Is leather ethical?
Is it fine to use leather to make bags and accessories?
One thing we often get asked is whether it is ethical to use leather. I think that is a multifaceted question and will get different answers depending on who you present the question to. If you use leather, it is important to buy good quality leather. How do you know if something is good quality? You’ll have to do some research. You can speak directly to suppliers and ask questions about where they source their leather from, for instance. If you buy directly from a leather supplier, chances are there is more transparency than if you buy from a retailer who may not know or care where the leather came from. There are also tanneries who only supply organic leather.
There are undoubtedly many negatives to the meat industry and the excessive consumption of meat has gotten out of hand, but that is a discussion for another time. However, whatever your thoughts are on that, the meat industry isn’t going to disappear any time soon. Bovine leather is almost always a by-product of the food industry so the animals are not killed for their hides. If we were to stop using leather altogether, we would end up with all this cow hide in the landfills. This would not be good for the environment. If we can make use of this by-product and make bags (and many other items) with it which are likely to last many years if made well, then it could be argued that it is a good thing. We have become used to the fast fashion industry, with new products hitting the market every week. Wouldn’t it be better to make long lasting items and buy less?
There are also vast differences in how different types of leather are produced. Tanning refers to the process of making a cow hide into leather. For instance, there is chrome tanned leather which is tanned using chemicals. If you see a leather bag in a shop, it is most likely chrome tanned. It is quick to produce and therefore cheap. On the flip side, the chemicals are not only harmful for the environment but also for the people working with them. There is also vegetable tanned leather which is superior to chrome tanned. This type of leather is produced using natural tannins (bark, branches, leaves) and it can take a month to make which of course makes it more expensive but it is more environmentally friendly as no chemicals are used in the process.
There are of course leather alternatives and the term 'vegan leather' has become somewhat overused. Nowadays it seems that anything that is not leather from an animal can be called 'vegan'. There are some sustainable alternatives to leather such as cork and fabric made out of pineapple leaves, however faux leather, as we know it, is made with plastic and coated in polyurethane and this simply does not offer a ecological, ethical or sustainable alternative to genuine leather.
Whatever your view on this is, we should always be respectful of differing opinions. There are some who think it is not ethical to use leather and others who support its use in handbags and other products. You should always do your own research to decide if it is something you want to use as a material.