Minotti London presents a series of articles covering the environmental footprint and sustainability of the major materials that make our product what it is.
We’ll be taking a look at the woods we use, metals, foams, finishes & coatings. We’ll also look at the bigger picture of the company & CSR.
First topic is the fabrics & leather. It’s what we first consider when we see the form of a Minotti sofa or lounge chair. It’s the tangible aesthetic that give us that feeling of luxury & comfort.
Minotti London Sustainability
For us, sustainability is not just about the material itself. We have to also consider the impacts of the raw material extraction, whether these are natural or man-made.
Of course we consider the production of the fibres, yarns & textiles as well as any added chemistry, but also the end of life scenarios: How easy is it to recycle or reuse the fabrics?
Ultimately, performance is a key consideration. Our fabrics are luxurious by nature, offering an aesthetic & comfort synonymous with the brand. Weaving textiles with yarns from both natural & man-made sources give us the flexibility to play with style & performance, making sure we create our pieces with a quality that is ‘designed to last’.
The Pros & Cons of Natural Fibres
The main natural yarns Minotti use are Wool, Viscose, Cotton, Flax & Linen. We then blend these with man-made fibres of Polyester, Polyamide (Nylon) and Acrylic to increase performance or provide a quality that helps with maintenance or the upholstery process.
Generally speaking, natural fibres are rapidly renewable, or at least come from crops that can be grown in difficult conditions, on land that would not be used for other purposes (such as flax, which can grow in soil that would not support the growth of food crops).
However, we then have to consider the area of land required for these raw materials, potential deforestation for these crops, the water used to sustain the crops, pesticides to keep the crops healthy, and the knock-on effect of those chemicals leaching into local water courses. It’s certainly a complex issue.
Cotton, flax & Linen are all naturally occurring fibres from plant based sources. All these can be made from virgin fibres, but there are also lots of options for recycled fibres generally without affecting performance as the recycled fabrics are broken down into a raw material similar to the virgin fibres, and then a new yarn is spun.
However, one drawback of these natural fibres is the production process uses a large volume of water to produce the fibres or yarns, and being plant based, the growing process can also include pesticides known to include human health issues.
When using natural fibres, the key areas to look for are whether the fibres are organically grown, and if closed-loop water systems are used within the yarn production facilities. Certification to look out for are Fairtrade and the Better Cotton Initiative marks, which both guarantee a level of sustainability in their process.
Wool is amongst the oldest fibres Minotti use for textiles, and offers high performance whilst also being highly sustainable. Wool is rapidly renewable and also biodegradable. It’s also easy to recycle, retaining its performance through the process.
As wool responds to body temperature, it increases the comfort factor of any upholstery, keeping us warm in winter and cooling us down during hotter months.
The natural Lanolin within wool also acts as a stain repellent, reducing the need for cleaning with harmful chemicals. Overall a great fibre from the point of view of sustainability, we still need to ensure the ethical treatment of the animals is considered within the supply chain.
The Wools of New Zealand mark is a good starting point as the welfare of the sheep is a key factor.
Another quality & sustainability mark to look out for is the Responsible Wool Standard, which being 3rd party verified, ensures best practice within the farming & production processes.
Viscose is a bit of an oddity. Although the raw materials are fully natural – being derived from wood pulp, which in turn is a by-product of both the timber industry and from wood/paper recycling – the process of turning this into a yarn is entirely synthetic, using sometimes harsh chemicals to polymerise the raw materials, and then drawing off the viscous layer between the 2 compounds to create a continuous fibre.
A lot of work is being done in this area to clean up the manufacturing process, and ultimately a more sustainable and human-health focused Viscose fibre is already available on the market.
Are Man-Made Fibres As Bad As We’re Told?
Considering man-made fibres, Acrylic & Polyester are the 2 main fibres used by Minotti for our upholstery.
Whilst Acrylic is an extremely versatile and low-cost fibre, it has quite a high impact on the environment when considering a brand new, virgin fibre.
The manufacturing process produces emissions into the atmosphere, which if not strictly controlled have a negative effect on local populations of humans & animals alike.
The good news is that it is relatively easy to recycle certain types of acrylic, meaning that recycled acrylic sources are available, although usually at a greater financial cost.
Polyester is an entirely different story. In the top-3 of most commonly used synthetic fibres globally, it is actually the fashion industry that has led the charge on sourcing & producing a more environmentally responsible Polyester (PE).
Making virgin PE uses quite a bit of water, but most can be reclaimed and kept within a closed-loop system, meaning that actual water losses in the manufacturing process can be kept to an acceptable minimum.
The true benefits of PE actually come from the availability of recycled PE yarns. Whilst it is possible to recycle waste PE yarn or post-consumer used fabric back into yarn, the main source of recyclable PE for the new yarn industry is actually water bottles.
Single use plastics such as water bottles and drinking straws account for almost half the raw material source for recycled PE to date, and that number is increasing consistently.
The recycling process itself is relatively low impact, and the resulting new yarn has exactly the same physical & performance properties as virgin PE yarns have.
The added benefit of stopping plastic bottles heading to the landfill makes recycled PE a really good option for Minotti’s upholstery fabrics, with approximately 36% of all PE in the world currently from recycled sources.
With the new 2020 Collection from Minotti, the outdoor collection now uses 100% PE purely because of its technical performance & easy recyclability, meaning that Minotti London’s sustainability has improved immeasurably.
Leather – A Difficult Proposition
Leather has been used for clothing and furniture for hundreds of years, and as such it should be clearly understood that over 95% of leather used for furniture comes from bovine sources, and that none of those cows are raised for the skin alone.
All bovine leather is actually a by-product of the food industry. If we consider that these hides are a by-product, then they are therefore sustainable, and the leather that comes from those hides are also sustainable.
Of course we also must consider the production process for leather, as generally the tanning process (which makes the leather both supple and long lasting) uses many chemicals, as well as high volumes of water.
Progress has been made in recent years to remove heavy metals from the tanning process, in fact there are now 100% vegetable based tanning processes available today. New technologies and closed-loop systems have also reduced water use to a fraction of what they were only a few years ago.
At Minotti, of course we need a high quality hide, so we are very particular about the sourcing of our leather, using only hides from a single organic farm in Germany where we know the animals welfare & general health are considered.
Our tanneries in Italy use closed loop systems to ensure the lowest impact on the local environment, and we have completely removed heavy metals in our leather dyeing process.
Again, this means that Minotti London’s sustainability can be guaranteed by clear systems that are constantly being updated and monitored.
How Does This Knowledge Drive Our Design Process?
As we’ve said, Minotti are always looking forward in terms of the materials we use and the style & sheer presence of the furniture we create.
The sustainability of the fabrics is an important consideration, but we must always temper this with performance.
Our guiding principle is ‘designed to last’. With this in mind, Minotti do blend natural fibres with man-made, selecting the right balance of these in each new upholstery fabric to create the luxury synonymous with the brand, but also a fabric that is easy to maintain, performs perfectly, and blends perfectly with the shape & form of the furniture it has been designed for.
With the new 2020 Collection we have again utilised local weavers close to our own Meda factory ensuring our support for the local community, but also to ensure our designers work closely with the textile producers to maintain transparency in the supply chain.
Conforming to the standards required by Oeko-Tex and the EU Eco-Label ensure low environmental impact from the textiles, and zero human health impact during use.
Whilst Minotti and Minotti London work hard to make sure the fabrics & leathers we use have the least impact possible, this is only a small part of the overall sustainability strategy of the company.
Using 100% green electricity to light our offices, fully recycled waste from showroom operations as well as packaging materials and promoting worker health in the form of cycle-to-work schemes are an integral part of the philosophy of the business. We’ll discuss these in more depth later in the series.
Click here to discover the 2020 Collection, or use the links below to explore how we can create a beautiful setting for your residence or business.