Leather: debunking the most common myths

Leather: a material that most of us have worn, but not everyone knows the origins of. There are a lot of myths surrounding leather – its provenance, the practices around it, and its impact on the environment. Here, we set some facts straight and debunk some commonly held myths around this material, and its vegan counterparts.


Animal leather is biodegradable.

This, at its core, is true. Any natural fibre or ingredient biodegrades (which basically is just a fancy word for rotting). But it wouldn't be desirable to the industry to have its products biodegrade on the wearer's back, so leather goes through various stages of production to keep it from biodegrading. Skins are treated with chemicals such as chromium, aluminium and coal-tar derivatives to ensure longevity. These substances can be highly toxic and have a poisonous, polluting effect on the environment.


Animal leather is plastic-free.

This is a common myth that once again goes back to the issue of durability. To preserve its look and quality, animal leather often has a plastic coating (commonly polyurethane). So, while the industry loves to point the finger at vegan leather for being “made from plastic”, the sad truth is that plastic is very pervasive in fashion and in our society in general, and animal leather is not exempt from it. It's not something the industry shouts about (understandably), but few fashion products are entirely free from plastic and fossil fuels. The good news is that today, plastic-free vegan leather is available – Mirum, a material made by US company Natural Fiber Welding, is made from plant waxes and oils, without any petroleum-derived ingredients.

Today we have at our disposal a lot of bio-based vegan leathers - for example, apple leather, corn leather, and cactus leather – and some of them have a small quantity of polyurethane to enhance their resistance and durability. The good news is that the research for plastic-free and biodegradable materials is advancing fast, in fact, today is already available a plant-based alternative completely without plastic.

Animal leather is natural.

Leather is only natural while it's still on the animal who was born with it. The factory farming system that animal leather comes from is anything but natural: animals endure extreme crowding and are vulnerable to diseases. Mothers are separated from their babies, which is highly unnatural. Plus, cows used for leather are killed much sooner than the age they would have naturally died: cows in commercial systems are killed at around two years of age, whereas in nature, they would have lived around 20 years. Add to this the aforementioned tanning process and the chemicals it involves, and it's clear just how far removed the leather industry is from nature.


Animal leather is a by-product of the meat industry.

Many consumers have been led to believe that leather only exists to minimise waste from the meat industry. Even if this were the case, it would still be problematic, as propping up the environmentally devastating meat industry is harmful to humans, animals, and the planet. But leather is a lucrative industry of its own, which exists because of demand. The leather-goods market is predicted to be worth $738 billion by 2030 – leather is an industry that exists to maximise profits, not to solve a waste issue. Very often, cows used for leather are so emaciated that there is no chance that they were raised for their flesh.


Animal leather can be cruelty-free.

The leather industry likes to suggest that their practices are held to a high standard, but no rules or regulations actually give animals on farms a decent life. Products made from animal leather stem from factory farming, an industry where animals live in cramped, filthy conditions and are subjected to mutilations such as castration, branding, and tail docking without any pain relief. Often, their trip to the abattoir is long and gruelling, and at the end of it is a horrifying death: commonly, the machinery used to stun cows doesn't function properly, and they are still conscious when there are cut to pieces. Animals' bodies aren't ours to use, and there is no way to ethically exploit and kill someone who just wishes to live their life in peace.

We hope this article has helped you understand why it is important to find alternatives to conventional leather. 

Make the right choice to create a kinder world and feel fashionable at the same time with our vegan leather bags!

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