The Truth About Leather and the Environment
How many times have you heard the statement “Leather is a by-product of the meat industry”? Have you ever wondered how true this statement is and whether there is more to it? I did.
I am an accessory designer who specialised in leather goods. My father was in the leather goods export industry throughout my childhood, which is what made me fall in love with accessories, and decide to study it professionally.
What started off simply from people who didn’t use leather asking me to create something for them led to a massive shift in the way I looked at materials and consumption. I started looking for alternates simply because someone asked me “Why are there no non-leather products that are as amazing in design and quality as the leather products in the market?” I thought that this was a valid point, and looked at it as a challenge.
What are the alternates to leather? Most non-leather brands (especially in India) opt to work with synthetics. But let’s be real. Synthetics are equally damaging to animals as well as the environment because of the fact that they’re essentially plastic, not bio-degradeable, and incredibly polluting. This was not the route I wanted to take.
The moment I discovered cork and learned more about the material, there was no turning back.
But let’s step back for a moment.
It is a common misconception that leather is a by-product of the meat industry, when in fact the hide contributes quite a large deal to the overall income made from the animal. The two are therefore co-products both of which contribute to the economic viability of the industry.
The leather industry is one of the most polluting in the world, making some communities unliveable. If you have watched The True Cost, you’d know exactly what I’m talking about.
Most leather is tanned using Chromium Sulphate. One of the biggest leather industries is in Kanpur, India. Every day, 50 million litres of highly toxic tannery wastewater is generated in Kanpur. Only 20% of this water is treated before being released into the surrounding water bodies like the Ganges. The untreated water is laced with dangerous levels of chromium, lead and arsenic causing many fatal diseases in the inhabitants of the area.
Animals, people and the environment - Each and every day, it becomes more and more important for us to become aware of the impact our choices have on each of them.
It’s not all bleak, though. With every passing day, material and technological innovations are leading to more options. There are companies all over the world creating fabrics we could never have dreamt of before. Vegan leather is a great route to take - but we must remember that not all vegan leather is great for our planet. They can cause indirect harm to animals as well.
It’s important for us all (brands as well as consumers) to make conscious choices, ask the right questions, and through our purchases, INVEST in a sustainable future.
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