The Leather Industry Is Hypocritical To Complain About 'Misleading' Vegan Labels

Vegan leather is becoming more and more popular - and it seems like the traditional leather industry is getting worried
Author:
Publish date:
Traditionally, leather has only been made from animal skin. That is now changing (Photo: Adobe. Do not use without permission)

Traditionally, leather has only been made from animal skin. That is now changing (Photo: Adobe. Do not use without permission)

Industries that harm animals are getting nervous. 

As more people learn about the suffering of animals and the detrimental environmental impact of animal products like leather, vegan alternatives are growing in popularity. The leather industry's nervousness is backed up by the numbers, too. 

The global vegan leather industry was valued at USD $25.61 billion in 2017, and as of 2019 it is estimated to grow to USD $45.41 billion by 2025

Leather

While the leather industry is valued at a much greater number, which is still expected to increase, the industry is acutely aware of the growth vegan leather has made in the market already, and that the estimated growth rate of vegan leather is higher than its animal rival.

This nervousness is playing out in defensive strategies: just as meat and dairy industries are trying to fight the use of the terms' meat' and 'milk' in vegan products (think Beyond Meat), the German Leather Federation has sent a 'cease and desist' letter to a vegan start up, NUUWAI, which is creating revolutionary, biodegradable apple leather. 

The German Leather Federation is claiming that labeling non-animal products as 'leather' is 'misleading'

Misleading? 

It's interesting, for animal-based industries to speak with concern about misleading the public when the growth of the vegan market is entirely due to the spreading of information that too long has been hidden away by animal industries themselves. 

In the interest of genuine transparency and public interest, it's important we look at the realities and myths spread by those profiting from the sale of animal products. 

The leather industry is concerned about competition from the vegan sector (Photo: Adobe. Do not use without permission)

The leather industry is concerned about competition from the vegan sector (Photo: Adobe. Do not use without permission)

Misleading: The creation of the term 'leather' long ago, because perhaps 'cow skin' wasn't as palatable. Misleading: Describing slaughterhouses as 'processing facilities' to purposefully disconnect consumers from any thought of what happens inside these places, where thousands of cows receive a captive bolt gun to the head and a knife to their throat. 

Misleading: Leather products being labeled with terms like 'ethical' when they are the skin of needlessly killed animals who did not want to die. 

Misleading: Industries and Governments touting their 'high animal welfare' standards when legal standard practises in cow industries (beef and dairy industries, as they are linked to the leather industry) include the separation of mother and baby for dairy, electro-ejaculation of bulls, forced impregnation of cows, castration with a knife and no pain relief for baby calves, as well as dehorning with knives, sharpened 'scoops' and heated cautery irons that burn calves, again with no pain relief. 

Misleading: Claiming that leather is sustainable due to its ability to biodegrade when yes, skin is biodegradable, but leather is specifically tanned to halt this process or it would rot as it were worn, and leather shoes up to 5,500 years old have been found, still intact.

Misleading: Claiming that leather is 'natural', despite our clearing of land (including 80 percent of the Amazon) for cattle ranching, and despite breeding non-native animals where wildlife used to live, for the sheer purpose of slaughter. Despite the tanning of leather being hugely polluting and generally requiring a cocktail of carcinogenic chemicals that harm and even lead to mortalities in tannery workers. 

Misleading: Claiming that leather is sustainable when the Global Fashion Agenda found cow leather to be the single most environmentally impactful material to produce.

Misleading: Perpetuating the notion that leather is a 'by-product' of the meat industry used to reduce waste, when the industry itself defines hides as a 'co-product' sold for the purpose of profit. Skins are clearly valuable when slaughterhouses, and the wider cattle industry alike speak to multi-million dollar loses due to the decline in leather profits which have come about due to an increasingly compassionate consumer market choosing vegan options. 

Leather is often promoted as a 'by-product' of animal agriculture - when it is a 'co-product' (Photo: Adobe. Do not use without permission)

Leather is often promoted as a 'by-product' of animal agriculture - when it is a 'co-product' (Photo: Adobe. Do not use without permission)

Faux concern 

This concern for a misled public is as faux as the vegan leather the animal skin industry is so frightened by. 

An honest fashion marketplace would be a far less profitable one for an industry that refuses to be transparent, and so the protection of words like 'leather' is simply a protection of profit. This is what really concerns the industry, not the public being lied to, but in fact, that the public will find out too much.

As Dennis King, executive officer of the Australian Hide, Skin and Leather Exporters Association, says, the fashion is 'particularly susceptible to influence from activist groups'.
"In recent years, we've seen big global brands move away from using leather products in favour of…alternatives'," he added.

Vegan-labeled products

There has been a 75 percent rise in vegan labeled products in the UK, and a 320 percent rise in Denmark. 

Even if animal-free, kind, sustainable and durable materials made from apples can't be labeled as leather, they'll still be better, and soon, they'll sell better. 

After all, most conscious people would rather wear materials made from apples, mushrooms, pineapple, cork and even polyurethane, before they wore the skin of a slaughtered animal that impacts the planet more than any other so-called 'material'.