What’s Wrong with Leather?

Leather and suede are made from animal skins, and is therefore not vegan. Uses include:

  • shoes
  • belts
  • wallets
  • purses and handbags
  • jackets
  • car seats
  • furniture upholstery
  • watch bands
  • phone cases
  • drum skins
  • baseball mitts

Most leather comes from cattle and pigs. It’s also sourced from sheep, ostriches, snakes, and alligators.

Leather Production and the Environment

So, what’s wrong with leather? Many people regard it as a quintessentially natural product. The reality, however, is that leather ranks among the most environmentally-unfriendly items in existence.

Untreated animal skin decomposes rapidly. To keep it from breaking down, tanneries use a variety of nasty substances. Tanning uses dangerous chemicals and also chromium, a particularly hazardous heavy metal. These tanning agents likely pose greater hazards than any substance used to make vegan leather alternatives. The Ecologist asserts that, “Tanning is one of the most toxic industries in the world because of the chemicals involved.”

The tanning industry has a poor track record of dealing with its waste and keeping it out of waterways.

Leather and Animal Cruelty

Despite what many believe, leather is not an innocuous karma-free byproduct of the meat industry. Most of it comes from factory farmed cattle and pigs. These animals endure harsh confinement. Their quality of life is abysmal.

The hide taken from a steer or dairy cow provides a meaningful portion of the carcass’s value. Since cattle ranching is a low-margin business, the small but significant income leather provides boosts profit margins, which in turn makes it profitable for ranchers to raise more animals.

Leather sales alter the economics of livestock production, increasing the number of animals who suffer confinement and slaughter.

Vegan Alternatives

It’s easy to find cruelty-free vegan leather. There are vegan belts, shoes, and even “pleather” jackets. And most cars are available with seats made from fabric or synthetics.

In 2023, Apple made the laudable decision to stop selling leather Apple Watch bands and iPhone cases, by switching to a custom material it calls FineWoven.

Related Reading: Please see our page about vegan suede, our “Why Go Vegan?” essay, and our animal ingredients list.

Newsletter Signup

Our newsletter is sent out irregularly and infrequently, because we only want to hit your inbox when we’ve got something compelling to share.