Should You Feel Guilty About Wearing Leather?

Just last year, Chanel announced a ban on fur products. The fashion powerhouse joins a legion of big names like Michael Kors, Gucci and Burberry in an ever-growing list of designers going fur-free. Fashion designers are quick to drop fur like hot coals. Although the industry is becoming more ethical as a whole, there’s still one product that doesn’t seem to be going out of style: leather.

Leather is a complicated subject. If you’re against using animals for food and clothing, the choice seems obvious. Leather is out of the picture. However, leather is pretty hard to avoid – it’s everywhere, from bags, to boots and jackets. Whether you like it or not, leather is sexy – and fashion enthusiasts happily lap it up.

Most people wear leather without thinking twice because we believe it’s a by-product of meat. Waste not, want not, right? Farmers don’t happily give animal hide away out of the kindness of their hearts. Animal hide is actually incredibly profitable, raking in billions of dollars annually. Although cowhide is the most widely-used type of leather, people have been demanding for more exotic types of animal hide, like ostrich and horse. So, leather isn’t just made of cow skin, it’s made of the skin of other animals. Is the twinge of guilt you feel for the leather jacket in your closet is actually worth giving it up forever? Read on.

The pros of leather

Before we condemn leather forever, let’s take a look at it’s good points. Sure, if the animals weren’t used for human benefit, there would be no leather. Some leather, like horse leather, are skinned of horses who died of old age or natural causes. Plus, leather is sustainable. It’s made of natural materials like cowhide and vegetable dye, if not chemically treated. Leather doesn’t decompose easily either, because it’s been process and had it’s protein structure changed. Plus, leather is biodegradable too, although that can take a long time, depending on the quality of your leather product. Most leather is indeed a by-product of the meat industry, so forgoing leather while we consume meat would contribute to wastage. Already, tonnes of animal hide have gone to wasteland as a result of the decreasing demand for leather.

The cons of leather

Leather has to be chemically dyed, or ‘tanned,’ before it’s sent out in the world. Meanwhile, remember the ‘exotic’ version of leather? In the leather industry, animals like calves and lambs are specifically bred for this purpose, so their meat may not be safe for human consumption, but can be used for secondary purposes, like fertilizer. The skin of lambs and calves make the softest, most luxurious leather. Exotic leather isn’t a by-product of meat anyway. This means that even regular leather may not necessarily be a by-product of meat because it’s so profitable. The process of tanning leather, if not with vegetable dye, is incredibly toxic. However, chrome tanning pumps out carcinogenic materials into our water sources. Chrome tan unfortunately, produces more flexible leather in the shortest amount of time, so there’s no initiative for leather producers to switch up their method.

The problem with fake leather

Fake leather, also known as ‘pleather,’ is made from synthetic materials. No animals are harmed in the making of pleather. Unlike leather, which is made from natural materials like cowhide and vegetable dye, fake leather isn’t biodegradable. Although it’s made to look, feel and perform like leather, the synthetic fake leather is essentially really good looking plastic. Like clothes in the fast-fashion industry, pleather isn’t durable and doesn’t have the same longevity as real leather. They take forever to break down and can’t be recycled into other forms of pleather. Basically once you’re a piece of fake leather, you’re fake forever, even until you exceed your usefulness.

How can we solve this leather dilemma?

Let’s be honest, nobody would go all Cruella De Vil and decorate themselves with leather from top to toe. If you’re concerned about the animals, you’ve got alternatives like fabrics and cotton instead of fake leather. Lab-grown leather is also in the works – Modern Meadows have engineered lab-grown leather with collagen and protein, and it reportedly looks and feels almost like real leather. it’s still a work in progress, and we’ve still got a long way to go. Since leather is so durable, it would be wise to thrift vintage leather products or get them secondhand. If you have to go with a new leather item, choose one that’s vegetable-dyed. At least it’ll biodegrade itself when you’re done with it, or you can pass it on to someone else in need.