By NEO 10Y
During my years working as a fashion designer, I – like so many others – worked with leather without truly understanding the impact of my actions. This changed five years ago when I became vegan and stopped supporting industries that are associated with violence against animals. Now, more and more designers are following suit – and with brands from adidas to Mini offering creative and ethical alternatives, it’s time for us all to turn our backs on leather.
A common misconception about leather is that it is purely a by-product of the meat industry. Cognitive dissonance and years of Mad Men marketing tactics have conditioned us to believe that leather is a commodity with no impact.
But it actually has a huge impact – on animals, the environment, and humans.
Leather is a coproduct, not a by-product, of animal agriculture, and much of the leather used today is stolen from animals who are killed primarily for their skins. Every year, more than 1.4 billion cows, sheep, and goats as well as millions of other animals – even dogs, as a PETA Asia investigation revealed – are killed in the leather trade. It is important for us to realise that no matter where – or who – leather comes from, it is always a product of violence. Once we acknowledge that, we can start to dismantle this cruel and unsustainable industry.
Most leather comes from developing countries with either non-existent or unenforced animal welfare laws. PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk documented the horrific death marches that cows face in India, her childhood home. Forced to trudge for 50 to 100 miles to states where slaughter is legal, many desperately hungry, parched, exhausted, and often lame or ill cows simply collapse. But herders force them to get back up and keep going by mercilessly breaking their tails, smearing chilli peppers and tobacco into their eyes, or severely beating them.
PETA’s exposé of leather’s live-export horrors revealed that, after enduring gruelling journeys halfway around the globe, in filthy conditions and without sufficient food or water, some cows are so weak and sick that they no longer have the strength to stand up. So they’re hoisted off docked ships by means of a crane, their entire bodyweight dangling by one leg, and then dropped onto a slaughterhouse-bound truck. Cows, sheep, and goats are often killed without even being stunned first: they’re just pushed to the ground, sometimes tied up, and then their throats are cut.
In the billion-dollar leather industry in Bangladesh, PETA Germany documented that child workers soaked hides in carcinogenic chemicals. This is a little-known ripple effect of the leather trade: its devastating toll on the environment and on workers’ health.
Ensuring that animals’ skin doesn’t rot after it’s stolen from their bodies requires the use of 130 chemicals, including chromium – which poisons the soil and water and creates agricultural wastelands.
Much of the toxic waste produced by India’s tanneries is dumped directly into local waterways, and these deadly effluents have made the Ganges one of the most polluted rivers in the world and the Buriganga River in Bangladesh “biologically dead”, according to a World Bank specialist.
These chemicals harm humans, too: tannery workers commonly suffer from skin diseases, asthma, and pneumonia and have a higher risk of cancer.
Over the years, this has been an awakening process for me. But when the problems with leather production have been covered by the mainstream media, it’s frustrating to see influencers respond by making wildly untrue claims that leather is a sustainable material. I hope that by speaking out, I can help raise awareness.
The good news is that there are always alternatives to violence. Today’s innovative, accessible vegan leather options are made from everything from pineapple leaves and apple peels to cork and coconuts. One creative company in India makes biodegradable leather from discarded temple flowers that would otherwise end up in the Ganges.
Our choices will only continue to grow as more and more people reject the violence of the leather industry and demand other options. As consumers, let’s help to create a kinder future by always choosing vegan.
The immediate shift to a vegan world is important not only for animals but also for the environment and our collective health. An end to animal agriculture would mitigate the risk of outbreaks of zoonotic diseases, such as COVID-19, and help restore biodiversity, rehabilitate polluted water systems, and decrease greenhouse-gas emissions – as well as helping to reduce the impact of environmental racism and solve world hunger.
If we’re ever to achieve world peace, it will be founded on the basic values of love and kindness. Only by encouraging each other to embrace love and non-violence can we reach a state of peace and freedom for all.
NEO 10Y is a musician and former fashion designer. See their latest release here.