Leather is so yesterday! Unless you’re going for a 70s revival or Euro-trash look, it’s time to get with the program and make the switch to options that offer the ‘leather look’ whilst being more sympathetic to the environment and animal welfare.
You may not realize it but many animal species are used to make our leather goods – cows, pigs, goats, sheep, crocodiles, snakes, sting rays, seals, emus, deer, fish, kangaroos, horses, cats and dogs. Even baby animals are fair game for the leather industry. Calf, kid and lamb skins are considered particularly valuable because of their softness. The kangaroo, an iconic Australian animal, featured on our currency no less, is killed by the millions every year. Their skins are used to make sporting shoes, gloves, accessories and souvenirs.
It’s commonly believed that leather is a ‘by-product’ of meat production. However, as animal skins, sold as leather, have considerable value, they should be considered more a ‘co-product’ of the meat industry, which contributes to an increased demand for more animals to be raised and killed.
Leather products are often imported into Australia from countries with no animal welfare laws, such as India and China. In China, the world’s largest exporter of leather, millions of cats and dogs are slaughtered each year to make shoes, bags and other products. As there are no labeling requirements for leather products, it is impossible for consumers to know what type of animal their leather came from.
Furthermore, the tanning process, which conditions the skins, involves the use of many toxic chemicals, which are hazardous to the environment, waterways and the workers who work in the tanneries.
On a brighter note there are many fantastic alternatives to ‘traditional’ leather. Today’s faux leathers are made from a wide variety of different materials, from cork to recycled plastic bottles. Check out the following companies who are using these materials to produce a range of innovative products.
Cork Leather is an Australian company that manufactures a range of products, including shoes, bags and jewellery from cork harvested in Portugal. Cork comes from the bark of cork oak trees, which must be stripped of their bark every nine years in order for them to survive. Cork distresses with age and gives a very realistic leather look. See www.corkleather.com.au/.
Olsenhaus uses a range of materials in their vegan shoes, including upcycled Ultrasuede, which is made from reconstituted post-industrial material, such as scrap polyester film from discarded television screens. The microfiber feels and performs like the plushest suede while resisting sagging, pilling, and fading. You can check out their range here.
Recyled PET Polyester, Dinamica, a faux suede made from 100 percent recycled PET, is typically used in the furniture and automotive industries. Beyond Skin became the first footwear company to use the suede-esque material, which is said to produce 60 percent fewer carbon emissions than conventional polyester. See www.beyondskin.co.uk
Rewilder use reclaimed polypropylene filters, used to strain barley and hops during beer manufacturing, and transforms them into sleek totes, bags, clutches and aprons. Lightweight, strong, durable, breathable, and very beautiful, they acquire a unique patina during manufacturing. Stout produces a heavier grey patina, while wheat and other light beers create a pale copper tone. See http://www.rewilder.com
Rombaut, the experimental Parisian label, uses plant-based materials, such as fig tree bark from Uganda, tapa from the South Pacific, wild Amazonian rubber, coconut fiber and potato starch in their products. Their line of futuristic-looking unisex sneakers are made from Piñatex, which is engineered from the fibers of discarded pineapple leaves in the Philippines. Piñatex is both biodegradable and compostable and because it’s derived from a byproduct of fruit harvesting, it requires little in the way of additional land, water, or fertilizers. See http://shop.rombaut.com/collections/autumn-winter-16
So enjoy the leather look with none of the baggage and wear your products proudly, knowing you are helping to evolve the industry and move away from questionable leather and its many negative impacts and as always, please remember to consume with care!