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Retail partners go circular, as furniture by John Lewis uses leather from Waitrose farms

British department store John Lewis is taking a collaborative approach to making its leather chairs and sofas more sustainable and ethically sourced, announcing that all leather used for the store's own-label furniture will come from UK farms that supply beef to supermarket chain Waitrose.

Both Waitrose and John Lewis are part of the John Lewis Partnership, which is the largest employee-owned business in the UK. The partnership is leveraging its dual operations to make full use of resources at hand, thereby reducing waste, supporting British producers and offering consumers leather products from higher-welfare farms — Waitrose's farming supply chain was awarded Best Retailer for farm animal welfare by Compassion in World Farming four years in a row.

The sofa-leather initiative builds on an earlier innovation in 2021, which saw John Lewis mattresses use wool from local sheep farms that supply meat to Waitrose. Since wool is a low-cost commodity with substantial supply worldwide, those natural fibers would otherwise have gone to waste.

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This move is about more than capitalizing on supply chains to reduce waste and bolster domestic industries; it's rooted in consumer demand for products that are ethically sourced and regionally made. A recent poll conducted among 2,000 general population UK households indicated that 73% of shoppers value the welfare of animals involved in product manufacturing, and 89% prefer to buy British-sourced items.

But, as JLP points out, "leather, and home furnishings in general, seemingly are the cause of an ethical blind spot — with 85% of adults admitting to own leather items but 80% saying they've no idea if their leather came from a British farm. Likewise, 62% don't consider the welfare of the animal when purchasing leather and only 5% think about where the materials used to make their furniture have been sourced from."

The sofa collaboration between John Lewis and Waitrose presents an opportunity to enlighten consumers about the origins of everyday items. Other companies: are you creating detailed, transparent product lifecycle stories that educate customers and increase their engagement with your brand?