I must admit that I’m like most in that I love the look and feel of leather. We all grew up with it, right? Heck, I think many of us have even had the guilty pleasure of a buttery leather jacket, sofa or wallet that we knew was the skin of a baby cow or lamb and we chose to look the other way. Now that I know the truth, I just can’t seem to have a dead animal and feel good about it anymore. So, what’s so terrible about using leather?
Most of us are led to believe that all leather is a byproduct of the meat industry, that it’s simply a “leftover,” and if we don’t use it, it will go to waste. This is a common misconception and one that I used to believe myself. The truth is that much of the leather sold today comes from animals killed (nearly 1 billion...yes, 1 billion), primarily for their skins alone. The leather industry has an annual revenue of over $53 billion. You heard that right.
To clarify, within the meat industry, the skins are also sold. However, the skins are more profitable many times more than the cow’s meat itself. Why? Each head of cattle has a low profit margin (about $3). So, the industry also relies on the very profitable skins of the cow to remain sustainable. Actually, anything with a skin or hide is free reign. Animals slaughtered for their skins include dogs, cats, cows, goats, pics, sheep, rabbits, seals, lambs, horses, deer, kangaroos, snakes, alligators, elephants, stingrays, and sharks are among the victims of the leather industry. Many of these are passed off as “Genuine Leather”.
Leather makers like to claim their products are "biodegradable" and "eco-friendly". But, the tanning process actually STOPS the leather from biodegrading. Air and salt drying was discontinued in the 1800's and dangerous chemicals are now used in their place. Formaldehyde, acids, chromium, cyanide, sulfur and more than 30 other toxic chemicals are used to treat leather in tanneries. These tanneries pollute nearby rivers and the air with poisonous smoke from burning discarded trimmings. Less than 20% of this toxic waste water is properly treated and winds up in drinking water and contaminates fields and the food chain. The environmental and health effects have been nothing short of catastrophic.
The design and fashion industries have done such a great job of marketing leather as a luxury item that it can be challenging to consider anything else. However, there really are beautiful leather alternatives that are more sustainable, versatile, durable, stain-resistant, and washable.
Extracts from ''The Misconception That Leather is a Byproduct of the Meat Industry'' by Marie Roviello for vegandesign.org