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Restaurateurs Redefine Sustainable Eating

Marlow Goods redefines sustainable eating by also using hides to make beautiful, fashionable things

By Stephanie Stewart-Howard on November 14, 2014

Marlow Goods in Brooklyn, NY
New York / Courtesy of Marlow Goods

Restaurant owners and powerhouse New York culinary couple Kate Huling and Andrew Tarlow challenged the concept of whole animal usage in the fresh local food community with their Marlow Goods brand of leather and wool goods, which makes use of tanned hides and fleeces of the animals served in their restaurants by turning them into fashionable bags, shoes, scarves and more. While many proponents of pasture-raised animal husbandry have made admirable use of everything from traditional meats to sinew and bone, Marlow Goods may be the first to also make use of leather and wool.

Farm-to-Table to Closet

Huling and Tarlow emerged on the Brooklyn, N.Y. restaurant scene more than 15 years ago, making a name with locations including the recent, critically acclaimed Reynard, Diner and Roman’s. From early on, they recognized the value of sourcing locally, bringing in cows, pigs, goats, lambs, and plenty of fowl from all over New York, Pennsylvania and New England, and rendering them down to the point where they utilized every part but the hide.

Their commitment to sustainability led them to imagine a leather goods brand to make use of those hides, but it wasn’t until 2007 when they successfully found a tannery just three hours from the city that could properly cure the hides from their grass-fed animals.

Fashion Industry Background, French Inspiration

Kate Huling, who spent her teen years in France, then in college studied with sandal designer Barbara Shaum and bag designer A Détacher, she was thrilled at the opportunity to get back into this type of creative work. She started with satchels and briefcases of cow and pigskin in a classic mode. She then moved on to buy the fleeces and pelts of the Icelandic ewes and lambs also served in the restaurant, which became yarn for sweaters and blankets, or whole skins as rugs, naming the line Breton for her time spent in France.

The effort has been so successful, Marlow Goods now purchases all the hides their farmers produce, in addition to those they use themselves. In September, Vogue magazine highlighted the arrival of a pop-up store in the Wyeth Hotel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (the same location as their restaurant Reynard).

The Wyeth shop, now run by Huling and Tarlow, carries not only the wares produced by Marlow Goods, but also a carefully selected group of other fine fashion and homewares, including A Détacher, Homespun, New England Alpaca Fiber Coop, Ulla Johnson and others. Some of the products may be purchased online for those not lucky enough to live nearby.

Raising the Bar for Whole Animal Processing

Admittedly, the act of creating an entire fashion line in addition to running multiple restaurants is an incredible commitment of time and effort, but Huling and Tarlow are not deterred. By inventing Marlow Goods, they have raised the bar for advocates of sustainable living, and it’s easy to imagine them inspiring a whole new crop of designers to look at the possibility of working with eco-friendly materials.

Many commercial leather goods are made from hides gleaned from the meat industry, but the movement to also reclaim hides from sustainably raised animals is currently less significant, and few companies and craft artists do that.

Jim Myers, who writes on sustainable food issues for The Tennessean newspaper says in many cases, the lack of custom processors makes this kind of production difficult. In most states, animals must be processed in a USDA facility, and preserving hides is a secondary concern to harvesting meat and other products – even for extraordinary companies like South Dakota’s Wild Idea Buffalo (which burns or buries hides, but uses all the rest of the animal) or Georgia’s White Oak Pastures.

“Of course, here in the south, you don’t see many reusing pig skin because it’s also good eating,” Myers says.

However, with the unarguable success of Marlow Goods, an example has been set that will undoubtedly inspire designers and farmers both into new types of partnerships. Given the demand for sustainability that has surged as people grow more concerned about where food comes from, the question of where shoes, bags and leather goods are sourced is a worthwhile next endeavor for examination.

It’s not hard to look for the next whole-animal, sustainable maker of leather and wool goods among the up-and-coming designers of the moment. If you value knowing the farmer who raised your food, why not also be glad you know him because he raised your satchel or boots, as well as your steak?

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