A New Era Of Style

  • Subscribe
  • Converted prices are for reference only - all orders are charged in £ Pounds Sterling GBP.
  • Cart (0)

Can Leather Be Ethical?

We look into the effects this industry is having on the environment and workers.

Leather goods are one of the most covetable and universally worn pieces within fashion. That being said, very few of us likely understand the origins or details of leather production and tanning. Here we explore the process.

The horror stories of leather production are becoming more and more recognizable in media and press. Tanning is the part of the process where the animal hide gets made into leather that can be worked with; it makes the leather a stable material that is ready to be fashioned. The process from animal to product is oftentimes accompanied by hard chemicals, abusive labour practices and toxic waste. This is called chrone tanning and it’s become somewhat business as normal. It’s cheap, efficient, and emits Chromium VI, a common carcinogenic waste product that is highly hazardous for the environment and people working with it.

Bearing this in mind it is not surprising that tanneries are ranked as one of the top ten most polluting industries in the world. The chromium that is used for tanning is a toxic chemical which is not allowed in Europe and the United States, but in low income countries there are no such restrictions. These are also the places that do not have the money nor the means to filter the waste of tanning procedures before it gets dumped. The unfiltered water ends up in the river and the chromium mixed animal waste gets dumped on the riverbanks, making its way into the water, soil, air and food.

Lives of the people living in these areas are affected in many different ways, which research showing that average mortality age around these areas can be as low as 50. The water from these rivers is used for irrigation of the lands and people fish in it, which has a huge impact on the food they eat. They also drink from and wash themselves in this water. The chemicals are even in the air people breathe in the form of fine dust, which resulted in high numbers of asthma and nose and lung cancer patients in these areas. The people who are in direct contact with the chemicals obviously feel the effects of chromium the worst. A lot of them lose pigment in their skin, get issues with their sight, have constant rashes and get illnesses like asthma and cancer.

A less harmful way of tanning for the environment as well as the people working with it is vegetable tanning. Vegetable tanning uses the tannic acids that are naturally found in some types of barks, branches, leaves and fruits. This makes the waste biodegradable. The reasons why it gets used less are because the process takes more time, the leather is often less supple and it is not water-resistant. Vegetable tanned leather turns a deep natural colour, chromium tanned leather comes sort of light blue out of the process, which makes it very easy to dye in every colour imaginable.

Another way to keep the negative impact your leather products have as low as possible is to buy things from upcycled or reused materials, like our beautiful leather jackets from The Sway.The Sway uses all reclaimed and excess leathers. The linings of all of their jackets are made from 100% recycled cotton or reclaimed fabrics and all of the leather is tanned with vegetable dye. The jackets are produced in an ethical, family run factory in Pakistan. Shop the collection HERE.