Animal Charity

Domestic leather 

Why we must seek sustainable leather alternatives 

What is domestic leather?

When we use the term ‘domestic leather’ we are referring to leather that comes from farm animals - the vast majority being from cows, but it can also come from sheep, goats and pigs. An estimated 3.8 billion cows  are used in leather production each year -that’s around one cow for every two people on the planet!. 

Domestic leather is different to exotic leather which comes from wild animals, which you can find more about the cruelty involved here.

Is domestic leather produced in the UK?

The UK is both an importer and exporter of domestic leather. In 2019, the UK was one of the top five leather producing nations, with £3.6 billion worth of domestic leather imported in to the country, and a further £1.6 billion exported globally. Because leather is not usually labelled, it can be difficult to know where the leather came from exactly, but vast quantities come from developing countries such as China and India, with animal welfare standards that are much lower than in the UK.

What are the environmental impacts of leather?

As a co-product of the meat industry, there are the same environmental concerns with leather production as are associated with  raising animals for food. These concerns include deforestation, water pollution and creating ‘ocean dead zones’, and emitting harmful gases, which are contributing to climate change (you can read more about how animal agriculture is linked to climate change here).

An added impact on the environment caused by leather production is the tanning process, which preserves the skin of the animal to avoid rotting. This process uses such as ammonia; cyanide-based dyes, formaldehyde; and lead. Some of these products are carcinogenic, and all are environmental pollutants, which end up being released into the air, ground, and our water supply. The people who work in the leather industry or near the facilities also suffer due to exposure from such harmful chemicals.

We need more compassion in fashion!

While we are making efforts to reduce or eliminate our consumption of animal products, it is also important that we reduce and seek alternatives to domestic leather as much as possible.

To make kinder fashion choices, you can avoid leather and shop for synthetic alternatives. You could consider buying second-hand clothing from places such as charity shops, and if you are buying brand new, there are several sustainable alternatives you can choose when out shopping:

1) Piñatex - made from pineapple leaf waste from the Philippines. Widely available and the most affordable plant-based leather option.

2) Apple leather – more expensive than piñatex but growing in availability.

3) Recycled polyurethane leather (PU) – PU is the most available alternative to leather used by the fashion industry although it is not environmentally-friendly as it’s made from plastic - opt for recycled.

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Over two billion animals are exploited for fashion and textiles every single year

Animal-free clothing is the ultimate in kind and cruelty-free fashion and making carefully considered decisions is a great step towards achieving a kinder wardrobe.

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