Not long ago, I was shopping at a favorite store and when I asked if the belt she was showing me was leather, she said, “Yes, but it was a by-product of the meat industry so it’s not like any animals were killed specifically to make this belt. I’m very particular about that.”
I’m sure she is. I know she truly believes that, and her heart is obviously in the right place. But, how much truth is there to what she said?
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could wholeheartedly subscribe to the beauty, glamour and delicious mystery of the fashion industry? It certainly has a mystique and intrigue that are fun to consider, but the truth is that often when you scratch the surface, the beauty industry has lots of explaining to do!
This has become even more true the more I have investigated how clothing and accessories are made. There are so many philosophies masquerading as hard and fast truths, and leather is just one of those murky areas. So, let’s explore the top 3 reasons to give your leather shoes (and all leather!) the boot:
1. Some Leather is Better than Other
The truth is that no matter how you frame it, leather can never be a cruelty-free by any stretch of the imagination. The meat industry is one of the cruelest there is, and they rely heavily on the hides being sold to make money and keep the meat industry solvent. The two products go hand in hand. The leather industry is huge and has been for a very, very long time. It’s a $1+ billion industry and, at least until more awareness is raised, it is firmly entrenched in our culture. In fact, my understanding is that as people eat less meat, the industry relies even more heavily on the leather industry to be profitable.
No matter how you look at it, leather is leather and in every case animals die a brutal death to produce the fashion accessories we consume – from wallets to coats to couches. Whether they come from Walmart or Saks makes absolutely no difference. The truth is that an animal was killed to create the product.
This does not even take into consideration that not all leather sold is a by-product of the meat industry. Some animals are raised just for the their skin, much as animals are raised strictly for the fur industry. There is really no distinction between leather and fur, it’s just that we’ve heard more about the fur industry because it is seen as a luxury. These days, as more alternatives to leather are popping up everywhere, leather is no longer a necessity either.
2. What About Wearing Vegetable Tanned Leather?
You might feel better about wearing vegetable tanned leather, but the animals still suffered great pain and torment and as with all leather, more than a few experienced the unbearable act of being skinned alive.
To be honest, vegetable tanned leather is really not as eco-friendly as they’d like us to believe. The hide still goes through a huge chemical bath to “leatherize” it. Remember, before leather is leather it is skin, and skin left untreated will decompose. This toxic chemical bath is necessary to transition skin into something that bears no resemblance to its original form. Ultimately, it becomes a product that can now be worn for years and years without disintegrating. But, and this is super important, it takes a chemical soup to make this happen.
The environmental impact is still massive since simply raising animals as commodities is an environmental nightmare and then add to that the process of turning those animal hides into something that someone can wear.
Saying no to leather is the only animal- and environmentally-friendly option.
3. Beautiful Alternatives: Non-Leather Shoes and Handbags
Five or ten years ago it might have been true that a lot of the non-leather accessory options were not the most stylish, and it often felt a little like choosing the lesser of two evils. But times change, and they are changing quickly! As awareness grows, the demand for cruelty-free products has grown as well, and more and more designers (especially the new up and coming designers) are responding positively and with extraordinarily beautiful alternatives to leather.
They span all price points as well. I own the most comfy and cool pair of non-leather boots by Steve Madden as well as a stunningly beautiful handbag by Stella McCartney that I found at a high-end consignment store. Her handbag originally cost more than ten times as much as the boots, so you can see there is a huge range of prices available to suit every (vegan-friendly) pocketbook.
Here are a few examples of beautiful vegan leather accessories at various price points:
- Check out this fun wallet from Alternative Outfitters (blue wallet pictured at left in the picture above)
- How about this fabulous orange (a hot color for Spring) handbag of Stella McCartney’s (pictured at center in the picture above)
- Or a fabulous pair of Olsen Haus shoes from Compassionate Couture (pictured at the right above)
I have to believe in my heart that the more people become aware of the gut-wrenching agony animals experience to create some of the clothes and accessories we wear, the more people will naturally seek cruelty-free alternatives. And, what a treat they have in store for them. As more enterprising designers respond to the demand, the more beautiful cruelty-free choices are growing every year. It’s a win-win-win!
Thanks for this article, Ginger. Another reason I avoid leather is I’ve heard the typical tanning process has been ranked among the highest for cancer rates in employees. I haven’t done recent research because as you point out, it’s simply a win-win-win to use other products. I do know people who’ll buy used leather at consignment stores, and I respect that choice. Using something used has a lower impact than buying new, of course.
hi Ginger, I’m inspired by your article! I’m a handbag addict and I’m looking for stylish vegan bags that don’t break the bank. Stella’s awesome but not for my price range. Any suggestions?
I wish the headline left out the word “your” to read “3 reasons to give leather shoes and accessories the boot!”
The way it is now, it suggests that the best thing to do is trash whatever leather items you have and run out and buy new, vegan ones. That is certainly not the green thing to do, as I would hope One Green Planet would recognize, and the benefit to animals in no longer using products they already died for is pretty slim. Yes, it’s nice to be able to respond to skeptics with “No, actually, these awesome shoes aren’t leather,” but I would argue there’s less overall harm in saying “Yes, I bought these shoes before I realized how much cruelty was involved in producing them, and when they wear out I’ll be replacing them with vegan shoes.”
Simply removing “your” from the headline shifts the implication to avoiding purchasing new leather items rather than landfilling (or, one hopes, donating) things people already own.