Go Leather-Free: for the Animals, Human Health + the Environment

I used to buy leather shoes, belts and purses and didn't give it a second thought.  It was the "normal thing to do."  And I used to think buying leather and suede jackets were cool in my late 20's.  Although I never ate a lot of meat, I used to think that leather was a by-product of the meat industry.  But as I evolved and educated myself on the subject, I changed.  Now I strive to lead a leather-free life.  Here is why:


Despite popular belief, leather is not a byproduct of the meat industry.   It’s produced because it is a highly profitable and a very lucrative billion dollar business.  In fact, much of the leather sold, especially the growing demand for exotic leather, comes from animals killed primarily for their skins.


Cows provide the bulk of leather used, while goats, pigs, sheep, ostriches and dogs and cats (in China) supplement the high demand for leather products. 

Every year, the global leather industry slaughters more than a billion animals.  (source: Peta)

Most of the leather in the U.S. and Europe comes from India, China, and other countries that either have no animal welfare laws or have laws that are totally unenforced.  Frightened and innocent animals are often forced to cram into a train to endure long, brutal and grueling journeys without food or water, where they are confronted with an unimaginable end.  Slaughterhouses often process up to 400 animals per hour.  So it’s not uncommon for an animal to be stunned incorrectly and therefore skinned alive.  In fact, in some countries,  this is the actual method for obtaining the skin of animals such as lizards and snakes, because of their belief that it keeps the skin supple.

Furthermore, in China – the world’s leading exporter of leather – an estimated two million cats and dogs are killed for their skins.  Consumers cannot detect who is in their leather products due to a complete lack of labeling.  Moreover, in China, India and several other developing countries, wild animals are poached (often illegally) for their skins. These include (but are not limited to) alligators, elephants, lizards, ostriches, snakes, and zebras. 


Animal hides must undergo a three-step process to become leather, which includes tanning and usually dying. Harsh chemicals including ammonia, cyanide-based dyes, and formaldehyde are just a few of the toxins released into the environment during these processes. Since the majority of leather comes from India and China, countries with poor environmental and workplace standards, leather workers often have virtually no protection against toxins that result in cancer, blindness, respiratory problems, skin diseases and birth defects in their children.  Furthermore, these toxic pollutants are also released into the air, soil and water supplies in communities surrounding tanneries, poisoning nearby people who have nothing to do with the leather industry.


A growing number of people are becoming aware that the leather industry is no less cruel to sentient animals than the fur industry.  So an array of innovative manufacturers are designing a wide variety of cruelty-free, leather-free (vegan) fashion for men and women.  Take top designed Stella McCartney, for example.  Her shoes and purses are made from innovative soft, leather-like materials that are made with vegetable coatings and materials that are free of animals.  Ms. McCartney says, "Half of the women here probably don’t even know the bags aren’t leather, and I find that very exciting."

A range of other brands from around the world offer us a range of choice to be fashionable while sustainable and kind. Brands like

A range of other brands from around the world now offer us a range of choice to be fashionable while sustainable and kind.

Check out the photos featured above.  Brands like Recman Brasil and Matt and Nat "upcycle" recycled hoses, inner tubes or plastic bottles to make their products lead the way for waste reduction, pollution prevention and designing beautiful eco-conscious products. OlsenHaus, Labante London, Mooshoo, and Beyond Skin also produce non-leather handbags and/or and integrate recycled materials and environmentally-conscious production methods.  Shoppers can also find “unintentionally vegan” products from major brands like Steve Madden, Nine West Outlet, BCBGeneration and hundreds more.  The quality of faux leather from these brands is often so high that it is difficult to tell the difference from genuine leather, and their durability is testament to the fact that synthetic leather can last just as long as the real thing. 

Remember also when purchasing couches or car seats for new cars, choose the leather-free options such as ultra suede, canvas, or velvet (for couches) and leatherette or cloth seats (for cars.)   Buying alternatives to leather has never been easier.  You just have to search for it.   We do not need to compromise Style or Fashion for Cruelty-Free, Eco-Friendly choices. 

Reducing the demand for leather products will minimize the unthinkable cruelty and detrimental impacts to billions of innocent animals, human health and the environment.