Okay, so we’ll go ahead and assume that flaying an animal and taking its skin to make shoes and belts is a fairly obvious reason as to why leather sucks. Yes, it’s a tough, durable material that lasts. It has long been associated with the coolest of the cool, the James Deans (real) and Fanzis (fictional) of the world. But, then again, those were different times, times when gas-guzzling cars (with leather interior no doubt) were all the rage and pot roast was an ideal of healthy eating. Leather, then, is perhaps the pot roast of the clothing world.
For most of the Green Monsters perusing the web pages of One Green Planet, there probably isn’t much need for convincing on this matter: Animal hides belong on animals, not people. However, there are perhaps a few more reasons why leather sucks will be worth considering on the next shoe purchase. If avoiding leather is not for the animals, then maybe it can be for something else.
1. Leather — So What if it is a By-Product of Meat Production?
Generally, there is no label to tell us where leather comes from; however, it should not be overlooked that leather as a by-product of the meat industry would directly contribute to the mass environmental destruction associated with livestock production. The millions upon millions of shoes sold daily come from factory farms. Factory farming is detrimental to animal welfare, the environment, including air, ground and water pollution. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that livestock production is responsible for 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, while other organizations like the Worldwatch Institute have estimated it could be as much as 51 percent. If leather production further funds and justifies livestock production then it is also complicit in this enormous amount of greenhouse gas emissions – all the more reason not to support the industry.
2. Tanning — Even More Offensive and Harmful!
If it’s not bad enough, the chemicals needed to produce it are considered top pollutants by the EPA. With a list of ingredients that includes the likes of formaldehyde and cyanide (and more), the fabrication of leather causes a deep scar on the face of earth. What’s more, who the hell wants to then put something soaked in those chemicals on their body?
3. Tough Material — Yes, on the Human Body.
And, there you have it, anything that can so vehemently destroys the air, earth and water — all the things around us — will also be ill-suited to our bodies. Many of the chemicals used to process leather are carcinogenic and can affect wearers, yes, but most definitely workers in the factories, who are exposed to these chemicals on a much more regular basis. So, with animals and the environment already taking debilitating blows from the leather industry, we’ll have to go ahead and add people to the list of those damaged in the wake of making the next high-dollar handbag.
4. What’s the Point, Then? We Don’t Even Need it.
Finally, and perhaps the most head-shaking of them all, it’s not like we need leather. We can get dressed without it. We can stay warm without it. We can create tough, durable material without it. It’s not as if leather is exceedingly comfortable or irreplaceably beautiful, something so divine that it justifies the death of animals, the destruction of the planet, the crippling of people. There are so many alternatives, from vegan versions that provide similar texture to canvas to upcycled tires. As a conscious consumer, be mindful that some cruelty-free options are derived from petroleum-based plastics, primarily polyvinylchloride (PVC), which aren’t much better for the planet. As a more earth-friendly alternative, be on the lookout for faux-leather products that are made from 100 percent recycled materials, like the products made by Mat and Natt. If you’re really looking to minimize the impact of your clothing, however, it’s best to opt for eco-friendly fabrics in lieu of any form of leather or leather alternative (check out this post to learn more).
Leather has managed to incorporate so much of the world’s material needs, it’s comfortable to settle into using it as status quo. But, we don’t need it. It’s worse than just killing animals. It’s worse than just chemical pollution or harmful to humans. It is the combination of all these things that truly make this material an unnecessary evil.
Lead image source: Wikimedia Commons
As a vegan and a simple shoemaking instructor and book writer (www.simpleshoemaking.com) who primarily advises the use of leather for shoe uppers, I have thought about this issue a lot. But, there is nothing more disturbing to me than to see all the plastics used in shoes – Keenes, tevas, sneakers, flip-flops and especially crocs – and to know that all these shoes have provided a market for petroleum and are going into land fills where they will never deteriorate.
I also look at reality: people are not going to stop eating meat anytime soon, so do you want all of those hides to be thrown into landfills too? However, I do not want any leather that I use to be adding to the pollution of the Ganges River – or others world-wide.
My solution is to only buy leather from http://www.pergamena.net, a company in the Hudson River Valley of New York State – they vegetable-tan skins from deer, calf and goat. Again, there are a lot of these animals around, should their skins go to waste when an ecological process is available to make these skins usable? I also recommend the use of leather scraps, primarily from upholstery or thrift shop items.
For soling I recommend the use of layers of inner tube (held together with non-toxic cement, then stitched) from cars etc (or from bicycles for toddlers) or natural rubber. There is no simple answer!
All I care about is the reality that leather sucks for the animals, period. It\’s their skin, not ours. People are not going to stop breeding babies anytime soon either. More babies, more consumers of meat and leather. The animals are screwed, over and over. The "environment"? I have no interest in it without the animals who have a stronger right to "the environment" than people, the species totally responsible for screwing it up. People don\’t share, or ask. They take, as if they alone are entitled to everything. May I recommend watching "Earthlings", the documentary narrated by Joaquin Phoenix?