Main Image: Courtesy of Celeb Fans.

Leather is one of the oldest yet favorite materials for people to wear. From motorcyclists wearing leather jackets in the Midwest to Lady Gaga wearing high heel leather boots on a red carpet, this fascinating material is loved by many and hated by so many others. The interesting thing whatsoever is that many people tend to hate the things that they are not familiar with. Maybe as a defense mechanism or as an act of ignorance, but there's always an opportunity to get familiar with the unfamiliar and question our thoughts. Why do I hate it? What have I heard of it? Am I completely sure this is true or did I just overheard this information from someone's conversation?

Leather comes from animals, mostly from cows, and this will be the focus area of this article. As there are many false statements and misinformation about leather, its origin, and its impact on the environment, today we will demystify this fascinating material while talking about its amazing properties, great qualities, and an enormous potential to revolutionize your looks. So let's get started!

It's important to address the most common misconceptions around leather to understand what it truly is.

Myth 1: Leather Is The Direct Cause Of Killed Animals

Leather is a great natural material that humans have been using for many centuries to protect from extreme weather. Image Courtesy of L'Officiel

This is a complicated and sensitive topic that must be explained further. First of all, humanity worldwide consumes around 1.5 billion cows every year. Although huge vegan initiatives have contributed to slightly decrease this number in the last couple of years, the numbers of cows that are killed by the meat industry is still significantly big. However, most of the food industries work collaboratively with the fashion industry to optimize the use of each part of the animal's body. This means that if there is a cow whose inner body parts have been used for meat, the fashion industry will take the hide (the skin) to create leather.

The quality of the leather depends on many factors, including the life quality of the cow. Many farms have healthy diets for their cows as they are aiming for high-quality meat to be sold as "healthier" or "organically fed." This optimum life translates into high-quality leather that is often sold to high fashion labels. The price of the material is expensive, and so is the retail price of the products made of this material. In contrast, other farms, unfortunately, have these animals in inadequate conditions with unhealthy food and ingesting chemicals to make them as big and chubby as possible. These cows will have a lower leather quality and will be sold to fashion brands with a bridge price point to create good quality products.

The main insight here is that the huge demand for meat worldwide supplies tons of leather for the fashion industry. This leverage is beneficial for both the food and the fashion industry as they are optimizing space and time and making leather widely available for consumers around the world.

It's very important to understand this because many environmentalists have demonized leather accessories without further research. As long as the leather piece comes from a cowhide, it's likely that the animal wasn't haunted specifically for its skin.

Exotic Animal Skin

More fashion labels are becoming fur-free as a recognition of sustainability and a significant change in consumer’s demands. Image Courtesy of W Magazine.

All the animals that are not killed for their meat (crocodiles, snakes, cheetahs, sharks, stingrays, chinchillas, to name a few), unfortunately, are being killed with the only purpose of using their skin. This is now illegal in many countries and a practice that most fashion designers don't support. Only under very specific circumstances, fashion designers work collaboratively with veterinarians and scientists to use the body of an animal who died by natural causes, without cruel practices. If you are interested in knowing the story of a piece of clothing made of animal skins, do your research using reliable sources to avoid subjective accusations.

Myth 2: All snake patterns come from snakes.

Fashion companies choose cowhides and synthetics to print exotic animal prints and stop animal cruelty. Image Courtesy of Christian Vierig.

Animals have been the inspiration of many artists and designers throughout the years, and as the policies against animal cruelty raised and people became more aware of the consequences of it, designers started to look for different alternatives to prevail the beauty of animal patterns in fashion. It turns out, you can stamp the print of snakeskin in a cowhide. This means that the material came originally from a cow who was killed by the food industry, it was stamped to look like snakeskin, but it's not snakeskin; it just has its beautiful pattern with the natural qualities of leather. You can stamp cowhides to look like other animal skin including crocodile, stingray, and other fascinating animal hides.

So how do you know if you are buying a snakeskin cowhide leather or a real snakeskin? Most stores and certified sellers must be specific in their product description about its origin. Many retailers even specify punctually how they fabricated the material, as they need to be transparent in this world where news and accusations expand quickly and globally. There are some cases when your common sense will let you know the garment doesn’t come from a real snakeskin. Think of the size of a jacket, for instance, and how many snakeskins and seams you would need to make one. It would be very difficult, expensive, and it would have a lot of seams to connect all the snakeskins, so fashion companies use other materials and print them to make it look like the skin of this animal.

In cheaper markets, it's very common to have dyed, treated, and textured plastics that imitate animal skins. These materials are clearly synthetic and do not have an animal origin. However, its environmental impact needs further discussion as it’s the foundation of Myth 6.

Myth 3: Leather is not sustainable

This is a complex and controversial statement because it's neither completely true nor false. Leather is a natural material that comes from animals, and natural materials are more sustainable than synthetics, which come from labs and are made of harmful chemicals that deteriorate the environment. When you get rid of your leather products, it's very likely that they will biodegrade quicker than products made of synthetics, such as polyester, nylon, or lycra. Leather itself is a sustainable product, because of its natural origin, however, the way leather is treated to get its color, texture, and properties, can be harmful to the environment if chemicals are used for the dyeing process, so there is not an absolute truth to this statement.

Myth 4:Plant-based leather is the best type of leather

Shoes made of bio-based vegan leather. Image Courtesy of Will´s Vegan Store.

Many environmentalists are fully supporting and looking forward to the scientific discoveries that are creating leather out of several materials such as pineapple leaves, cactus, or mushrooms. There are even some studies to potentially cultivate cells in a lab and produce biologically identical animal skin without the need of extracting it from the animal.

Although these discoveries are fascinating and developing quickly, their price point is still very high and out of reach for most consumers. Most likely, in the next couple of years, these new materials will be widely available depending on the demand and the reaction of consumers in general. But in the meantime, don't feel like you must buy this specific type of leather to be fully sustainable and cruelty-free. As we saw, natural cowhides are a great alternative; their price range is diverse, their properties are exceptional, and you are not contributing to animal cruelty.

Myth 5: Leather is difficult to use

Leather in its many styles and colors. Photo Illustration by C.J. Robinson.

Even in the 21st century, many people have prejudices around leather and are scared of using it. Stereotypes around country artists, rock stars, and erotic connotations make many people dislike leather fashion without even trying it. But the truth is, leather can be a sophisticated accent to an outfit that can make you look fabulous for almost every occasion. With its different colors, properties, textures, thicknesses, and presentations, try leather this season and adopt it in your own style.

Myth 6: There is synthetic leather.

Unsustained arguments around synthetic leather being environmentally friendly are going around across the internet, and it must stop. Let's start by explaining what synthetic leather is.

This type of material also referred to as faux leather, is primarily made from polyurethane (PU) or polyvinyl chloride (also known as PVC or vinyl). Both of these materials are a type of plastic, but not any kind of plastic. Green Peace refers to PVC as "the most environmentally damaging type of plastic," it releases many toxins in the environment, and it will take more than two centuries to degrade entirely, liberating harmful substances during this process.

When fast fashion companies advertise garments made of "synthetic leather" or "pleather," they are referring to these incredibly harmful types of plastic. And the huge irony is that many environmentalists prefer pleather than real leather, when the latter is a more sustainable choice, as stated earlier in Myth number 3.

Plastic is versatile, and it can have a huge range of properties, colors, and weights. It can look like leather too, but it is still plastic, and it will never be as sustainable, durable, or authentic as a real piece of leather.

Myth 7: I should throw away all my animal-based clothing

Fur coats have a very long lifespan, consider reusing them as much as possible before getting rid of them. Image Courtesy of Trend Hunter.

Thirty years ago, there were not so many policies, laws, and information about animal cruelty, so it was more common to buy or own garments and accessories made of real animal fur or exotic leathers. Many people have inherited these kinds of garments and don't know what to do with them as it's a very sensitive issue in today's social context. From a sustainable perspective, the best thing to do is keep it and wear it if you feel comfortable doing so because the whole idea of sustainable fashion is about wearing fewer clothes for longer periods of time. You cannot undo the fabrication of that fur coat, but you can take advantage of it since it has already been made.

It's totally comprehensible if you don't feel comfortable wearing these kinds of garments, but throwing them in the trash can is not the smartest thing to do. Not when there are organizations like Wildlife Rescue League where you can donate your fur clothes to be repurposed to enhance orphaned wildlife habitats, especially the babies who need the warmth and familiarity of fur. You can also donate the garments to a shelter, or if they are not in an optimum condition, you can take those materials to an art school where they will definitely be repurposed.

Image Courtesy of Mic.

Leather, like many other topics in fashion and politics, is controversial. And in order to have a point of view, it is important to learn about the topic and its pros and cons. Leather isn't perfect, and it's a valid point of view to reject it because it comes from an animal that was killed for animal consumption. But unfortunately, we cannot change the whole system of the food and the fashion industry in a day.

As scientists, environmentalists, and experts of other fields share more information and awareness about this sensitive topic, we will continue to question our consumption practices and rethink them. What can we do better? What should we stop consuming, and what should we consume a little more? As the consumer ultimately has the ultimate decision, the question for you is: How do you see leather evolving in the next couple of years?