Slow Fashion – sustainably sourced Cowhide Rugs

Zulucow’s Nguni cowhides are sustainably sourced ‘by-products’ of the food industry. Nothing goes to waste in Africa.

With an increased concern for the sustainability and provenance of what we buy, I’m proud to say that Zulucow’s Nguni cowhide rugs (including the cushions, bags and belts produced from them) are by-products of a traditional food industry in South Africa.

Zulucow's Nguni cowhide rugs are a by-product of the food industry in S.Africa and sustainably sourced.

Zulu herdsman, tending his herd of cattle in the South African ‘veld.’

Zulucow's Nguni cowhide rugs are sustainably sourced and a by-product of the food industry in S.Africa.

Zulu herdsman wearing his ‘ibheshu’ a cowhide ‘apron’ whilst tending his herd of cattle.

It was great to hear ‘Zara’ announce in July, a pledge to only use 100% sustainable fabrics for all its clothes collections by 2025. Hopefully these are signs of the ‘Fast-Fashion tide’ turning?! Although encouraging news; I just wondered why Zara can’t achieve this sooner? I also wondered why they haven’t addressed the key question: how to reduce the vast volume of clothes they produce (in order to satiate ‘fast fashion’s’ insatiable demands?)

One of the core brand values of Zulucow; is that all our cowhide rugs and cowhide products are sustainable, made to last and don’t impact the environment. They are derived from South Africa’s indigenous Nguni cattle. For centuries these beautiful, cattle have been bred primarily as a source of protein to eat; and, because nothing in Africa goes to waste; their beautiful hides have always been treasured and used for shields and ceremonial clothing as well as for rugs. And now the Zulus are deriving an income from the Nguni, via the jobs created in tanning and crafting Zulucow’s cowhide rugs, cushions and accessories.

All Zulucow's cowhide rugs are a by-product of the food industry and sustainably sourced. Zulu herdsman with his Nguni cattle.

Nguni cattle with their Zulu herdsman

Nguni cowhides are farmed in South Africa, the natural and ethical by-products of the meat industry.

However, this is not the case in Brazil, where cattle are farmed for their skins on massive ranches, which have been created by cutting down swathes of the precious Amazon rainforest. The cowhide produced, often renamed ‘Italian leather’, is used to satisfy the global demand for a constant churn of designer leather handbags and shoes. Environmental journalist Lucy Siegle has for more than 10 years been exposing these dubious Brazilian practices for the Guardian;  for example: “Cattle ranches are threatening the Amazon thanks to our love of luxury leather goods”: (Lucy Siegle’s “Luxury Leather and the Amazon” (The Guardian 2013)

Huge cattle ranches in Brazil, cut out of the rainforest, to produce cheap leather on a massive scale. Fast Fashion.

Indu- Brasil cattle – farmed on a massive scale in huge ranches cut out of Brazil’s rainforest. (Picture:Pisco del Gaiso)

“Cows have long been farmed to fuel the fast food market. Now, by turning leather into a seasonal fashion, they are becoming part of fast fashion. Soon we will have to kill 430m cows every year.” Lucy Siegle (The Observer, 2016)

Lucy Siegel. The Observer 2016. -

Lucy Siegel. The Observer 2016. “Is it time to give up leather?’ (photo:Chris Floyd)

In her article: ‘Is it time to give up Leather?’ (The Observer, 2016,) Siegle explores whether we can have a world without leather and meat at all; and concludes that this is unlikely. Instead, she believes we should return to the ‘good old days’ of only buying sustainable leather items/bags which will last for the whole of our “fashion lives”. Siegel reports: “This is where I’ll make a case for eco-pragmatism. It is unlikely that the world’s consumers… will be immediately dissuaded from buying leather (and eating beef) altogether, so part of the solution is to make the product more sustainable – and to buy only pieces we can cherish and wear throughout our fashion lives, like our mothers did.”

Of course, I’m not a perfect consumer, but I’ve never had the money or interest in buying a new designer handbag every year. I’ve actually never bought or been given a designer bag. I have always preferred natural leather bags, like Zulucow’s, which have a story and style I love; classic bags which last for ever, and grow old and beautifully worn as I do!

Sustainably sourced, ethically made, cowhide slouch bag. Slow fashion. Nguni bag is a by-product of the food industry in SA

Wearing my sustainably-sourced and ethically made Zulucow Slouch Bag – a classic bag which I’ll wear over the years.

And this is also the view of ethical fashion campaigner Livia Firth  – who, when launching her eponymous leather handbag collection for M&S (3 years ago,) added “passport” tags to her bags detailing the sustainability of the leather’s supply chain. “I am completely wedded to the idea of using the same classic pieces for ever,” she said.

Livia Firth of 'Eco Age' believes in slow fashion. Leather bags which are sustainably sourced and worn for years.

Picture credit: Livia Firth/EcoAge

So, although there’s a long way to go, perhaps Zara’s announcement is the first sign of high-street, fashion brands turning a corner. Maybe it will encourage other fast-fashion companies to follow suit; in the name of ‘Slow fashion’ for the future of our planet – to start using sustainable fabrics and most importantly, reduce the volume of clothes they produce? I’d love to know what do you think?

2019-08-04T10:00:20+01:00