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Ethical, Sustainable Leather? It’s Out There

And it’s nothing like the sticky, shiny pleather of yesteryear


If you’ve done any research on ethical leather while looking for your next bag, wallet, or pair of shoes, you’ll know that it’s kind of a tricky subject.

There are a lot of things to consider, from the well-being of the animals involved (if any) to the environmental impact of the production process, and even what happens to the finished products once they reach the end of their life cycle, however long that is.

It’s practically impossible to quantify all of these things and determine which outweighs another, so the ethical option you choose will be largely a matter of personal preference.

If environmental friendliness is your primary concern, you may choose a completely different ethical leather option than someone who couldn’t stand to own real leather of any kind.

If you’re like most people, things probably aren’t so black and white, and there are a lot of issues that are important to you, including environmentalism and animal welfare.

Things like style, price, and longevity also play a part in your purchasing decision.

In the end, it’s a tricky balance to strike, and there’s not just one right answer. If you choose to buy ethical leather or a leather alternative, the only person who can decide which type is right for you is, well, you!

All I can do is give you the facts and point you toward the brands that offer the best products.


Why Buy Ethical Leather?

So, why do we have to make this choice at all? Why can’t we just walk into any department store and buy leather products off the shelf, worry free?

Well, conventional leather has a lot of problems associated with it.

For one, the leather that you see in stores is not always a byproduct of the meat industry, and even when it is, it often comes from animals that were subjected to less-than-ethical conditions in life. If you wouldn’t buy conventional meat in the interest of animal welfare, why buy the leather from those same animals?

There are also environmental concerns. Beyond the impact of raising the animals, the tanning process can be extremely damaging. The most prevalent tanning method today uses chromium salts, a chemical known to be toxic by the EPA, to process the leather. This is not only a big polluter of waterways in places like India and Bangladesh, but it also compromises workers’ health, as chromium is carcinogenic if inhaled.

So, conventional leather isn’t great for animals, the environment, or the people who make it. But there are other options!


Where to Buy Ethical Leather

A growing number of companies are committing to offering leather goods that are sourced and produced in more ethical ways. That’s great news, because leather is a great material that can last a lifetime if it’s well cared for. Choosing one of these options can minimize the negative impact of leather, while still offering all the luxury and longevity of the real thing.

Deux Mains offers a guarantee that all the leather they use is a verified byproduct of the meat industry. This brand also strives to minimize its environmental impact overall, and to break the cycle of poverty in Haiti by paying all of its workers a living wage.

Elvis and Kresse uses upcycled leather and other rescued materials that would have otherwise gone to waste to create beautiful home goods and accessories. Each piece is like a unique work of art!

Boots and Arrow- Offers reclaimed leather products for your pets! The leather in their collars comes from reclaimed cowboy boots (that’s the “Boots” part of the company name.)

There’s always the option to buy vintage or secondhand leather as well. You may not know as much about where it came from or how it was made, but you won’t be contributing to the demand for new leather either.


Non-Leather Options for Traditionally Leather Goods

What typically goes unsaid about vegan leather is that a lot of the options currently on the market are plastic-based. Even the few that aren’t have their own drawbacks, such as not being available for brands to use yet, or not being as durable, luxurious, or long-lasting as leather.

Ecocult has a great article about this if you’re interested in all the details. In short, real leather is a difficult material to replicate, and that difficulty is doubled if you’re trying to do it in an ethical, sustainable way. Perhaps then, an easier method is to buy versions of traditional leather goods that aren’t trying to be leather at all.
If you prefer not to own leather at all, Corkor could have just the thing. They make things that you frequently find in leather, like belts, bags, wallets, and other accessories, but they make them out of cork! The material has some of the characteristics of leather with none of the downsides.

Alchemy Goods is another good source for non-leather products. Their stuff is made from bicycle tubes, ad banners, and other upcycled materials.

Whatever your stance is on leather goods, these brands should give you plenty of options to buy what you need without compromising your values.


Kayla Robbins
DoneGood Contributor

A freelance writer working with bighearted businesses who want to better our world.



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