Faux Leather Upholstery

Brown Faux Leather Upholstery Banquette
Brown Faux Leather Upholstery Banquette

Faux (or fake) Leather offers a great alterantive to leather. With Martindale rubs of over 100,000 this is a very safe choice for high use contract areas. It’s usually made of a pure cotton basecloth with a poly-cotton visible coating. There are many other animal skins that are mimiced in the same way and in many cases the finishes are convincing.

But why not just use leather?

Much leather production has now moved away from the West to areas with less stringent environmental laws and lower wage rates. This is where the problem lies.

Chromium based compounds are used in the tanning and curing process of real leather. They are thought to be carcinogenic as, in some European tanning factories, cancer rates were found to be up to 50% higher in workers than in the population as a whole. Furthermore there were higher incidences of Leukemia in children living in areas near the tanneries. Environmental problems are exacerbated by the siting of factories next to rivers; the significant amounts of discharge that are produced are fed into the water courses and then dispersed over wide areas. In more lowly regulated economies it is not unreasonable to believe that the situation is probably worse.

Moving towards a better leather requires that chromium use is stopped completely and that the water used in production is cleaned and re-used in the factory. Any tanins and dyes uses would preferably be plant based.

Food for thought: If you wear leather clothing on sweaty skin then chromium residues in the leather can rub off and enter the skin.

Bleached Fabric & Environmental Impact

Black faux leather upholstery

Most of us are familiar with household (chlorine-based) bleach, which is sodium hypochlorite. It is a very powerful bleaching agent and, like similar agents used in the industrial bleaching of fabrics, it has by-products that include; dioxins, furans and organochlorides.

An alternative to a chlorine based bleach is Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2). This has medical uses and domestic uses such as for bleaching hair.

Hydrogen peroxide occurs naturally by the action of sunlight on water and is simply water plus an extra oxygen molecule (2 lots of H20 plus one lot of 02 equals 2 lots of H2o2 for all you chemists). Hydrogen peroxide is quite reactive and so easily gives up some of its oxygen to revert back to water. This act of giving up oxygen to something else, like fabric, causes the fabric or impurities in it to be oxidised. The oxidised parts of the fabric are chemically changed and lose their colour. They remain there but their colour is changed. That’s what makes it a bleach and so the end products are just the oxidised fabric and water.

Natural linen has a light brown or beige colour. To go lighter than this it has to be either bleached, or bleached and dyed.

If your clients are environmentally conscious and concerned about the environmental impact of the products they buy from you, it would be prudent to ensure that your linen is hydrogen peroxide bleached rather than chlorine bleached.

Upholstery Linen

Until recently the finest linen was made exclusively in Western Europe. Whilst many of those producers still exist, much production has been shifted to the Far East. At KOTHEA, we endeavour to use European linen partly for sentimental reasons as we love the fabrics our mills have continued to deliver to us but also becuase the enviornmental impact of them is good and the quality fantastic.

Many of our natural linens are hydrogen peroxide bleached which is less environmentally damaging than the traditional use of the stronger chlorine-based bleach. Then, when colour is required, we typically only use dyes from natural materials.


Elegant, beautiful, durable, this luxury fabric is the strongest of the vegetable fibres and has 2 to 3 times the strength of cotton. It is smooth, making the finished fabric lint free and ensures that it only gets softer and finer the more it is washed. Linen comes from flax, a bast fibre taken from the stalk of the plant. The lustre is from the natural wax content, with it’s colour ranging from creamy white to light tan. Linen does wrinkle but also presses easily when damp. Linen, like cotton, can also be boiled without damaging the fibre.

The decrease in use of linen may be attributed to the industrialisation of cotton production (a cheaper fibre), the increasing quality of synthetic fibers, and a decreasing appreciation of buyers for very high quality yarn and fabric. Very little top quality linen is produced now, and most is used in low volume applications like hand weaving, as an art material, or table and bed linens.

Although the actual growing of linen is free of the extensive spraying and use of pesticides used on cotton, it is the production process that can be environmentally damaging – the extensive water consumption and the chemicals and mordants used in the dying process. Our Eco linen is of the highest grade, is hand loomed in Latvia and is undyed. It is bleached using low impact hydrogen peroxide rather than chlorine. See also Dye and Bleach, above, for further details.

Can cotton ever be environmentally friendly and at what cost?

Your beautiful cotton shirt or luxurious cotton curtains may hide an environmental time bomb.

Vast amounts of pesticides are used to grow cotton. By weight, it has had more pesticides used in its production than just about any other crop on the planet. To make matters worse, many of the chemicals used in production, such as cyanide, are cancer causing. A sobering fact is that cotton represents approximately 3% of the world’s crop production yet uses 25% of all pesticides.

Truly organic cotton is free from all chemical treatments. It further benefits from having no further treatment after harvesting. Usually there are no further bleaching processes or additional insect repellents (for example to counter moths). Where bleach has to be used, hydrogen peroxide (whilst sounding awful), is actually the most environmentally friendly bleaching option.

Maybe you don’t feel so good about your curtains now. Sorry! But seriously how much more would you be willing to pay in the future for organic cotton?

Eco Friendly Transport For Fabrics/ Home Textiles

Unfortunately for us in the interior design industry many fabrics are imported from exotic locations all over the world. Sometimes this can be by air freight which is one of the largest contributions to global carbon emissions – perhaps in excess of 600 million tonnes per year.

The best environmentally friendly alternatives to air are by truck or by sea. Clearly these options have limites. Like many fabric manufacturers, KOTHEA endeavour to freight all goods woven in Europe by truck; as well as being the most environmentally freindly option, it is the cheapest option for European-sourced goods and is usually as quick as by air. Fabric from further afield, such as silk from Asia, is an attractive proposition for a manufacturer as it usually costs less to produce; it is much more cheaply shipped by sea but this can add weeks onto the delivery time.

Unfortunateley when designers simultaneously demand quick delivery and lower prices this can often involve air freight from Asia and the associated enironmental cost. One thought would be for fabric suppliers to ship in advance by sea and hold larger stock levels in the UK – there is of course then a significant amount of capital tied up in extensive collections across multiple colourways sometimes for long periods of time, that would raise the price.

Is the only environmental way forward for designers and their clients to demand environmentally shipped fabrics and be prepared to pay the premium and wait the extra time for delivery? Should suppliers take a hit and hold higher stock levels?

Is there a better way?

Inspiring Blog Award – Interior Design

Interior Design 2013

A big thank you to Kiki for our nomination for the Inspiring Blog Award. It’s always great to know that we are reaching out to new generations of Interior Designers.

Following the rules of this award, I have to tell you a little bit about myself.

1. Many years ago I danced with Brad Pitt. Well; I was in the same nightclub and I sort of manoeuvred myself into his general vicinity. That counts right?

2. One of my scariest moments is travelling at over 230kmh in a sports car. I wasn’t driving (luckily someone else was) and you will be relieved to know that we were on a race track.

3. I inadvertently inherited a collection of 1980s vinyl ‘LP’ covers. After years of sitting in a box, I discovered that when framed then made a great art installation next to my work area at home.

4. The first paint I chose was for my own bedroom. Dark green. Hmmm.

5. I like people, dogs and cats. In that order.

6. Most interesting party venues: On a rooftop in Manhattan and some bizarre, mostly uninhabited, island somewhere near Comodo that even now I can’t quite remember the name of.

7. Most stupid question, “Do you like chocolate?”

Inspirational Blogs (I’d like to nominate!): Here are some that I enjoy:

Pippa Jameson

Kelly Hoppen

The Style Files

Anne Sage

Design Geek

Apartment Therapy


There are a few rules to accepting this blog award…

1. Display the award image on your blog page.

2. Link back to the person who nominated you and ‘like’ the post

3. State seven facts about yourself.

4. Nominate 15 other bloggers for the award.

5. Notify your bloggers of their nomination and link to their posts.

Raffia Wallcovering

Raffia adds texture as a wallcovering. As a natural product it has many benefits for the interior designer including a degree of thermal insulation and the ability to be adhered directly to wall surfaces or fastened to wall surfaces or ceiling when wrapped around wooden panels.

With Wyzenbeek rubs of 40,000 KOTHEA’s 2011 Raffia (Raphia) are also eminently suitable for a wide range of upholstery uses.

Raffias can usually be fire treated to meet a wide range of contract requirements including hotels and marine installations.

This type of raffia weave has been used for thousands of years perhaps most famously as Japanese Tatami mats. They are of course one of today’s modern day design staples for a clean, modern look.


Contract Upholstery Fabric – How to Specify It

Here is a VERY quick guide to specifying contract fabrics. Contract Fabrics 101 if you like. It shows you the main areas you need to consider.

1. Determine Use

Is it panelling or seating? for the latter you will need to consider flammability (cigarette, match and crib 5) and abrasion (Martindale)

2. Fabric Composition

The composition of the fabric including the yarn and weave will affect the fabric’s long term wear, appearance and technical performance.

Natural fabrics such as wool can be more expensive but generally offer good feel and technical characteristics such as natural flame retardancy.

Man-made fabrics usually are more easily cared for but can look cheap if not properly chosen.

3. Flammability

The single standard for contract seating which is acceptable throughout the EU is EN 1021 Parts 1 and 2 (cigarette and match). Higher level standards in the UK are BS 5852 and BS 7176.

The standard which applies to vertical surface fabrics is BS 476 Part 7.

4. Abrasion

You should be looking at the Martindale properties of the fabric. <Here> is more information on the Martindale rub test.

5. Environmental Considerations

Generally natural fibres like wool are good. And man-made ones less so, NYLON is not great.

6. Care and maintenance

Generally contract fabrics will look bad because of dirt rather than because they wear out. So follow the manufacturers instructions on care and maintenance.  Basically wipe away stains quickly and vacuum clean regularly.

Cashmere Production In Mongolia

I have been reading an interesting article on CNN.com about the high cost of CASHMERE. Take a look….

There are some amazing photos by Jeffrey Lau which  add definitive realism to the lives that many of us are fortunate enough not to lead. It also raises again the issue of the environmental cost and environmentally friendly products; on the one side cashmere production in this area has economically benefitted many people yet at the same time the area is probably at, or beyond, the limit of what can be realistically sustained.

Do we in the affluent west have a right to make these people live the poor but ‘worthy’ lives they used to lead? Or can they exploit the enviroment like we in the west have done over the last few hundred years?

Fabric Tips #10

Interior Designers are sometimes asked for the environmental credentials of their specification. Here are some figures that give you an idea of the greenness of different yarns used in fabric production. The figures show the energy consumption (per kilo in KWH) required to make the fibres. Of course this is far from the total carbon footprint of the finished delivered and fully made up cushion or sofa or curtain. But it is a starting point often covering the more energy intensive part of the process.

17 Wool
27 Viscose
32 Polypropylene
35 Polyester
69 Nylon

Clearly natural wool wins hands down!

As a side note, the “Campaign For Wool” should start to get media coverage throughout the rest of 2010 with the patronage of HRH Prince Charles. The society of British Interior Design are planning to give wool a big push “All we are saying is…give fleece a chance”. Their tagline. Great! Well it made me laugh!