We all know what leather is, but how often do we stop to think about where it actually comes from — or, more importantly, who?
You only have to mention fur and the most people will rave about how cruel, barbaric and inhumane the practice is. But bring up leather, and the only protest you’ll likely hear is how there’s no other material that lets their feet breath, or how they wouldn’t be caught dead wearing oil-based plastic shoes — as if that’s the only alternative.
Thanks to the widespread awareness about the cruelty involved in fur production, it’s now largely rejected by consumers worldwide. And that’s why we need a huge push to shed the light on the reality of leather production. Just like fur, leather is also the skin of an animal, and these animals are equally deserving of our help.
By far, most leather is sourced from cows, and although this material is easy to spot, it can just as easily be overlooked. From clothing and accessories like belts and handbags, to furniture and car seats, leather is found everywhere.
Most people are led to believe that leather is a byproduct of the meat industry — that it’s simply a “leftover,” and if we don’t use it, it will go to waste. This is a common misconception — and one that I used to believe myself. The truth is that much of the leather sold today comes from animals killed primarily for their skins.
Leather is not a byproduct, and it isn’t produced in efforts to minimize waste. It’s produced because it is a highly profitable and lucrative business. A cow’s skin is approximately 10 percent of her total value, making it the most profitable part of her body. Surprisingly, leather actually makes the meat industry more sustainable — as selling skins is very profitable, while meat isn’t always so — not the other way around.
The majority of leather comes from India’s cows, who are abused, beaten and poisoned in the production process. As India forbids the slaughter of cows, these poor, innocent animals are forced to endure brutal and grueling journeys where they are confronted with an unimaginable end.
When traveling by train, up to 900 cows are crammed into a wagon intended to hold a maximum of 80 to 100 animals, and upon arrival 400 to 500 come out dead. On some routes, cows are tied up and taken on foot. The cows are not allowed to rest or drink, and workers beat the animals across their hip bones, break their tails and torment them by rubbing hot chili peppers and tobacco in their eyes — all in a cruel effort to keep them moving.
It’s not only cows that are suffering, though. Goats, pigs, sheep, lambs, horses, deer, kangaroos, snakes, alligators and elephants are also all among the victims of the leather industry.
Perhaps even more alarming is the fact that China, the world’s leading exporter of leather, skins an estimated 2 million dogs and cats each year. Consumers may unknowingly purchase the resulting products due to mislabeling and inaccurate indications of the origin. As if that isn’t scary enough, another particularly prized form of leather is ‘slink’, which is made from the skin of unborn calves.
If you don’t want to contribute to the brutal leather industry, you don’t have to. There are so many cruelty-free alternatives available – both natural and synthetic — from companies such as MooShoes, Beyond Skin, Vegan Essentials, Alternative Outfitters and Vaute Couture. When buying any product, always read the label and do your best to support ethical companies that care about their impact on the planet.