30 May

Is leather an ecological and ethical material?

During May we have discussed leather. As stated in the first post, the question is leather a sustainable material is not a black and white one. The material contains excellent qualities, such as durability, and has been used for centuries. On the contrary, leather is challenged due to animal welfare and the toxic tanning process, for example. However, change in doing things unsustainably is needed, so we wanted you to meet the designers of Salmiak Studio, Kuula + Jylhä, Terhi Pölkki and Lovia and raise discussion.


Now, looking back at my writings and memorising the interviews, one word comes to me before others: viewpoints.

The answer to my original question is leather a sustainable material depends on what viewpoint you are approaching the matter. Do you highlight the human rights? Or perhaps emphasise the animal’s rights? Do you look at the issue from the environmental point of view? Waste, water and toxins? Or maybe you appreciate that the shoes you buy last longer than one summer? All viewpoints give a bit different answer.

This was the core idea of my writings as well – to provide different perspectives to the discussion about leather. And also to open the realities of production and the minds of our readers too. For example, did you know how many pairs of hands a pair of leather shoes passes in production? Did you know the differences between vegetal and chromium tanning? Or why it cannot be used yet for elk leather? Did you know in how many ways leather can be used again or shaped? For me, the designers’ stories were a mind-opener.

And what impressed me above all, was that all the designers shared the passion of changing the production into a more transparent direction and were interested in the new innovations developed.


People eat meat. That’s just a fact. And although, luckily, new materials, like Pinatex, are being developed, for now, leather is a by-product of the meat industry. In my opinion, it’s better to turn the leftovers into something beautiful rather than waste.

Now, you can suggest vegan leather as an option. But it’s not instantly a better one and the four brands find it problematic too in many ways. Why? Since vegan leather is basically plastic, which often comes from war zones and it will never decompose.

So perhaps before answering the question is leather a sustainable material, a more meaningful discussion would be: in what kind of conditions the people work while making and tanning leather products, and in what conditions the animals live.

Looking the matter from this perspective, I find it crucial that we, consumers, are interested in the origins of the products. The change is needed in the developing countries, such as China and India, where from a lot of leather comes for now. There, welfare laws for humans nor animals exist, or they are not enforced. There, trade unions don’t exist.

So in the end, I can’t give you the answer to the original question. But I can highlight the importance of discussion, asking. If you’re thinking is it worth to buy a leather jacket, a leather bag or a pair of leather shoes, consider what aspects are important to you. And follow the core of Fashion Revolution by asking where, who and how the product was made.

Fortunately, I had the pleasure to hear that these four brands’ production is transparent and traceable, their items haven’t just popped from outer space. I was impressed by all of the designers and their work, their passion for changing the industry. I encourage you to do the same.


What do you think? Is leather a sustainable material, why or why not? We are happy to hear your thoughts on the issue!

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