The Dark (and only) Side of the Leather Industry

Person: What do you think I should wear over this weirdly looking dress?

Another Person: Just throw in that good ol’ leather jacket, it makes every outfit look better.

Modern society has conditioned us all to believe that certain behaviour is normal, mainly because we are blinded by ignorance. One such behavioural trait is deeming that all non-human animals have been “put on this planet for us to consume”. It sadly remains a norm to consume and purchase animal produce and wear leather.

It is hypocritical to be disgusted about wearing dog skin but think it’s acceptable to wear cow skin?

While the leather industry might often claim that animal skin is recognised as ‘luxurious’ or ‘stylish’, the reality for the animals whose skins are used are far from glamorous.

This article will explain why leather is not a vegan-friendly product, which might seem pretty obvious but let’s not sweep that aside and also break down the alternatives of leather for you to make conscious decisions.

To say that leather has become ubiquitous with our society is an understatement but where does it come from?

To answer in short; Leather-like fur comes from the skin of an animal.

So, how is leather made?

Leather is made from just about any animal you can imagine from cows, pigs, goats, and sheep as well as exotic animals such as alligators, ostriches, zebras, leopards and kangaroos.

The process is quite simple:

  1. The animal is killed (instantly) without any pain relief.

  2. Strip the animal carcass from its skin, sometimes while it is still alive.

  3. Send the stripped body to the butcher to be used as food for the money.

  4. The skin is soaked, washed and scraped to get rid of excess cilia and fat or anything found on the skin of the animal. At this point, the skin can be sold for money.

  5. Tan the skin. A bunch of chemicals are added to preserve the quality of the skin for a longer time, making it tough for people to use.

  6. Afterwards, the tanned skin is sent to suppliers who then turn it to an enormous collection of clothes, belts, watch bands, car seats, furniture etc.c.

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Photo by Federico Gutierrez on Unsplash

Millions of cows and other animals who are killed for their skin go through horrors of factory agriculture - crowding and deprivation as well as castration, branding, and tail-docking - all without any painkillers. At slaughterhouses, animals routinely have their throats cut and some are even skinned and dismembered while they are still conscious, and because leather is usually not labelled, you never really know whose skin you're wearing.

Leather is a by-product of the meat industry, right?

Consumers are aware of the cruelty in killing an animal for its meat or even performing experiments on those that are alive, but almost everyone including a lot of vegetarians, believe that consuming leather isn't cruel and more so, that it's environmentally friendly? Why?

This is because a lot of people are blinded by a common misconception that leather is just a by-product of the meat industry. Leather remains a famous product among consumers because people think by purchasing it they are preventing waste.

Is it a by-product? No. It's a co-product.

Animal skin represents a significant portion of the income made on the sale of their skin. This contributes to great portions to the overall commercial viability of the enterprise.

How can we fail to mention the hunters and poachers, whose full-time job is to hunt and wild animals just for their skin. These people make no less than $30,000 just by hunting and skinning these animals.

Unfortunately, leather is fairly a 'co-product' of the meat industry, which contributes to the demand for more animals to be nourished, just to be killed.

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Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash

At times, it's not even a co-product, it's a direct product.

The most "elegant" material, is produced from new-born veal valves and even unborn calves taken prematurely from their mother's wombs. We do not eat every animal that is skinned for leather, which puts this equation out of the co-product circle. It's a direct product.

The wider cost of the leather industry

There's just not enough to say about the misconduct of the leather industry beyond exploitation of voiceless creatures. Workers perform hazardous tasks like soaking hides in toxic chemicals and using knives to cut the skins and operate machinery unprotected. Workers stand bare-foot in cancer-causing chemicals and use acid that can cause chronic skin diseases. An estimated 90% of tannery workers die before the age of 50 in Dhaka.

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Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

The aftermath of the production of leather has serious environmental drawbacks. This process uses several chemicals and toxins including ammonia; cyanide-based dyes, formaldehyde; and lead. Some of these products are carcinogenic, and all are environmental pollutants, which end up released into the air, ground, and water.

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Photo by JuniperPhoton on Unsplash

Of course, these processes are especially happening in countries where environmental regulations and animal welfare laws are non-existent or aren’t enforced.

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Say Hi to Vegan Leather

Vegan leather, as it suggests, is vegan, which means while manufacturing it no animal was harmed in the process.

Vegan leather is made out of natural synthetic fibres. Also known as faux leather, it looks and feels like real leather moreover unlike real leather, which requires the toxic tanning process, the materials are sustainable and produce a low carbon footprint.

There's two types of synthetic leather: PVC and PU

Vegan leather primarily consists of either of the two synthetic material: Polyurethane (PU Leather) and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC Leather).

PVC contains chlorine, a toxic chemical which produces dioxin during its manufacturing process as it composes of 57% chlorine and 43% carbons, which comes from oil, gas and petroleum, which is also no friend of the environment.

PU contains petrochemicals, however, much lighter than PVC, making it lighter and more durable. PU made it as a more sustainable one of the two.

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Beyond Skin

Beyond Skin was founded in 2001, they pioneered their way into sustainable fashion. Check out their wide range of vegan leather here.

There's a range of ways to make vegan leather, let's have a look at some cool ways;

Exotic 'Plant-based' Leather

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links (i.e., we earn some revenue, at no additional cost to you, when you purchase using our links). We only list products we think have quality, promote sustainability and personally intend to use.

Trees

Cork leather is made by removing the outer bark of the tree, without cutting or harming it. As the bark replenishes, cork can be harvested again and again.

These are mostly found in Portugal, Spain and France.

This is the same material that is used to make wine stoppers, coasters and cork boards.

The fabric is incredibly durable, elastic and lightweight. Cork leather is also hypoallergenic, anti-fungal and waterproof.

Cork is also genetically fire and flame resistant because the bark that is extracted grows on Oak trees to protect them from fire.

Corkor is our favourite brand. We personally love Corkor for its minimal design and cruelty-free nature, check out their great products.

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Corkor

Keeping in mind the balance of harvesting and manufacturing, cork is a fantastic alternative to leather which is also sustainable. Corkor ignited the spark of turning vegan within us but we’ll leave that story for afterwards :)

Pineapples

Piñatex is a natural leather alternative made from cellulose fibres extracted from pineapple leaves, PLA, and petroleum-based resin.

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Photo by Miguel Andrade on Unsplash

As it says on the Piñatex website, the use of pineapple leaf fibre, an agricultural waste product, provides the opportunity to build a scalable commercial industry for developing farming communities, with minimal environmental impact.

The life-cycle of the how the textiles are made is beautifully shown on the website:

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Manufacturing Process at Piñatex

Pineapples are 100% composable, which makes them an extremely sustainable product, however, the petroleum-based resin is not, but it is mentioned on the website that Piñatex is continuously researching and making ongoing changes to make a sustainable product.

Apples

While searching for a minimal, vegan alternative for leather, one brand distinctly caught out attention - Samara.

Samara is a company that creates luxurious vegan fashion that promotes simplicity and elegance. What was so different about Samara was that they used apples to make leather. They make this out of the apple skins that are a waste by-product of the juicing industry.

Samaras' style truly stands out for minimalists who're looking for ethical products: have a look at their beautifully designed line.

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Samara Bags

As mentioned on Samaras' website, their goal is to be entirely plant-based to ensure that our materials are sustainable and require the least amount of processing.

Leaves

Leaf leather is sustainably made out of fallen teak leaves at Tree Tribe.

A unique quality about Tree Tribe is that it chose Teak leaves because they are huge leaves that can be harvested, and when crafted into leaf leather, their natural designs live on permanently in the product.

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Tree Tribe

Most environmental-friendly than animal leather or faux leather. As Tree Tribe mentions on their website, leaf leather brings us closer to nature. Exercise compassion and get your hands on one of these, and contribute to a greater cause.

Cutting leather out of real life, for real.

We don't realise the amount of leather we use in our life until we become conscious of it. From belts, wallets, phone cases to car levers and seats to leather jackets and pants to furniture!

It has become so convenient that millennials like to call leather jackets a "must-have" for their wardrobes. It seems ludicrous, about how we inflict unnecessary pain and suffering to another being just to appease our sense of style.

How do I get rid of it?

When you begin to get out of leather stuff around you, you'll notice just about how much you have. But, take it slow. Think about why you're doing this.

You can donate your leather products. Reusing clothing is a sustainable practice by default.

You can be more conscious and choose better products. As consumers, we have a substantial amount of power over a marketer that could influence the products that are made in the industry.

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By: Vishva Dave

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