona Muse and DIRT
Return to Nature was inspired by the words of environmentalist and sustainability consultant Arizona Muse, and now supports her charitable organisation, Dirt, the foundation for the regeneration of the earth. For every bag sold, up to £10 will be donated to the independent organisation.
Challenged by the idea of a zero-waste future, and inspired by the circularity of nature, the vision for Return to Nature took two years to realise. The journey to create this collection of bags involved seeking out tanneries who could offer fully traceable skins, tracking down craftspeople who have developed pioneering tanning and finishing methods, and finding ways to make straps adjustable and bags secure without using any hardware.
The leather used in the Return to Nature collection uses a pioneering tanning and finishing method, developed with Richard Hoffmans (est. 1899) and Nera Tanning, resulting in a product that is chrome, heavy-metal and aldehyde-free – and thus able to biodegrade and compost. The skins are sourced from Scan-Hide Swedish farms with some of the highest standards of animal welfare. The hides are tanned with zeology, an innovative new way of tanning that replaces chrome (which hinders biodegradability) with zeolite. The leather is heavy metal and aldehyde-free. It refrains from the use of PU coatings, and is finished instead with Activated Silk™ Technology to allow the bag to biodegrade and compost. In independent testing, the Return to Nature leather biodegraded only 10% slower than pure collagen – in other words, it breaks down nearly as quickly as untanned skin. When industrially composted, the leather was found to actually nourish the soil, delivering 20% stronger plant growth than a control compost. So not only can this bag never add to landfill, but at the end of its life, it will Return to Nature.
Return To Nature by Numbers
Return to Nature is the product of collaboration. Anya Hindmarch has worked with the family-run German tannery Richard Hoffmans (est.1899) and with Nera, part of family-owned company Smit & Zoon (est.1821) based in the Netherlands. The skins are sourced from Scan-Hide’s Swedish farms who have some of the highest standards of animal welfare in Europe. The bags are finished with Activated Silk™ Technology from Evolved By Nature.
Caring for your Return To Nature Bag
These unique bags need a little extra love, so here’s our guide to looking after your bag. Use your Chambers for Anya Hindmarch wax to help protect the bag from rain and watermarks. Apply an even coating across the whole bag and leave overnight before wear. Day-to-day scratches and marks can also be spot-corrected by buffing in wax to gently soften them.
The leather used to make the Return to Nature bags has been tanned and finished for Anya Hindmarch using pioneering techniques developed by some very special partners. We worked with Scan-Hide, whose Swedish farms offer some of the highest standards of animal welfare in Europe and can offer traceability to the animal and its field. Scan-Hide then tanned the hides using an innovative new tanning method call ‘zeology’ by Nera Tanning. Zeology replaces chrome (which hinders biodegradability) with zeolite in the tanning process. Finally, working with family-run German tannery Richard Hoffmans (est.1899 ) the leather is finished with liquid silk. All of these things mean that the leather can biodegrade at end of life and will not add to landfill, unlike much modern leather, which is often PU coated. The result is a supple, natural-looking leather that smells how leather used to smell.
Biodegradability is the process by which the leather get decomposed by micro-organisms into simpler components such as carbon dioxide, water, and ammonia.
Compostability is the capacity of an organic material to be transformed into compost through the composting process. Compost is the result of disintegration and aerobic biodegradation. Mature compost is similar to fertile soil and its high proportion of organic substances means it can be used as a fertiliser. Compostable products are biodegradable, but with an added benefit – that is, when they break down, they release valuable nutrients into the soil, aiding the growth of trees and plants.
Our intention was to challenge ourselves to create a bag that cannot add to landfill. Like all our collections, the Return to Nature bags are intended to be worn and used for a lifetime and passed down as special pieces through the generations. While Anya Hindmarch bags do not generally end up in landfill, we feel that building a responsible ‘end of life’ to products is an important subject to explore.
The leather that we have used to make the Return to Nature collection was submitted for testing to assess its biodegradability. The tests – BS EN ISO 20136:2020 Leather – Determination of the degradability by microorganisms and BS EN ISO 20200:2015 (modified) – were carried out by Eurofins BLC. One test found that our leather had relative biodegradability of 89.2% when compared with untreated collagen’s 100%. The other test showed that 100% of the sample disintegrated after 45 days in heated conditions. We are currently awaiting the results of Post ISO 20200 (Modified) Compost Analysis – EcoTox Analysis and Post ISO 20200 (Modified) Compost Analysis - Plant Response Testing to understand if the bags are also compostable, though our private testing suggests positive results.
The bags are made to last and would only biodegrade if you were to specifically compost them.
This is a natural leather. And like a good pair of shoes, it needs to be polished and protected. We suggest using the specially developed Chambers Wax to keep it protected from rain spots and water marks, and to feed and enhance the leather. When you apply the wax the colour will darken for an hour or two and then as the wax is absorbed it will return to the original colour. But this bag will age naturally and become more beautiful with wear and use.
The full lifecycle of the bag and its carbon footprint is being calculated. We have to go through the first full production cycle before we can do this. We have worked hard to minimise this bag’s carbon footprint but we will also offset these bags with a UN endorsed carbon offset project, so it is carbon neutral.
We worked with some valuable partners to create these special bags. Scan-Hide’s Swedish farms provided exceptional quality skins from Swedish farms; Nera Tanning, who offer Zeology, a sustainable alternative to existing leather tanning agents; family-run German tannery Richard Hoffmans, and Chambers, who worked with us to develop a wax for the bag.
As a business, Anya Hindmarch is committed to creating consciously, and finding ever more responsible ways to make our bags and accessories. We have shown this commitment by signing the UN Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action. We use recycled materials as much as possible – nylon, satin, felt, canvas. We have also moved away from the traditional fashion calendar to avoid encouraging overconsumption. Collections such as I Am A Plastic Bag, which reuses recycled plastic bottles, our Waste Not Want Not campaigns, and Return to Nature are further evidence of this commitment. We believe that perfection is the enemy of good, so we are working fast throughout our business to find better ways of doing everything. Follow our responsible journey here.