14 Jan

How Ethical is Matt and Nat?

Vegan accessories brand Matt and Nat began in 1995, when its founders became inspired by the MAT(T)erial and NATure they were surrounded by in stunning Montreal, Canada. Though Matt & Nat is clearly doing great on the animal welfare front, how does it rate in terms of its environmental policies and labour standards?

Veganism has gone mainstream, and with it, the demand for vegan clothing has gone skywards. Add to that the devastating impacts of the modern leather industry and it’s easy to see why Matt & Nat’s cruelty-free accessories have developed a loyal following.  But is being vegan enough to be truly ethical?

Environmental Impact: Not Good Enough

Matt & Nat does use sustainable and recycled materials in its designs, including recycled nylon, cork, rubber and even recycled bicycle tyres. It also recycles materials that would otherwise end up in landfill – all linings used in its products are made from 100% recycled plastic bottles, which is a great move.

Unfortunately, while Matt & Nat’s use of sustainable materials should be commended, the brand’s most commonly used materials are polyurethane (PU) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic. Sadly, PVC is probably the single most environmentally-damaging plastics! Made out of chlorine and petroleum, the manufacturing process of PVC use a lot of resources, and it releases a lot of toxic chemicals. It contains nasty substances such as phthalates and dioxins, which a number of studies have shown to potentially cause adverse health effects including cancer and birth defects. Concerns surrounding these chemicals have led Greenpeace to call for the discontinuation of PVC production altogether.

The brand says it prefers to use the less harmful PU over PVC where possible. However, it’s not clear exactly how much PVC is used – it does not clearly list the materials used in each of their products.

What’s more, there is no evidence the brand is reducing its carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions, or that it avoids hazardous chemicals in its supply chain.

Matt & Nat could improve its score by being more transparent about the materials and chemicals it uses in its products. The brand could also provide additional information about how it addresses the impact of its operations on the environment.

Labour Policies: Not Good Enough

Matt & Nat’s products are made in small factories in China, a high-risk country for poor labour conditions. The brand states that it only works with factories that operate in line with its ethos and says it regularly verifies factory conditions are up to standard. However, it does not state exactly how often it visits the factories. It also fails to mention what specific measures it undertakes to ensure that these standards are being upheld. It provides no evidence that it has, or requires suppliers to use, a Code of Conduct.

Matt & Nat states that one of its factories is certified under the SA8000 standard, which ensures the basic human rights of its workers by providing a sufficient living wage, no discrimination and a safe workplace. The brand also maintains that all its factories qualify for the SA8000 standard certification and that it’s taking steps to make the standard a bigger part of the production process in the future, without specifying what steps they are taking or when they will be implemented.

In addition, Matt & Nat’s use of PVC to produce some of its products poses a significant risk to factory workers and producers. Most concerningly, vinyl chloride, the chemical used to make PVC, is a known human carcinogen according to the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Workers in factories that manufacture PVC are at risk from high exposure to these chemicals. They can also contaminate the surrounding air, waterways and soil potentially affecting those in nearby communities.

In addition, while PU is kinder on the environment than PVC, it is not a perfect leather alternative. PU releases toxic compounds called isocyanates. These can cause lung irritation, trigger asthma attacks and irritate skin. This is particularly harmful to factory workers who are regularly exposed.

Matt & Nat needs to provide more information about its labour standards, and how its use of toxic chemicals in its manufacturing processes affects its workers before it can achieve a higher rating.

Animal Welfare: Great

No room for improvement here! Matt & Nat are a fully vegan brand that use no animal products.

Overall Rating: Not Good Enough

Rated: Not Good Enough

We’ve given Matt & Nat a rating of ‘Not Good Enough’’ based on our own research. We commend the brand for its dedication to animal welfare and use of some sustainable materials. However, there are still a number of significant concerns. These need to be addressed before it can achieve a rating of ‘It’s A Start’.

Matt & Nat should improve its transparency when it comes to labelling materials that are used in its products. It needs to tell us more about its plans to move towards more sustainable materials, as well as specific details about the labour standards of the factories it collaborates with.

We should note that Matt & Nat was previously rated ‘Good’ and this is a downgrade that many ethical fashionistas might find surprising, given the brand’s profile. We revisited the brand’s rating after a number of people asked us to take another look at its environmental and social record. As always, we want to give you the most thorough and trusted ethical rating and will always update a rating when necessary.

 

Luckily, we’ve found some ethical vegan alternatives to Matt and Nat, that are just as beautiful but have a better impact on the Planet, People and Environment!

For other vegan leather alternatives that are plastic-free and just as gorgeous. Check out our article on eco-friendly vegan leather alternatives!

Editor's note: this article was updated in January 2019. Feature image via Matt & Nat. Additional images via brands mentioned.

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