This is a 8 part series. Every week we'll post one of the reasons we think leather doesn't belong in the modern wardrobe. To see all posts, click here.
In case you didn't know, the leather industry is unbelievably cruel.
For starters, there’s the killing. All animals who are used for leather, obviously, have to face the slaughterhouse and, it would be foolish to believe that a slaughterhouse can ever be an ethical place for any living animal.
But, granted, you may be ok with that, especially if you consume meat.
Yet, when you learn more about the entire "production" process and the methods used, you quickly realise how barbaric and abhorrent leather production really is.
And make no mistake: Most of the leather in the world comes from countries where animal welfare is not even a thing.
It’s well known that that animals in these countries are subject to horrendous cruelty. But the facts might stun you:
The slaughter of young, healthy cows is illegal in all Indian states, except for two: West Bengal, in the north-east, and Kerala in the far south. This protective legislation may sound nice at first, but in reality it hides one of the most barbaric underground trades in the world.
Because healthy cows can’t be slaughtered, they are often deliberately maimed. Their legs may be broken, or they may be poisoned so that they can be declared ‘fit for slaughter’.
Even more horrific is the cow trafficking from all over the country to places where they can be slaughtered, such as West Bengal, Kerala and neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh.
According to Peta, every year, an estimated 2 million cows from India are bound, thrown onto trucks and transported thousands of miles to Bangladesh in order to circumvent Indian slaughter bans.
What happens in the process is the stuff of nightmares.
“Cows are often marched for days to get to the slaughterhouses. When they inevitably collapse from exhaustion, they are beaten, their tails sometimes broke or their eyes filled with chilli peppers to force them into moving through pain”
“Bangladesh, which has no cows of its own, is the biggest beef exporter in the region. Between 10,000 and 15,000 cows go across that border every day. You can make out the route taken by the trucks by the trail of blood they leave behind.”
“Many of the animals are so sick and injured by the time they arrive at the slaughterhouse that they must be dragged inside. Once inside, their throats are cut — often with dirty, blunt knives and in full view of one another — on floors that are covered with faeces, blood, guts, and urine. Some animals are even skinned and dismembered while they are still conscious”
"Because they have walked and walked and walked the cattle have lost a lot of weight, so to increase the weight and the amount of money they will receive, the traffickers make them drink water laced with copper sulphate, which destroys their kidneys and makes it impossible for them to pass the water - so when they are weighed they have 15kg of water inside them and are in extreme agony."
"In Kerala they have a unique way of killing them - they beat their heads to a pulp with a dozen hammer blows."
Things are far from better in China, where there are no penalties for abusing animals on farms.
And, to everyone's horror, dogs and cats are also slaughtered, and commonly skinned alive for their meat and skins (but more on that in the next post).
A 2018 report from South China Morning postuncovered that Chinese slaughterhouse staff routinely force-feed cattle with water for 12 hours to artificially increase their weight.
Video footage shows cows with plastic tubes pumping water through their nostrils.
The manager of the slaughterhouse in question told police that the cattle were "to be slaughtered anyway, so pumping them with water did not matter."
But more in China in our next post.
Vietnam is also one of the world's main leather producers, and a country that receives Australian cattle for 'processing' (=killing), thanks to our medieval live export industry.
Despite the (lose) regulations in place, Animals Australia uncovered a barbaric scenario, where our very ownAustralian cattle are subjected to extreme cruelty in these Vietnamese slaughterhouses.
In Vietnam, the traditional method of slaughter is sledge-hammering (that it, blows to the head with a sledgehammer), and the below accounts say it all.
“He'd already seen his pen mates have their skulls crushed by a sledgehammer... One poor animal collapsed to the ground in absolute terror and anxiety before he'd even been hit once. Such was the profound fear permeating throughout this slaughterhouse. This Aussie steer knew exactly what was coming. In what animal behaviour experts call a typical fear response, he bowed his head as low as it could go and tried desperately, yet hopelessly, to avoid the sledgehammer. He was trying to be invisible. To be small. But there was no escape.”
You can read more here.
You may be thinking that you would never purchase your leather item from such horrific places. But you’re wrong. You most likely are.
Leather is normally not labelled so it’s virtually impossible to trace its origin. Even if you purchase a product labelled Made in Italy, Australia, France, or the US, the raw materials most likely came from one of the countries mentioned above.
According to European Union regulations, companies only need to spend a portion of all manufacturing costs in a certain country in order to qualify for local ‘made in’ labelling, meaning that a handbag labeled Made in Italy could have been manufactured in China and only have its labelling and final touches applied in Italy.
The same applies to Made in Australia products.
As FindLaw Australia explains, the general rule for a person to meet the Australian Made claim for a good or product, is that 50% or more of the total costs must be attributable to the country in which the good or product has been manufactured.
Interestingly, the costs of shipping goods to Australia may also be included as part of the Australian cost component, along with any insurance and port clearance costs.
In addition, Australia does, in fact, import a huge amount of leather from China, both in the form of raw hides and skins to finished items such as handbags, so it's almost certain that any leather item, Made in Australia or not, comes with a lot of baggage.
We wont even mention the all-powerful, mainstream retailers and brands as we all know the true cost of their fast fashion goods.
The softest, most luxurious leather (calfskin leather) comes from the skin of newborn calves.
Not even unborn calves are spared, as often these are cut prematurely out of their mother's wombs.
As Kate Carter from The Guardian puts, calfskin leather "sometimes are from the same veal calves whose lives of misery are well documented. Many committed carnivores draw the line at veal: why, then wear calfskin?”
If you're not familiar with the cruelty in the calfskin / veal industry,
A recent undercover footage revealing the atrocities suffered by Irish calves as young as two weeks, as they were prepared to travel to their slaughter in the Netherlands. In one video, a worker appears throwing a calf to the floor and repeatedly jumping up and down on it.
Fast fashion along with a rising middle class are responsible for what Lucy Siegle refers to 'more crazy-ass consumption of bags – and more cows'.
"Presently around 290 million cows are killed every year from a global herd approaching 1bn. Projections tell us that in order to keep us in wallets, handbags and shoes, the industry needs to slaughter 430 million cows annually by 2025." Read more here.
Needless to say that the mayhem is completely unnecessary.
We simply don't need leather to produce beautiful handbags, shoes and wallets.
In fact, several synthetic alternatives are available today, and some offer a similar, (sometimes superior) performance to animal leather.
See, for example, our curated collection of designer, animal-free handbags.