Early man wore animal skin to protect himself from the depredations of the weather. Today, however, more and more people are becoming ethically opposed to wearing leather. And for good reason -- most leather comes from developing countries like India and China, where animal welfare laws are either non-existent or not enforced.
Many celebrities like Charlize Theron, Oprah Winfrey and Pamela Anderson have publicly spurned the use of leather and fur. Joaquim Phoenix even refused to wear a pair of leather shoes for a photo shoot for Prada!
Why should I be aware of this?
Every time you choose to buy a leather jacket or leather shoes, you sentence animals to a lifetime of suffering. Buying leather directly contributes to factory farms and slaughterhouses, since the skins of animals are the most economically important co-product of the multi-billion-dollar meat industry.
Many of the millions of cows and other animals who are killed for their skin endure the horrors of factory farming — extreme crowding and deprivation as well as castration, branding, tail-docking, and dehorning, all without any painkillers. In India, a PETA investigation found that cows have their tails broken and chili peppers and tobacco rubbed into their eyes in order to force them to get up and walk after they collapse from exhaustion on the way to the slaughterhouse. At slaughterhouses, animals routinely have their throats slit and are skinned and dismembered while they are still conscious after improper stunning.
Most of the millions of animals slaughtered for their skin endure the horrors of factory farming before being shipped to slaughter, where many are skinned alive.
The federal Humane Slaughter Act stipulates that cows should be stunned by a mechanical blow to the head and rendered unconscious before they are strung up, but the high speed of assembly lines that often process up to 400 cows per hour bypasses this and results in cruel and improper stunning.
How does this affect me?
The tanneries located in developing and underdeveloped countries affect the health of several thousand persons. People visiting tanneries located in villages in Tamil Nadu were appalled to see a large number of people affected by mysterious diseases with many having already met pre-mature death. Several thousand acres of fertile agricultural land had become totally unfit for any cultivation and resembled sulphur fields with the earth assuming a pale yellow hue; ground water, once used for drinking and cultivation, had turned tannic and even the cattle were not drinking the water in all these villages.
Leather and environment
Although some leather-makers deceptively tout their products as "eco-friendly," it is anything but that. Here are some of the by-products of leather manufacture --
- Waste -- Animals on factory farms produce 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population, without the benefit of waste treatment plants
- Toxic Chemicals -- Turning skin into leather requires massive amounts of energy and dangerous chemicals, including mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, and various oils, dyes, and finishes, some of them cyanide-based. Most leather produced in the U.S. is chrome-tanned; all wastes containing chromium are considered hazardous by the EPA. Tannery effluent contains large amounts of pollutants, such as salt, lime sludge, sulfides, and acids.
- Water Pollution -- To raise the animals whose skin eventually becomes leather, trees are cleared to create pastureland, vast quantities of water are used, and feedlot and dairy-farm runoff create a major source of water pollution. Huge amounts of fossil fuels are consumed in livestock production.
- Human Health Fallouts -- People who work in and live near tanneries suffer too. Many are dying from cancer caused by exposure to toxic chemicals used to process to dye the leather. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the incidence of leukemia among residents in an area near one tannery in Kentucky was five times the U.S. average. Arsenic, a common tannery chemical, has long been associated with lung cancer in workers who are exposed to it on a regular basis. Studies of leather-tannery workers in Sweden and Italy found cancer risks "between 20% and 50% above [those] expected."
All about leather
Leather is tanned and preserved animal skin. It may be made from cows, pigs, goats, and sheep; exotic animals like alligators, ostriches, and kangaroos; and even dogs and cats, who are slaughtered for their meat and skins. Used to make shoes, bags, clothes, upholstery and a lot more, leather has been prized over the years.
In the ancient and medieval worlds people made belts and shoes, jackets and protective aprons, hats, straps to carry boxes and bags and sometimes trousers out of leather. But people also used leather for lots of things that we don't use it for today. Since plastic was not available, metal was very expensive, and glass and pottery were too breakable, people used leather bags to carry water and wine in those days. They even used leather thongs to tie up their hair, leather sheets to cover doors or windows, or even as fine paper to write on.
Types Of Leather
Leather may be made from cows, pigs, goats, and sheep and exotic animals like alligators, ostriches, and kangaroos.
- Alligator skin is exotic leather made from the belly skin of an alligator. A much sought after, expensive leather, this is commonly used for shoes, gun cases, purses, wallets and belts.
- Buffalo hide with its unique, natural grain texture, is used to make fine small leather items such as wallets, shoes and belts.
- Cowhide, a byproduct of the beef industry, it is the most commonly available and affordable leather.
- Deerskin is the most favored leather because it retains its shape even after being wet and dried several times and is comfortable in any season. Those wearing deer jackets feel cool in warm weather and warm in cold weather.
- Elkskin and moose skin are very similar to deerskin, but thicker and heavier.
- Equine hides- hides from horses, donkeys and mules are similar to cowhide but are more durable.
- Goatskin is as favored as deerskin and is used for special items such as dress shoes, boots and smaller leather products.
- Lambskin, a soft and luxurious leather, has a distinctive velvety touch. It is lightweight and durable, though it demands proper care.
- Moose skin and elk skin are very heavy and thick and retain their shape even after being wet and dried repeatedly.
- Ostrich skin, an exotic leather, is known to be full of natural oils and resists drying, cracking and stiffness. It is flexible, pliable and durable.
- Pigskin has a natural, lightweight structure that produces delicate patterns, textures and soft naps.
- Shearling refers to hides from lambs. It is softer and lighter than sheepskin, though it is similar in appearance.
- Sheepskin is the hide of a sheep. It is used with the wool still attached.
While selecting leather, go for leather that looks natural, smells good, and feels soft to touch. Several factors such as the animal it is sourced from, the environment the animal was reared in, and the texture and color affect the quality of leather and its end use.
The indentations, wrinkles and marks on the outside of a particular hide or skin are part of its natural beauty and uniqueness. The fewer imperfections on the hide or skin of an animal the less finishing steps need to be done by the leather craftsman. Some types of leather are preferred over others while making different leather goods.
Advantages of Leather
- It is durable and lasts about 5 times longer than fabric.
- It is strong and does not tear easily.
- It is fire resistant as compared to other fabrics.
- It retains its shape and needs low maintenance.
- Since it breathes, it is comfortable both in the hot and cold weather
- Leather resists heat and sun damage.
- It ages well and looks good even after many years of use.
- The structure of its fibers makes it wind-resistant and durable.
- Leather does not easily wrinkle so it is a great choice for travel or extended wear.
- It is ideal for layering.
What can I do?
Alternatives To Leather
- Hemp, a strong and flexible eco fibre and a great substitute for leather. It is also a renewable resource and does not need toxic agri-chemicals for cultivation. Boots, shoes and bags made of hemp are durable, long-lasting and comfortable.
- Vegetan, a synthetic material, looks and feels very similar to leather but is completely animal-free. It is waterproof, breathable, and scuff-resistant.
- Microfiber is naturally water-repellent. They are mostly used for making uppers of shoes which have rubber soles.
- Jute can be used as an alternative to leather for making bags and belts.
- Plastic is another alternative to leather and is often used because it promises the same quality along with being a cruelty free product.
Ahimsa Leather is leather produced from a dead animal's skin. The animal is said to have died of natural causes or old age. In India, slaughtering cows is considered against the Hindu religion and since ancient times, people had been practicing this non-violent way of producing leahter. Now, however, leather production in most parts of India is similar to that of the western world.
- Every year, 35.7 million cows are stunned, hung upside down, bled to death, and skinned in slaughterhouses.
- Goats may be boiled alive to make kid gloves, and the skins of purposely aborted calves and lambs are considered especially "luxurious."
- Snakes and lizards are often skinned alive because of the belief that live flaying imparts suppleness to the finished and fine leather.
- Alligators on factory farms are packed into half-sunken sheds, immersed in filthy stagnant water rife with their own waste and the stench of rancid meat.
- Crocodiles are often caught in the wild with huge hooks and wires and reeled in when they become weakened from blood loss or drown.
- Many animals are skinned when they are still alive-sometimes remaining conscious and in agony for up to two hours-and then beaten to death with hammers, axes, and aluminum baseball bats.
- In Australia, where millions of kangaroos are slaughtered every year for their hides, orphaned joeys and wounded kangaroos are considered collateral damage and the government mandates that they be decapitated or hit sharply on the head "to destroy the brain."
- In France, more than 20,000 cats are stolen for the skin trade annually; during a police raid on a tannery, 1,500 cat skins, used to make baby shoes, were seized. See Whose Skin Are You in?
What Causes Less Damage -- Leather Or Plastic?
Those who decide to use plastic as an alternative to leather, face the dilemma -- " Is plastic less harmful to environment than leather? Which causes less damage to the environment – petroleum-based synthetic leathers or leather treated with multiple chemicals?" While petroleum-based products often cause pollution from manufacturing and its waste, leather manufacturers are still dealing with problems caused by the use of chemicals for tanning. Either alternative leads to some environmental damage, but while you’re supporting the exploitation of animals by purchasing leather, choosing leather alternatives will at least help alleviate some cruelty to animals.
- Leather no friend of the earth
- Leather Facts
- What’s wrong with leather
- Eco Footwear
- Leather Association