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.
Most people believe that animal leather is an environmentally viable material. In theory, the logic makes sense: Leather comes from a natural source and is therefore biodegradable - so it must be better than synthetic alternatives. Right?
To truly understand the environmental impact of leather, we need to look at its entire lifecycle - not just the end.
A few points to consider:
It's no news that most of the deforestation on the planet is caused by animal agriculture.
In Amazon, cattle ranching currently accounts for 80% of the deforestation rates.
Australia is no different. Ranking amongst the 11 worst countriesin deforestation, Australia's shocking rates of landing clearing are also a consequence of the livestock industry.
2. CRADLE TO GATE IMPACT
It's also fundamental to understand the environmental impact of the production phase of leather.
As we reported in a past blog post, animal leather is the worst material when it comes to overall environmental impact.
A comprehensive study published by Global Fashion Agenda in 2017 analysed the cradle to gate impact* of all main fibres commonly used for fashion.
The study, which measured the overall impact of materials on multiple environmental aspects, such as Chemistry / Global Warming / Abiotic Resource Depletion / Water Scarcity / Eutrophication, is very clear: animal leather takes the prize as the very worst.
In fact, 3 of the 4 worst materials for the environment, per kilogram, are derived from animals, according to the research.
In addition, the data reveals that synthetic leather (PU) has less than half of the impact that animal leather has - One third, to be exact.
Yes, under natural conditions, animal leather is a biodegradable material.
We are no experts on the matter, but it would be foolish to believe that a material that has been treated and conditioned to so many toxic chemicals (such as chrome, anthracene, formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde and arsenic) would beautifully and gracefully degrade without cause any damage.
Vegetable tanned leather, as opposed to chemically tanned leather, would logically be the lesser of two evils here.
But does that actually matter, considering the greater impact leather has on all the other stages of its lifecycle?
*Cradle to gate is a boundary condition associated with embodied carbon, carbon footprint and LCA studies. A study to these boundaries considers all activities starting with the extraction of materials from the earth (the cradle), their transportation, refining, processing and fabrication activities until the material or product is ready to leave the factory gate.
We know we don't need animal 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.