Life without leather

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I actually get asked all the time why I don’t wear leather, it’s the one that people seem to not understand the most. I’ve heard arguments like “it’s a natural product”, “we’ve used it for centuries” and even “it’s only a bi-product of a cow that will be killed anyway”. And even though technically they are true, funnily enough, all these arguments still don’t make me want to wear leather. Now, I know it’s hard to convince someone who eats beef that they shouldn’t use the bi-product of the meat industry, so I won’t try. I’m really not here to convince anyone of what they should or should not do, I’m only here to offer alternatives. And I also like to think that by providing information via my blog posts, people can then make a more informed decision when they next walk past a leather bag or belt hanging in the shop window.

 An example of how cows are kept in the meat industry in the UK

An example of how cows are kept in the meat industry in the UK

In an article on PETA’s website they say “many animals killed for leather endure castration, branding, tail-docking, and dehorning without painkillers before being skinned and dismembered alive.” When I make decisions in my life, I try to ask myself; would I want this done to me? And, if the answer is no, then I can’t justify doing it to another living being – it’s that simple. Here in the UK, the main provider of leather is GH Leathers – I learnt that while studying for my Fashion Design degree. They source pelts from the UK and all over the world, yet fail to list on their website where specifically they are getting them from. This lack of transparency is worrying as you, as a consumer, have no idea where the animals have been raised for their meat, how they’ve been treated and kept and the methods used for killing them. In essence, when you buy leather directly or indirectly, you have no idea how that animal was treated from the beginning to the end of their life.

 Animal skins are left to dry in a tannery

Animal skins are left to dry in a tannery

But it’s not just about how the animal has been kept and killed, there’s a world of damage that comes even after this! After the animal is killed, the process to get the skin into a tangible pelt involves the following; soaking the skins to clean them, fleshing, liming, unhairing, degreasing and pickling. All of these processes will involve woman/man power (yes I added woman in there), water consumption, energy usage, chemicals and wastage. Then they begin the tanning process, which is what turns a pelt into actual leather that can then be sold. There are two types of tanning commonly used; chromium and vegetable. Chromium-tanned leather is currently the most popular form of producing leather, and the most hazardous. The combination of chromium salts and tanning liquor used in the process is then thrown out into nearby water supplies, effectively poisoning the water. Chromium, when inhaled by humans, can cause a number of respiratory problems and once absorbed by your skin can lead to dry, cracked and scaled skin as well as erosive ulcerations that refuse to heal known "chrome holes."

 Leather tanning workers handling Chromium-tanned pelts

Leather tanning workers handling Chromium-tanned pelts

This is what is happening in tanning factories all over the world, with unsafe working conditions, unfair wages and damaging, lasting effects on the environment. There may be companies who claim to only use vegetable tanning or eco-friendly production methods to make leather, but at the core of this industry is the killing of animals and the wearing of their skin, so you do have to ask yourself; how ethical can leather ever really be?

 A tanning factory in Fez, Morocco

A tanning factory in Fez, Morocco

As a bona fide fashion addict, I did struggle at first with the prospect of giving up leather, I thought about the items I’d have to give away and could no longer buy. But when I searched through my wardrobe it turned out I only had one piece of real leather in my entire inventory; a Love Moschino tote bag. I did love the bag but I rarely used it and realised it wasn’t something of any real sentimental value to me. I sold it on eBay and used the money to further fund my journey with vegan and sustainable fashion – it’s all about circular fashion, people!

 RIP my old Moschino bag...

RIP my old Moschino bag...

Giving up animal leather is one door closing, but you know what window just opened up for you? Vegan leather! Now you can have all the leather goods your heart desires, without the ethical complications of animal leather. You can have your (vegan) cake and eat it too!. I’ve talked about brands that offer vegan leather as standard, but as I’ve been learning more about sustainability in fashion I realised that a lot of the fast fashion brands weren’t producing the materials in an environmentally sound way. You do have to be wary of fast fashion vegan leather as it can often involve a lot of chemicals and water consumption – but on the other hand there is no animal cruelty involved, so in my books it’s still an improvement.

 The Trexi White unisex sneakers made with vegan leather and recycled plastics

The Trexi White unisex sneakers made with vegan leather and recycled plastics

I have to talk about my new very favourite brand; Collection & Co. I discovered them recently and paid a visit to their store in Bristol and I really wish I’d found them sooner – although my bank account is probably grateful that I hadn’t. Set up in 2016 and based in Bristol, Collection & Co are producing beautiful and ethically made shoes and bags using only vegan leather and non-animal glues. They use a variety of upcycled and eco-friendly materials like hemp, recycled plastics and even pineapple leaf! Collection & Co are also PETA approved, an assured mark of quality within the vegan fashion industry. These guys are a perfect example of how vegan leather doesn’t mean you sacrifice quality or style – the shoes they sell are extremely high quality and the designs are aspirational and modern. I should know, I bought a pair on my first visit!

 Taking my babies out for their first strut around the block 

Taking my babies out for their first strut around the block 

These are the ELATI heeled ankle boots in mustard yellow, and have a square toe and sits on 9cm block heel. I fell in love with colour; I’m really into mustard and love the bold blocky look against the black. The silver circular zipper head was a nice touch too, and also makes it super easy to zip them up too. I spoke with the owner and found out that they only do small runs of each design, (mine was one pair out of 30) this means the shoes are not mass-produced and the brand can monitor all aspects of production to ensure their principles of ethical and sustainable manufacturing can be upheld. The prices are very reasonable and you are paying, not only for great quality, but for the guarantee that these shoes have not been made in a sweatshop with dangerous chemicals at the ultimate cost of an animal.

 The store's aesthetics alone were enough to win me over...

The store's aesthetics alone were enough to win me over...

I can’t say enough great things about Collection & Co, they encompass all the values that I believe in and have managed to produce ethical and totally gorgeous footwear that I will be investing in for many years to come! It’s also so great that they are a Bristol-based company, I love being able to support local ethical businesses like this and will be on the look out for more sustainable brands in our City. 

If you'd like more information about leather production, I've listed some of the links I used as part of my research for this post:

https://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-clothing/leather-industry/

https://www.trustedclothes.com/blog/2016/06/21/chromium-and-leather-tanning/

https://gizmodo.com/how-leather-is-slowly-killing-the-people-and-places-tha-1572678618