Every year, the global leather industry slaughters more than a billion animals and tans their skins and hides to create leather. (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) Whether you’re a vegetarian/vegan or not, that stat is disturbing. But if you know anything about factory farming, it’s really not that surprising.
I use to justify buying leather because like many people I have spoken to, we just assume leather is a by product from the meat industry and if the skins aren’t turned into leather, then we’re just being distastefully wasteful (Not that anything about factory farming is tasteful)
The leather misconception
But this is the main misconception. Somehow buying products that are made out of the skin from dead animals is justified simply because it would go to waste otherwise. It’s a general consideration that leather is a by-product of factory farming, but this isa weak argument considering the disgusting practices that take place in order to obtain said leather and the fact that leather is the most profitable ‘by product’ of the meat industry (Deng-Cheng Liu, “Better Utilization of By-Products From the Meat Industry)
By buying leather you are still directly contributing to its demand and the horrific practices of factory farming used to obtain said leather.
Factory farming is part of the fast fashion industry
In order to create leather, animals must endure the same horrors of factory farming, think overcrowding and confinement, un-anesthetized castration, dehorning and skinning, starvation and general all round, cruel treatment.
Majority of the world’s leather comes from countries like China and India of whom have very few laws to abide by when it comes to animal, worker and environmental welfare. By no means can the western world be proud of the way they treat animals in factory farms but due to the very few laws that exist in China and India, the poor treatment of farm animals in these countries really has no limit.
Cows are considered holy creatures in certain parts of India and it is known that they are forced to march without food or water for days across borders for slaughter to avoid breaking local laws, not to mention how they are treated if they are too tired to continue. Think beatings, stabbings and the use of chillie peppers which are rubbed in the eyes of cows. These practices barely scratch the surface.
It’s very common practice in China to not only slaughter cows for their skin but also dogs and cats (Not that a dog or cat’s life is more important than a cow’s) but your favourite hand bag could be made from the skin of man’s best friend (Insert stereotypical dog’s name here) and of course the reason for that is because there are no regulatory laws in place surrounding the labelling of said leather and their origins.
The environmental and health Impact of the leather industry
Another misconception with leather is the ridiculous notion that it is far more sustainable because it decomposes faster than unnatural materials. Uhh No. Leather undergoes the tanning process to prevent it from decomposing by stabilising the collagen and protein fibres, therefore leather can take up to 12 years to fully decompose. 12 years is a huge amount of time for an apparent ‘natural’ material to sit in landfill.
During the 1800’s animal skins were air dried and tanned with vegetable oils and tannins, however the industry has changed dramatically where we now use dangerous chemicals like Formaldehyde, Chrome, Natrium and Ammonium salts. Ok those words may not mean much to you, but over exposure to said chemicals have led to debilitating diseases and genetic deformities in future generations of those who work in the leather tanning industry, not to mention the damaging effect the chemical waste has on our communities, waterways, ecosystems and wildlife
Oh and FYI, factory farming is the single largest contributor to global warming and climate change. (Meat the truth documentary)
How can I put this simply?
In order to house and feed livestock, rainforests are cleared in order to create space. This then means there are less trees to do their thang, i.e. capture carbon dioxide through photosynthesis (so basically clean the air of pollutants) then the livestock fart all day everyday only releasing methane gases into the atmosphere.
Where the heck are the trees to clean this shit up? OHH that’s right, we cut them all down because, yay MEAT AND LEATHER! Soz rant city.
What are the alternatives?
There are stacks of alternatives to leather but the alternatives can be quite conflictual. The main reason as to why leather has been in use for such a long time is because of its amazing durability and the fact that it lasts for frikking ever (If cared for correctly of course)
So yeah, I get it, and although some would argue that leather IS the more sustainable option because it’s less likely to fall apart and we’re likely to keep it in our wardrobe for longer, one must keep in mind the horrific leather making processes.
Although vegan leather is kinder to animals, majority of faux leather options are super unsustainable as they are often made from synthetic materials some of which can be dangerous to humans and the environment. “Some types of faux leather make use of petroleum-derived materials. These can include polyvinyl chloride (PVC) that can be harmful to health because it contains chlorine that also is bad for the planet as it causes pollution. Besides for chlorine, PVC also contains toxic additives such as lead” (Giulia Simolo)
There is so much information out there and researching our every purchase can be exhausting, so it’s easy to become greenwashed with deceiving marketing terms like ‘faux’ ‘vegan friendly’ ‘green’ ‘imitation’ etc etc as many of these terms aren’t actually regulated.
Unfortunately the leather debate is a vast spectrum of colours that nobody likes, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t, but by being aware you can indeed make better decisions.
Only buy second hand leather
There are so many beautiful second hand and vintage leather goods out there. By buying second hand, you are no longer directly contributing to the demand of leather production. You are also giving that beautiful tooled leather handbag a second life and saving it from landfill for at least another few years.
Be a legend with your unique handbag while doing your little bit to care about the earth.
Piñatex Piñatex Piñatex!! I am SO excited to tell you about Piñatex. Piñatex is an innovative sustainable, non-woven textile made from the waste fibres of pineapple leaves. Sourced and made in the Phillipines, Piñatex has provided new industry and provides additional jobs and income for farmers.
Piñatex is a more sustainable alternative to leather and other petroleum based products by leaps and bounds and is comparable to animal leather in durability, texture, and versatility. Unlike animal leathers, no extra land, water, fertilisers and pesticides are required to produce Piñatex as the by product from pineapples is used in its production, truly encompassing the cradle to cradle approach.
Although Piñatex is not yet fully biodegradable post manufacturing, it is compostable under the right conditions. It is an innovative material and Ananas Anam (the company that discovered and produce Piñatex) are looking to develop the product to be fully biodegradable. So watch this space!
Piñatex have also been certified as a ‘Vegan Fashion label’ by PETA AND have received PETA’s innovation award in 2015 alongside Stella McCartney, Vivienne Westwood and Simone Rocha.
I cannot express my excitement and love for this amazing material enough, and am so excited to see it grow in popularity, so here are a list of companies that are already using Piñatex to make their products