Looking beyond leather

If eating animals can be seen as cruel, why is wearing them any different?

Many people take up vegetarian and vegan lifestyles, often due to realising that the meat industry uses animals for human ends in a barbaric way. I am one such person. It is increasingly recognised that using animals as means to an end is unfair, typically resulting in miserable constricted lives for them – and I thought; I certainly don’t want to be part of this.

Leather plays its part in cruelty

Yet I am often asked the question, ‘But why won’t you wear leather?’ People seem to be able to understand that I don’t eat meat, but then when they realise I don’t wear leather this is often met with irritation. My family have frequently complained about what is my refusal to wear the skin of an animal. If people will accept my vegetarianism, that I don’t eat animals, why do they struggle to accept that I won’t wear them either?

It appears that society breeds different attitudes in regards to animals – putting their body and their skins into separate categories.

Why? One reason is that  animal skins, especially leather, seem to be much more easily crafted into something ‘attractive’, rather than the body of an animal, which often becomes a joint of meat (typically not regarded as a highly attractive thing).  After all, it is easy to go by appearances.  People find it potentially easier to understand why a vegetarian doesn’t eat meat when they see the bloody carcass of an animal, or even cuts in the supermarket; a physical reminder of death which make people feel squeamish. Yet when we see leather goods, typically they are presented in designs meant to be attractive – shoes, luxury belts, the latest handbags. Plus it’s a lot harder to equate leather with a dead cow than it is a piece of bloody beef. There ‘seems’ to be nothing wrong with leather; it is seen as a mark of quality within a lot of clothing and looks attractive, especially when polished.

 This highly ‘visual’ judgment appears to be at at work when we consider fur too, which is an illegal trade in this industry, yet unlike leather, rightly disapproved of by the majority. People most likely react negatively because they can clearly see the links between fur and a live animal. You see a fox fur coat and think of a dead fox. Leather was once part of a living cow but it certainly doesn’t look like a cow. And that seems to play a part in why people continue to buy it.

So if you would refuse fur, why would you wear leather?

Should we not believe our eyes?

Unfortunately, we are part of a society where although vegetarianism is becoming increasingly accepted in the form of what we eat (which is a great thing and needs to be further encouraged!), when it comes to clothing there isn’t the same openness. It is now ‘expected’ that eating-places on the high street will have a vegetarian menu or options at least. Yet in clothes shops, to ask to see the leather-free range, especially regarding footwear, is likely to be met with confusion. There are typically leather-free options out there of course: pick canvas shoes, go for belts and wallets made from an alternate fabric. But when it comes to having high-quality options: especially shoes and handbags (Finding waterproof boots for work in a non-leather option has proved hard for me!), leather is often served up as the only option. Designers seem to use leather as standard, and this is imitated by the High Street. This also breeds the view that leather is desirable and ultimately the option, rather than an option.

Therefore, we cannot really see the cruel reality of leather when we go shopping. What we see instead are desirable products which do not seem connected to an animal at all.

Look at leather for what it really is – created through cruelty

But leather is connected to an animal – and in the most intimate way – it is the skin.  And not only that, but it is part of a global industry which exploits a variety of animals. Consider these points:

  1. It is estimated that more than a billion animals are slaughtered every year to provide for the leather industry– Plus it’s a convenient myth that leather ‘is okay because animals are going to die and it would be a waste otherwise.’ Firstly, the thought of animals dying horribly for any human end is not an attractive one. And secondly, the leather industry exists by itself. Many animals are farmed solely for their skins, fuelled by demand from UK buyers.
  2. It isn’t just cows that are dying either – in places like China, where leather imports are often located from, animals including sheep, cats and dogs are killed for their skins. These quickly pass into mainstream leather goods.
  3. The conditions for animals are terrible – the raw materials for leather, the animal itself, often locate back to India or China: even if the product was ‘made’ in another country on the label. In India and China especially, animal rights are at a minimum and many live in appalling conditions. In the leather industry as a whole, animals are often used, abused and killed prematurely.
  4. The process of turning skin into leather is poisonous - treating the skin to turn it into leather involves mineral salts, coal-tar derivatives and formaldehyde: all of which can be dangerous. This kind of work is often carried out by people in other countries who are exposed to these hazardous conditions for long periods of time.

Would you consider going leather-free?

Suddenly that pair of leather boots may not seem so desirable.

An important way you can show your disapproval of this appalling industry is to say NO to leather. Many people go along ‘accepting it’ – seemingly because there is little other choice on the market. That is why it is time to stand for change. I am going to asking and reporting on what a range of retailers say to the prospect of offering more animal-free options. You can do this too. Plus, there are some great animal-free options which can be found: even if requires some searching. Some brilliant brands are already offering animal free or ‘vegan’ lines, including Dr Martens! Plus you can get some great deals on the high street, through clothing made from different materials – but it’s always best to check the label first!

Therefore it’s time to see the reality rather than the polished exterior. See the sense in trying a leather-free life.

By Emily Oldfield