Before I was vegan and not as aware of animal cruelty, when someone would show me their new bright pink leather purse or wallet, I would smile and tell them that it was cute. They would emphasize the fact that it was “real leather” and I would not think anything of it. Nowadays, I know the horrors associated with leather and other animal furs and skins, so my reaction is totally different. It’s hard to even pretend like I’m excited for the person when all I want to do is lecture them and tell them that that they are supporting a horribly cruel industry.
However, I have learned that educating is better than preaching, and I can only hope that people will begin to research the cruelties of leather for themselves so they can see firsthand that leather is not a fashion trend—it’s an incredibly cruel and unnecessary act. Yes, leather is used to make a multitude of things, such as furniture, car seats, shoes, belts, clothing, and handbags, but it can easily be avoided and is totally unnecessary.
In order for a person to understand why leather is bad, they must first understand what it means to be vegan. Vegans do not believe in exploiting animals in any way, whether it’s for food, entertainment, or fashion. A vegan does not eat animals or their by-products, but they also do not use animal products or by-products. Since leather is the skin of an animal, vegans do not use leather products.
Veganism is about doing the best that a person can to reduce the pain and suffering in the world, and although one can argue that it’s impossible to be 100% vegan, a vegan strives to do his or her best to remain cruelty-free. Since wearing leather or buying leather is unnecessary and can be prevented, vegans choose to buy products that are free of leather and other animal products. It’s also important for vegans to educate non-vegans or people who are unaware of the cruelties that are associated with animals used for fashion.
Commonly, the comments I hear regarding leather are “but the cow was already dead” or “wearing leather doesn’t actually cause any harm to the animal”. Both comments are not true, and the most important thing people must remember is supply and demand—if people are buying leather, companies think that it’s wanted and needed, so this leads to more animals being killed for their skin or fur.
When a cow can no longer produce milk, she doesn’t get to retire from the business and live a relaxing retirement grazing on grass and basking in the sun. Instead, she is horrifically slaughtered for food and her skin is taken and used to make leather. There is no humane farming industry—money is money. As for male calves, since they cannot produce milk, they are slaughtered as calves and used to make veal. The hides of calves are made into pricey calfskin.
Leather may also come from other animals as well, such as horses, sheep, lambs, goats, and pigs. These animals are slaughtered for their meat and their skins are used to make leather. Other animals are also hunted and killed for their skins, such as zebras, dolphins, ostriches, seals, walruses, frogs, turtles, crocodiles, lizards, snakes, bison, boats, elephants, and kangaroos. Since you can never be sure as to what animal skin you are getting, you can also end up with dog or cat skin, since they are used to make leather as well. Dogs and cats are slaughtered for meat in China and their skins are exported around the world.
Slaughter itself is a horrible, horrible thing, and in most cases, these animals are being slaughtered in factory farms. Factory farms are the majority of farms around today, and according to PETA, animals in factory farms experience extreme crowding and deprivation as well as castration, branding, tail-docking, and dehorning. All of these cruelties are performed without any painkillers, and while completely conscious. In slaughterhouses, animals routinely have their throats cut and while still conscious, some are even skinned alive and dismembered.
Additionally, there is always undercover footage leaking of cruelties happening at the hands of factory farm workers. Workers have been shown rubbing chili peppers and tobacco into the eyes of animals, among other devastating and horrific acts.
Along with leather causing a traumatic death, it’s bad for the environment and for human health. To ensure that leather does not rot (it is skin after all); it needs to be treated with a bunch of chemicals. These dangerous substances include mineral salts (iron, zirconium, aluminum, chromium), formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, and various dyes and oils, some cyanide-based. Chemicals used to make leather are linked to asthma, premature death, gynecological disorders, dizziness, nervous disorders, headaches, abdominal pain, nausea, constipation, cancer, skin and respiratory infections. Not only does leather harm animals, but it’s also harmful to humans.
When a person purchases leather, they are directly supporting and contributing to factory farms. Skin is a very important by-product to the meat industry, and by purchasing leather, you’re giving factory farms a chance to double their profit—not only are they selling the meat of an animal, but also the skin. With so many fashionable alternatives to leather, there is no reason why an animal should have to go through the horrors that they do. Cruelty can start or end at the hands of the consumer—the decision is yours.