Culled animal hides being used for clothing

Once-discarded hides of deer and wild boars, culled for damaging forests and crops, are now being increasingly used to make clothing and other leather goods and are even seen as aiding regional vitalization.

Trousers made from the hides of Yezo sika deer, which live in Hokkaido, hit the shelves of the Takashimaya department store in Shinjuku, Tokyo, this autumn.

The trousers are soft and light, with a suede-like feel. "They hold in heat and are fairly water-resistant," said Keiko Kadosugi, who is in charge of menswear at the store.

The company said it looked into ways of using hides when it discovered that those from culled Yezo deer were being wastefully discarded. It has collaborated with a domestic fashion brand to develop the hides into products.

Yezo deer hides usually have blemishes, but the department store figured out how to overcome this problem, such as by using the reverse side for the outer surface of the trousers or stitching unblemished pieces together.

The company carries the trousers at six stores, and although expensive at ¥81,000 (S$935), Kadosugi said: "They are of high quality - the tanning and stitching are done domestically."

In 2012, the chamber of commerce and industry in the town of Kibi-Chuo, Okayama Prefecture, also began using hides for clothing.

Hides from boar, which are a headache for farmers as they ruin rice paddies, are tanned by a processor in Tokyo and then turned into clothing by Sugano Hifuku, a company in Kibi-Chuo.

The boar hides are used for the shoulders and part of the pockets of hunting jackets and vests, and they are as soft as pigskin.

The items are sold through the company's website.

As part of regional vitalization in the village of Yasuoka, Nagano Prefecture, local housewives in 2013 joined hands with others to produce hand-made slippers and business card cases using deer hides.

The initiative was named Kemokawa Project, which stems from the words "kemono," or beast, and "kawa," which means both hide and "kawaii," or cute.

Adult slippers, available from ¥12,000, and the card cases, priced from ¥2,800, are sold through the project's website.

According to the Environment Ministry, 466,400 deer and 426,400 wild boar were killed through hunting or culling in fiscal 2012.

The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said only about 10 per cent of the animals were used for food, and that a smaller percentage of the hides were used.

Many issues surround the use of the hides, and ensuring a stable supply from wild animals is difficult.

An official of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry said it is hard to encourage businesses to use hides unless there are sufficient stockpiles.

A hide and skin wholesaler in Tokyo added, "The hides have a lot of blemishes so it's difficult to make products from them." The number of businesses capable of tanning hides is also limited.

To deal with such problems, hide- and skin-processing firms, nonprofit organisations and other entities have launched the MATAGI Project, with the aim of cooperating with regions that want to make use of hides from culled deer and boars. When hides are sent to the project from those regions, members of the project will tan them and send them back.

Akihiro Yamaguchi, who works at a hide-processing company in charge of tanning for the project, said, "We hope that making use of the hides will lead to regional vitalization."

Narihito Takimoto, a professor at Sugiyama Jogakuen University who specializes in industrial design, is studying the effective use of hides from culled animals. "If consumers start appreciating the beauty of hides from wild animals, even with blemishes, I believe their use will spread," he said.