We know our supply chain

A conversation with Cervo Volante

This leather has stories to tell. Insect stings, tick bites, scratches from thorns, antler wounds from rutting fights, and sometimes even bullet holes: the wild existence of Swiss red deer can be read on the leather of Cervo Volante. Vitra is now producing the small LCW (Lounge Chair Wood) by Charles and Ray Eames in walnut veneer as a special edition covered with natural, ecologically tanned red deer leather.

Conny Thiel-Egenter and Kadri Vunder Fontana founded Cervo Volante in Zurich in 2017 to reuse deer hides that had previously been disposed of as waste. Today shoes, bags and accessories are made from the leather, which is processed regionally from start to finish. A conversation about climbing sessions, neck wrinkles and why even vegans sometimes buy from Cervo Volante.

Ms Thiel-Egenter, Ms Vunder Fontana, can we sit down with a clear conscience on an LCW covered in red deerskin from Cervo Volante?

Kadri Vunder Fontana: Absolutely! And for several reasons. Firstly, the leather is a waste product from deer hunting in Switzerland. The processing is done according to very strict ecological criteria. For example, the tanning agents: we utilise acorns collected by hand from Turkey. During the tanning process, we do not use any heavy metals, nor do we employ any chemical pre-tanning agents. In addition, the leather remains natural – we don’t apply any surface coating, which makes it breathable and hypoallergenic.

Conny Thiel-Egenter: Of course, opinions are divided over hunting. But in Central Europe, we exist in a cultural landscape marked by human use and activity, so the deer population has to be regulated. In Switzerland, this is done in a sustainable way, which is something we can stand by.

How did you start working with deerskin in the first place?

Conny Thiel-Egenter: I am a hunter myself, so I knew that half of the animal is usually thrown away and only the meat is used.

Kadri Vunder Fontana: Conny and I have been friends for a long time. We would go to the climbing gym together every week. During a break, Conny told me that the deer hides are simply incinerated after the hunt. I couldn’t believe it at first. Then during the weekly climbing sessions, we were always tossing around ideas of what to do with the skins.

It was a lengthy process from the first idea to the finished products…

Kadri Vunder Fontana: First of all, we did a feasibility study and visited more than 20 different tanneries all over Europe. Only at the very end did we find what we were looking for – with Swiss tanners, right nearby. The difficulty lies in the size of the deer hides: they are much smaller than those of cattle. But the leather industry is geared towards large hides. This has greatly limited the number of potential partners. In addition, tanning should be as ecological as possible. In the second step, we then investigated which products the leather could be used for, because deerskin is full of scratches and scars – sometimes even bullet holes. We needed products where you want to show the imperfections of the leather, where it’s casual and cool. Since Conny and I were looking for sustainable shoes ourselves, we asked around at shoe factories.

The Deerskin Edition of the LCW is your first cooperation with a furniture manufacturer. Were there any special challenges?

Conny Thiel-Egenter: The biggest challenge was that you usually need very large pieces of leather for furniture, think of a sofa! That’s why the compact LCW is particularly well suited – the backrest and seat are not so big. What I like very much is the combination of our oak-tanned leather with the walnut veneer. It’s really fascinating how the two materials are almost the same colour. I was a bit sceptical at first whether it would be a good fit – but it’s a fantastic combination!

The use of animal products nevertheless remains a controversial topic, right?

Kadri Vunder Fontana: When starting out, we decided not to even try to target staunch vegans. After all, we respect personal convictions. But then we kept hearing from vegans who bought new leather shoes from us for the first time in years. Otherwise they would buy second hand, because leather is still the best material for shoes. They could identify with our philosophy. That made us happy, of course. For me personally, there are no sharp distinctions anyway – it isn’t just black and white.

Conny Thiel-Egenter: Nowadays, the discussion about what’s good and what’s bad is so highly moralised. I know this from the topic of hunting. Sometimes the positions are so entrenched that you can’t even have a conversation anymore. That’s a pity. It should always be possible to have a differentiated and fact-based discussion.

Kadri Vunder Fontana: That’s one of our principles: We have built our business model based on facts. Conny and I are both natural scientists – we need facts and figures, we want to know exactly what we are doing. We know our supply chain, we know which substances are used. That’s why we have a clear conscience and can sleep well at night.

Publication date: 9.8.2021
Images: Cervo Volante, Vitra;
Author: Jasmin Jouhar

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