Leather is one of the oldest practiced textile industries in the world and has been long debated as whether it’s an ethical and sound practice. Consumers buy with their emotions and the leather industry is a challenging industry to tackle as the issues stretch further than animal rights. Faux leather has made huge strides as an alternative to cow hides in the fashion industry, and has erupted in sales as lower-end brand likes H&M and Topshop have released self-proclaimed sustainable vegan leather lines.
Unfortunately, faux leather is not the end all answer to leather sustainability and comes at a significant environmental cost. Pleather goes under extreme amounts of plastic and chemical processes to be able to make a plastic polymer mimic real leather. These processes contain toxic solvents that are created from fossil fuels and cause long term serious environmental issues including non-degradable fibers ending up in a landfill. Faux leather is also more likely to be thrown away as it does not retain the leather qualities of longevity as a textile.
The Leather I used for my Creation Corsets are sourced from a French tannery. When deciding where to get my leather I wanted to receive leather from a place where there are not only strict environmental laws but labor laws for the protection of workers, as leather tanning can be a dangerous job. 99% of leather tanneries in Europe are derived from animals that are raised for meat/milk production. Leather as a byproduct presents a better use of a whole animal.
On the other hand you might think “well we shouldn’t be eating meat in the first place.” Unfortunately we can’t wave a magic wand and make everyone vegan. And if we did all decide to “never wear leather again” we’ll end up with leather in a landfill as a by-product of meat. Unless People stop eating meat, we should not stop wearing leather. Since 2019 there has been a surge in leather going into landfills as the vegan leather craze has taken off and America has been producing the most meat it ever has. There's seems to need to be a balance between meat industry and leather consumption.
Faux leather gets a lot of heat for using toxic solvents for making the leather, but leather tanneries can also use dangerous solvents. Tanneries can be a whole other debate on sustainability depending on how the leather is tanned. When looking for leather, you want to understand the laws of the tanning process from where you get your leather. If you find real leather that is byproduct and is tanned responsibly with vegetal tanners, it will be the most environmentally friendly kind of leather. As far as leather production goes, byproduct vegetal tanned leather is one as the most sustainable pieces of fabric as the consumer can keep the leather good for years because of its durability.
With a twisted knot of questions about leather, we find ourselves with a double edged sword. I often ask myself “is any form of leather ethical?” When I find myself asking this question I end up asking "well is any silk ethical or any textile truly ethical?”
I don’t have the answer to truly sustainable buy. No matter what, there will be a trade off as a consumer and as a designer.
What seems to me to be the most important way to grow the leather industry ethically is to have a transparent supply chain.I want to give my consumers the education and knowledge to make an informed decision so they can shop with a purpose! I decided to buy high quality durable leather from a French tannery where the leather laws align with my ideas of sustainability. The most important thing you can do as a consumer if you are going to buy leather is make sure it’s a piece that you would keep for life.
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