The Problem with Leather


I recently saw an article on “Instagrams Newest Sofa Trend” talking about leather sofas. And it made my heart SINK.

Many people avoid leather because of the obvious harm to the animal- but what people don’t know that leather processing is just as much a HUMAN issue as it is an ANIMAL issue. When talking about leather,  I think it important to mention the damaging effects leather has on animals, the environment, and the people who both work in the leather tanneries and the ones who purchase the end product.

The biggest misconception with leather is that it is a byproduct of the meat industry. There is an important economic interdependence between factory farming and the leather trade, so farmers do not sell every single part of each animal to minimize waste but instead to maximize revenue and profit. For that reason leather is an animal product much like any other: produced to meet consumer demand while lining the pockets of those within the respective businesses. In actual fact, leather accounts for approximately 10% of the animal’s total value, making it the most valuable part, pound for pound.

The production of leather has serious environmental ramifications, which are two-fold. First of all, factory farming is an extremely dirty, environmentally unfriendly; and (fossil) fuel-intensive practice. In raising billions of animals each year, millions of tonnes of waste are generated that contaminate both the ground and water supply, while millions of tonnes of methane – one of the more potent greenhouse gases – are released into the atmosphere.

Secondly, once the hide or skin has been harvested from the slaughtered animal, there is a three-stage process it must undergo to become leather. The remaining flesh is scraped away and the hairs removed, after which the skin is treated (tanned) to ensure it doesn’t decompose. The skin is then thinned, re-tanned, lubricated, and, if required, dyed. This process uses several chemicals and toxins including ammonia; cyanide-based dyes, formaldehyde; and lead. Some of these products are carcinogenic, and all are environmental pollutants, which end up released into the air, ground, and water supply. Of course, these processes are especially polluting in countries where environmental regulations aren’t enforced.

The people who work in these tanneries suffer terrible diseases as a result of the chemicals used in the processing including open sores and wounds, lung scarring, diarrhea and shorter lifespan due to the chemicals and lack of regulation.

The good news is there are many non-animal sourced leather alternatives that are beneficial to mention!

A big name brand Kravet (as well as their sub brands Lee Jofa and Brunswick and Fils) offers an extensive range of faux leather that isn’t scared, doesn’t off-gas, resists stains, and doesn’t scratch, much like real leather would. Faux leather is better for those with allergies, sensitivities to toxic chemicals (don’t we all?) or those with sensory needs as they are less offensive and don’t need to be treated with harsh chemicals to stop the rotting process.

So when shopping for that perfect Instagram-worthy sofa of your deepest dreams, please consider faux alternatives for your home, your family, and the planet.

While you’re at it:

Check out these other vegan leather alternatives.

  •  Pindler
    Staff Favorites: The Capella Faux Leather Metallic, Ramtex Leather Shark Skin Vibe Metallic & Sandalwood Stripe.
  • Kravet
    Staff Favorites: The Lightspeed, Tezzo & Derek collection.
  • Stark
    Staff Favorites: The Georgia, Elkhorn & Duo Le collections.
  • Robert Allen
    Staff Favorites: The Sunsuede collection.
  • Clarence House
    Offers a variety of indoor and outdoor vegan fabrics.
  • Mitchell Faux Leathers
    Offers a variety of indoor and outdoor vegan fabrics.
  • Enviro Leather
    Offers a variety of sustainable and vegan fabrics.
  • Sterling Decor Concepts
    Offers a large selection of vegan vinyl, cloths and fabrics.
  • Ultrafabrics
    Staff Favorite: The Brisa collection.
  • MuSkin
    This 100% vegetable eco-alternative is available for sample and small production purchases. 
  • Piñatex™
    Made from pineapple leaf fibers, this B2B company accepts sales inquiries.

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