Leather: The Stolen Skin

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Often when you step into a shoe shop, the seller eagerly comes up to you and tells you, “Madam, this is real leather. Absolutely authentic.” Now, you can react to this very statement in two ways:
1. “Oh, I love this!”
2. “I don’t really want to wear someone else’s skin.”

If you’ve chosen 1. as your answer, you probably need to read this. Most animal-lovers have forsaken leather long ago. If you haven’t, I’ll tell you why you need to do this. Though there’s a popular notion that leather is a mere by-product of the meat industry, this is not true. A huge quantity of leather does comprise of the skin of the slaughtered cows but then this alone cannot feed the huge demand for leather. Thus leather is exported to the United States from countries like China and India. The animals are specifically slaughtered for leather. Other than the skin of cows, goat-skin, sheep-skin, deer-skin and horse-skin and commonly used. The exotic leather comes from seals, snakes, alligators, lizards etc.


Let’s talk about these sneakers for a minute. They look absolutely fine but here’s the bloody truth behind it. These sneakers were especially designed for Beyonce from snake, crocodile, ostrich and stingray skin. Snakes are not killed before they are skinned. They are stunned by a blow to their head, a hose in pushed down through their throat and water is pumped through their bodies so that they swell up and their skin loosens. Then their necks are secured so that the liquid doesn’t escape and they are hung by their heads from meat-hooks. After a while a few incisions are made on their skin and the skin is roughly pulled down, a bit like taking off a rubber glove. Due to their slow metabolism, these snakes can experience their agony of being skinned alive and can live like this for days after being totally skinned. Something similar happens to the crocodiles, they too are mutilated and maimed but not totally killed because it’s too much hard work. Their skin is ripped apart while they are still in their senses.

If you think this is cruel and vow to never wear crocodile or snake skin again, that’s a good decision. But you must not think that this evil fate befalls the reptiles only. Cows are often tied down, their limbs are severed and they are skinned while they are very much alive. You may think that this fact is baseless but you only have to do a Google search to find out the numerous videos. I must specify one thing, many will claim that they have actually been to the slaughter houses and they have seen the cows’ throats being slit before any of these happen but that’s the ideal scenario. Many slaughter houses simply cut corners to move the process forward without caring about their ethical standards. So as long as you don’t supervise over how the leather is obtained, you cannot know for sure that your handbag has been ‘ethically sourced.’

The above facts should convince an animal-lover to give up leather. Now let’s talk about the environmentalists. As an environmentalist, why should you stay away from leather? Tanneries are the top polluters on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “Superfund” list, which identifies the most critical industrial sites in need of environmental clean-up. The impact of the leather production industries on the environment is devastating.

First of all, the chemicals which are used in the tanning process are heavily polluting in nature. These are so harmful that the grounds where a tannery had been situated cannot be used for agriculture, these grounds are not even fit to be sold for any other purpose. In Kanpur, which is the self-proclaimed “Leather City of World”, pollution levels were so high that, despite an industry crisis, the pollution control board decided to seal 49 high-polluting tanneries out of 404 in July 2009. The air pollution due to the transformation process is also significant. Hydrogen sulfide is emitted during dehairing and ammonia is released during deliming along with other solvent vapours. The leather industries dump their toxic wastes into local disposal sights and water bodies which make these lands and lakes unfit for further use.

So what can you do with all the discarded leather? Many people decide to throw these away or donate it to charity. The second one is a better choice since leather cannot be naturally degraded after the process of tanning. Also, we cannot turn back the clock because the damage is already done. We can, however prevent further cruelty.

Those who claim that there is no better way to replace leather should really look into these cruelty-free options. Not only are the man-made products less expensive, they help us to live with a clear conscience. Moreover, with the advent of technology, human beings have created fabrics and textiles which are as durable and as versatile as leather. In fact, one does not even need to change their sense of style in the process of discarding leather. The faux leather handbags and belts cannot be differentiated from their original counterparts made of snake or crocodile skin. The alternatives include vegan microfibre (Vegetan and Lorica), which claims to match leather in strength and durability, and Pleather (it is usually made from polyvinyl chloride, polyester or cotton. The materials are coated with substances to give it that leathery look), Durabuck and NuSuede. Birko-Flor and Birkibuc are other types made from acrylic and polyamide felt fibre. Cotton, hemp and canvas are the natural alternatives.


(shoes made of vegan microfibre)



(a pleather jacket)


Certain companies which sell leather accessories primarily, also sell a small section of articles made of synthetic or man-made materials. They do this because the non-leather options are cheaper and easier to make, their intentions may not necessarily be based on ethical reasons. It’s for purely profit-based purposes. But certain small vegan companies sell these cruelty-free products especially and their process of manufacture is much more eco-friendly. These vegan institutions should be supported instead of the big leather companies.

If you thought ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ was disturbing and that Leatherface was monstrous, you should really look down at the leather bands of your watch or your shiny leather shoes. You’re no different from him. Yes, that black leather jacket that totally defines you as a person is actually made of skin. You are wearing the skin that has been ripped off from someone else’s body. Do not lie to yourself that there aren’t any alternatives, because they’re are plenty.

Step away from the blood. Be kind, be beautiful.

  • Nupur Chowdhury

    A very inspiring and informative article. And thanks a lot for the info about alternatives to leather. I will definitely be using them from now on.