There is a strong debate about animal leather vs. synthetic leather. Which one belongs in the future? Which type is less harmful to the environment? The producers of real leather say their product is of higher quality and bio-degradable. The producers of synthetic leather tell us that their products are equally good and they are cruelty-free. The new generation products claim to have it all and much more. The decision power lays in the consumer’s hands. So how do we measure quality nowadays? Real facts and nothing less. YOU decide.
Leather of animal origin
Leather of animal origin is one of the most widely traded commodities in the world, with an estimated global trade value of 270 billion USD (source Statista). Consumers traditionally value this product for its high quality. Real leather looks good, lasts longer, it is breathable and bio-degradable. So far so good. Nevertheless, this highly in-demand product has a high cost for the environment and hides indescribable cruelty behind the scene towards animals. Leather is not a by-product of the meat industry, it is not humanely produced and it has a highly negative impact on the environment.
Ethical reasons against real leather
- Leather is not a by-product of the farm industry.
- More than one billion animals are slaughtered every year for their skin after a miserable life in terrible conditions.
- We take the baby calf from its mother and kill it for the skin. The unborn babies are even more “valuable” because their skin is softer.
- We kill 100 million sharks every year. Sharks are cruelly hooked and left to suffocate for the sake of sharkskin. Your luxury leather goods might as well be from sharkskin.
- We kill endangered species and wild animals like zebras, bison, water buffaloes, boars, deer, eels, seals, walrus, elephants, and frogs for their skin. On the label, all we can see is “Genuine Leather”
- In China (the largest producer of leather) an estimated two million cats and dogs are killed for their skin every year.
- Snakes, lizards, and crocodiles are usually skinned alive to “maintain elasticity”.
The leather of animal origin is the most unsustainable garment
The leather industry is not just cruel towards animals, it is also a major pollution cause and water waste.
- More than 170,000 tons of Chromium wastes are discharged into the environment worldwide each year. Chromium is a highly toxic and carcinogenic substance and 80-90% of the world’s leather production uses chromium. Chrome tanning is used to stop the hides from decomposing. The remaining toxic water ends up in local rivers and landscapes.
- The people who work in tanneries (including children in developing countries) are exposed to these chemicals and severe health issues may occur (kidney and liver damage, cancer, etc). According to Human Rights Watch, 90% of tannery employees die before the age of 50 and many of them die of cancer.
Another option would be vegetable tanning (ancient solution). Nevertheless, it is less common. Several groups are working on the implementation of better environmental practices to diminish the effect of chromium waste. Yet, up to 90% of the tanneries worldwide still use chromium and only 20% of the shoemakers use better technologies (according to LWG Leather Working Group). By the way, shoes are just a third of the leather industry. You may very well find some articles published in notorious fashion magazines where influential people state that leather is sustainable and practices are improving. The online stores selling exotic skin will mention they are ethical too.
Let the numbers decide.
According to the Pulse fashion Industry 2017 Report, the leather industry has a bigger impact on global warming and climate change (rate 159) than the production of polyester -44 and cotton -98). Synthetic leather has only a third of the environmental impact of cow leather.
The pro-leather arguments are dead.
Real leather is a slow fashion product. It lasts longer. But honestly, how many of you would wear the same jacket for 10 years or more? We live in the era of fast fashion, whether we like it or not. Try to convince one woman to have one bag for all the occasions for 10 years. Impossible. Allow her to buy something good, cruelty-free, and sustainable and it is a win-win situation for all.
Is faux leather the solution?
Answer: not all faux leather is the same but bio-based leather is by far the best option.
Synthetic or faux leather is cruelty-free and ethical at its core. Synthetic leather behaves better in terms of sustainability than the leather of animal origin, but it is still made of plastic and it is still harmful.
There are three types of synthetic or faux leather:
- PU leather (polyurethane),
- PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and
The market size value of synthetic leather was 30 billion USD in 2020 and it is expected to reach 40 billion by 2027. PU accounted for a share of over 55% in 2019. Its promising growth is due to the product quality: it is waterproof, softer than PVC, and lighter than real leather. It can be dry-cleaned and it also remains unaffected from sunlight. PU is a better alternative than PVC because it does not emit dioxins while bio-based is the most sustainable of all.
Bio-based leather is made of polyester polyol and has 70% to 75% renewable content. It has a softer surface and better scratch resistance properties than PU and PVC. We can expect a significant growth of Bio-based leather products in the forecast period.
Many companies around the globe focus on new product development that contains less plastic and more plants.
Bio-based leather is made from a mix of polyurethane and plants (organic crops) and it is carbon neutral. Have you heard of cactus or pineapple leather? It is organic and partially bio-degradable, and it looks amazing too! Some producers are trying to avoid the plastic and use viscose made from eucalyptus bark. It only gets better. Other companies develop lab-grown collagen or leather made from mushroom roots. These roots grow on most organic wastes and the process converts waste into leather-like products. Another company tells us that future is made of plants, not plastics, and promises to create revolutionary products.
Let’s help the bio based leather market boom!
Stay tuned for our selection of the most eco-friendly and ethical producers of bio-based leather in the world! Their products rock! You will love it!
You may also like our post “The future of fashion is vegan“
- Global Fashion Agenda – Pulse Industry 2017
- Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations
- Traceability study in shark products bu Dr Heiner Lehr
- Leather Panel
- Synthetic Leather Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report
- Market Reports Synthetic Leather Market
- Sustainable Apparel Coalition
- Bio-Based Leather Market Global Industry Analysis 2014-2018 Forecast 2019-2029