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Is it ok to use leather or not?

Photos from Stella McCartney’s instagram and All over press

Every week, Make it last’s sustainability expert Anna Brismar of Green Strategy answers questions about fashion and sustainability. Have a question you want answered? Send it here! And read more about what sustainable fashion really is, or at least how we define it with the help of Anna, here.

How should one reason when it comes to leather products? What are the best alternatives?

– Firstly, find out what animal the leather product has been made from. Leather originating from cow, goat or pig is generally a more sustainable alternative as opposed to leather coming from wild, exotic or endangered animals, such as wolf, crocodile and python. Leather products from cow and pig are sometimes by-products from the meat industry. Such products are to prefer as opposed to leather stemming from animals primarily bred for the fashion industry. (Greenpeace points out the fashion industry as the primary driver behind deforestation of the Amazon in South America, by transforming rainforests into grazing lands with the primary purpose to produce leather as opposed to meat. Cattle bred primarily for meat and allowed to graze freely on natural grass land are thus a much better alternative.)

– Secondly, find out in what country the leather product has been produced (look for “Made in X”). In European countries, such as Italy, the leather industry generally follows stricter environmental regulations and provides better working conditions than in less developed countries. In countries like India, Bangladesh and Malaysia, the animal skin is too often washed, chemically treated and dyed in ways harmful both to the environment and for the workers. It is thus crucial to choose leather products that have been treated, tanned and dyed in ways that are safe, not only for the environment and workers but also for the end-users (who risk skin exposure to remaining chemicals). The best option is to go for leather that has been vegetable-tanned and treated with natural dyes and finishes. Look for an environmental label to give some guarantee. On the ethical side, the leather industry can still today be a very cruel industry, with highly painful ways of breeding, transporting and/or slaughtering the animals, even in the USA. Choosing cruelty-free leather products is thus highly recommended.

– The third and most sustainable option is to go for products made of “second hand leather” as opposed to newly produced (virgin) leather, or products made out of spill material from the leather industry. More and more fashion brands are today increasing their portion of second hand leather and spill material in their collections. In this way, the demand for virgin leather and its environmental impacts can be reduced. Fake leather products are yet another good option, especially if produced in responsible ways (for example using recycled polyester). The fashion company Stella McCartney has taken a clear stand against the leather industry, by being a totally vegan fashion brand and providing only non-animal products in her fashion lines.


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