History of Leather & Why it is Still the Environmentally Friendly Option 

History of Leather | Hand Drawn Image from Leathercare USA

Leather’s durability and practicality has stood the test of time for over 7,000 years. This innovation allowed for every part of the hunted animal to be reused. The meat for food, the bones for tools, and now the skin for clothes and other products. Our ancestors were far from wasteful, unlike humans in the past century. Leather wasn’t created as a fashion piece, but rather as means to protect oneself from the harsh elements. 


“What has it meant for us, as individuals and consumers, to have lost a connection with the source of our clothing?” (Putting on the Dog, The Animal Origins of What we Wear by Kwasny)

To disagree with this sentiment is to ignore history and the impact that leather has, and does have, on our daily lives. Without leather we wouldn’t have; baseball mitts, well preserved historical texts, saddles, protective wear, footwear, furniture, bags, and more. Secondary sources from animals are the bones and meat. Meat is used in food production and “Byproducts of the cattle carcass such as bones, blood and fat end up in soap, fertilizer, gelatin, medicines and other products.” (Los Angeles Times) Needless to say, nothing goes to waste when producing leather.  

However, due to America’s ignorance on how production works, many leather hides are going unused and wasted because of non-environmentally friendly options such as “vegan” leather. 

“Shoppers who once coveted leather jackets and shoes are instead scooping up cheaper, synthetic alternatives, reflecting a growing ambivalence toward this former staple of American closets.” (Los Angeles Times) The reason people are being fooled into purchasing plastic products disguised as environmentally friendly goods is because of tactful marketing. When global warming came known to the public, companies jumped onto the “environmentally friendly” bandwagon in order to increase or maintain their sales. By playing on the consumers' concerns for the environment, and simultaneously not being open about the materials they were using, they tricked customers into buying their alternative products to leather, saying that leather production was “inhumane” and “bad for the environment.” This was and continues to be a lie. 

Leather Production 

There are steps used to make leather: “preparatory stages, tanning, and crusting…[and] finishing.” (Wikipedia) Because leather is so biodegradable we can’t quite see into the past to understand for how long or even if all of these steps were implemented. But the evidence that we do have as to leather making resides in wall paintings and the tools that were used for leather making. “ The ancient Greeks are credited with developing tanning formulas using certain tree barks and leaves soaked in water to preserve the leather.” (Moore & Giles) Leather soon became an international trade, when “The spread of industrialization in the 18th and 19th centuries created a demand for new kinds of leathers, such as belting leathers to drive machinery.” (Moore & Giles

Activism & Leather 

It couldn’t be further from the truth when activists say that leather is cruel and unsustainable. Now no part of the animal goes to waste, and more products are on the market without having to create synthetic vegan leather. Furthermore, it is ingrained in many different cultures and international markets. 

Granted, there are ways that the leather industry could be more environmentally friendly, on a macro level, but trying to micromanage or eliminate leather making would be catastrophic to some countries’ trading and economic tendencies. 

Vegan Leather Vs. Real Leather 

Vegan leather, formerly known as ‘pleather,’ is often a buzz word that companies use to trick environmentally-conscious customers into buying their “sustainable” product. If you want true vegan leather, be sure to check the garment tag to make sure that it is not made of polyurethane or polyvinyl chloride. These are just plastics, which we all know is terrible for the environment since it isn’t biodegradable. *mention the fabrics that they should be looking for

Real leather is biodegradable and lasts much longer than plastic leather. Polyvinyl chloride jackets biodegrade just as quickly as your plastic fork…meaning that it doesn’t at all. 

If you are a vegan and wish to not buy leather products, that is fine. But don’t fall for the “vegan” leather scheme. Instead of promoting fast fashion and the degradation of our planet, purchase cork, cotton, or weaved bags. There are lots of alternatives, and the reason it might cost a little but more is because it is going to last longer, and it takes more precious materials to make.

Plastic is abundant, but too much of something is a bad thing. Planet earth needs to fast from plastic but it can’t do so if we keep buying the products and thus promoting the businesses that sell those products. 

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