Leather is not Vegan, Humane, or Healthy


Hi there, vegans and vegan curious. It’s Margaret. And today I want to talk with you about leather. And why we need to learn more about the leather
industry, and why it is an incredibly important part of the vegan movement. [intro] A lot of people tend to think that leather
is not really a big deal. That it is a minor byproduct of the agricultural
industry, that leather is just a result of the way that
we eat meat, and things like that. We eat cows and then we get their leather. But it’s far more than that. And I hope today that the research that I’ve
done is going to help you to understand how important it is to make leather, and awareness of what leather really is – what it really represents – an important part of the vegan movement. I would argue that leather is a toxic material from start to finish. That it hurts people, and the environment, in ways that we can’t begin to understand. That we are only beginning to understand. And that’s what I really want to address in
this video. When you think about leather, most of us tend
to have positive associations. I mean, think about it for a moment: ask yourself what you think of leather. And this may be different if you’re vegan
already, but especially if you’re not a vegan, consider for a moment what you think of leather. A lot of people have very positive associations
with leather. It’s even used in high-end fragrances, like Hermes perfumes. We love getting into cars that have new leather
seating, we love that rustic, musty smell of the leather. And if you’re vegan, you may not feel that
way. But that is the way that the general population associates themselves with leather. They think of luxury, they think of value, they think of natural beauty. But leather is something entirely different. First of all, leather is not natural at all. Obviously, our skin is designed to degrade, just like the rest of our body after when
we die. In a normal body if a normal animal dies, their skin will begin to decompose almost
immediately. But leather is treated in such a way that
even when it’s buried, it takes it about 50 years to decompose under normal circumstances. And that’s because a lot of chemicals are
added to leather. We use chromium, we use a number of other things, and even in vegetable tanned processes, we use chemicals that are very damaging to
our waterways. But it doesn’t really matter how we’re doing
it, whatever we’re doing, we’re changing leather from what it essentially is, which is skin, into a commodity that can be used for longer
periods of time. I think most of us, whether you’re vegan or not, you know that leather is the skin of an animal, sometimes the skin of a very young animal. Calf leather, which is used for most women’s
shoes, for higher end items, is made from baby cows and their skin. And the same thing goes for gloves that are often made of baby goat skin, and you’re looking at the skin of infants, that’s been treated to make it very tender
and soft for consumers. So there’s that aspect, there’s the animal
aspect. But I assume that many of you are already
familiar with the fact that leather comes from animals. What I want you to be aware of today is the human cost of leather. Leather is produced all over the world, there are only about 100 leather tanneries left in the United States, but in many other parts of the worlds (and
that’s the entire United States) In many other parts of the world they are far more concentrated. And they tend to be concentrated in very poor
countries. Countries like Bangladesh and India and Mexico
and Colombia have far more tanneries than most of the rest
of the world combined. And in these tanneries, employees are treated horribly. And it is a form of slavery. And if you think that ethical clothing is
important at all, if you’re concerned about fast fashion and the impact of buying inexpensive clothing
at Wal-Mart, you need to be far more aware of the leather
industry. It is far more destructive. Children who work in this industry – Let’s just talk about India. Because I think that this is important to
understand. The people who produce leather in those countries are “Untouchables” the dalits, and they work over 10 hours a day for about
$37 a month, according to Human Rights Watch. And children working in these leather tanneries can be as young as seven years old. They’re exposed to incredibly toxic chemicals ten hours a day or more. If they get sick, if they get hurt from the
horrible chemicals that are used in these plants, then they have to stay home and they’re not
payed. And their family goes hungry. Most of the people who are desperate, because that is one of the best paying forms of work that they can engage in, and so they’re willing to do it, no matter what the costs are. Human Rights Watch reports that most of the people they encountered that worked in these tanneries had horrible skin lesions, hands that were
disintegrating, amputations from various accidents and things
like that. It’s an incredibly hazardous industry, and one where you’re exposed to an incredible
amount of dangerous chemicals. Most of us don’t know the origin of our leather. When you look at a pair of shoes and it says
it’s made in Italy, the ingredients could be from anywhere. There are a few tanneries remaining in Italy, but the likelihood is that leather either
came from a factory in South America, or perhaps Morocco, or from India or a place like Bangladesh. And it’s something that we don’t think about
that much. But the people that work in those factories, as I said, are treated extremely poorly, work incredibly
long hours, in incredibly deplorable conditions. Very few of them have any protection at all
from the chemicals that they’re using, they stand up to their waists in hazardous
materials, with no gloves, no waders, nothing – in these chemicals, in order to produce leather. Even if you don’t care about the people that
are suffering from this, and I hope you do, it’s important to understand the environmental
impact as well. In Bangladesh, they’re dumping over 22 tonnes
of wastewater into the rivers every single day from these factories, from these tanneries. And factory is really a glorified word. I’m going to show some pictures of what tanneries really look like, and these are from tanneries
in Morocco, where legislation is actually a great deal
better. These tanneries, you will see still that people are not wearing protection, that they are standing in the middle of this hyper-toxic chemical bath. And that’s what the workers do. But you have to remember, that in many of the places where this is done, there’s no water treatment whatsoever. In the United States, a tannery is going to
have water treatment that will protect the general
public. But in a place like India, that simply doesn’t exist. And the same thing in Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, none of the tanneries – of the 150 tanneries that are producing leather
there, none of them treat their water. They send 22 tonnes of untreated water into
the river every single day, which poisons the drinking water. That water is going straight into the rivers, which then goes into the oceans, which harms
all of us. And it’s not the only source of pollution. They also feed the scraps from the leather to chickens and fish. And this is from the treated leather, and so it contains hexavalent chromium, which is a dangerous pollutant, which we’re going to talk about that in a
second, but they’re feeding hexavalent chromium to
fish and chickens, which are then consumed by the general population. Which can then make them sick. So this is a cycle of pollution that affects everyone in these countries. And particularly when you’re looking at the
developing world, tanneries are one of the most violent sources
of pollution that damage so many people. And it really is a very serious industry, that we need to know more about, and we don’t. As much as we may hate the factories, that create clothing and other things in the developing world, I think it’s important to consider the fact that, as bad as those factories may be, the amount of pollution that is created by
the tanning industry is far worse. If you, in particular, care about addressing exploitation of people in the developing world, the number one thing that you can do is to stop buying leather. You do not know where your leather comes form. No matter how expensive the item of clothing that you have is, you don’t know the source of that leather. It could easily be Indian leather, that has
been sent to Italy and turned into $900 pairs of shoes. You simply do not know. And every time that you’re buying leather, you are potentially supporting the abuse of
people in the developing world. In the United States and other developed countries, a lot of the leather that’s tanned is tanned
using vegetable tannins. And vegetable tannins are slightly better
for the environment. They still do cause harm. But they are a little bit less toxic. However, they’re extremely brittle and hard, and so the kind of leather that you get from
them is stuff that works really well in workman’s
gloves, for the soles of shoes, very thick leather
for soles that it doesn’t really matter when they get
wet, because when vegetable tanned leather gets
wet, it can be terribly damaged, but it it’s thick enough, it will do just
fine. So it can be used for soles, but it couldn’t
be used for, say, leather uppers and things like that. When I speak about leather, I’m talking about chromium-tanned leather, which represents 90% of the product of the
leather industry. So, chromium is used to give leather it’s
suppleness, to give it the characteristics that allow
us to turn it into things like shoes. If you look at a leather upper, or a handbag, that’s moveable in your hands, that doesn’t immediately become damaged if it’s exposed
to moisture, chromium is really good for helping that. Most tanning procedures use something called
Chromium three. And trivalent chromium, or chromium three, is an extremely useful material, because it
allows leather to remain supple, to remain soft, even after some exposure to water. So that’s why, if you get your shoes wet once
or twice, or your jacket, it’s not going to become destroyed
immediately. The reason that it lasts a little longer is
because of that chromium. The chromium has given it some suppleness
that it wouldn’t have otherwise. Vegetable tanned leathers have less of that, and that’s why we pretty much tend to use
them solely for the soles of our shoes, for outdoor gloves and things like that. Now, one of the challenges with chromium is
that over time, it oxidizes. And so trivalent chromium turns into chromium
6, or hexavalent chromium when it oxidizes. So, over time, after the leather has been finished, after the finished product is created, or after it begins to process in the area
where they are tanning the leather, it releases hexavalent chromium. And hexavalent chromium is very damaging. It can cause neural damage, it can cause toxicity, it’s linked with cancer – it’s an extremely
dangerous substance. As a result, some studies have attempted to
find out how much chromium 6 is included in emissions
from finished leather goods. And some studies have been done, but most
of them run about seven days in length, and those studies have shown ninety-five percent of leather goods contain chromium, and that most of them are oxidizing hexavalent
chromium. And in fairly large amounts. But at the beginning, it’s primarily trivalent
chromium. Chromium three is not that dangerous, and so, even though chromium was found in
95% of these goods, they still thought, you know what, this isn’t
so bad, because at least most of it is trivalent chromium. However, towards the end of these studies, they usually noticed that more hexavalent
chromium was being oxidized. And of course, hexavalent chromium is the
more dangerous version of chromium. In answer to some of these questions, studies have been done that have looked at chromium emissions from
leather over longer periods of time. And there was a study done last year in Sweden, that looked at the amount of chromium emissions over an eight month period. And they discovered that after 7-10 days, the amount of hexavalent chromium being oxidized
started to increase. During the first 7-10 days, there was only
about 2.6 mg/kg of hexavalent chromium being released
by these leather goods. But after ten days, it started to increase, and after a few days it was at 9 mg per kg. And it stayed around there for the entire
eight month period, sometimes higher, sometimes lower, but an average of around 9 mg/kg. Which is much higher than the level that was
reported in previous studies. Now, the danger with this is that, the longer that you wear leather, the more
damaged it becomes. And interestingly, some studies have said, get rid of your clothing when it’s old and
worn, and you won’t have a problem. But the challenge is, who keeps their clothes for 7-10 days? I don’t know about you, but I’m not going
to throw out my leather jacket after 7 days. And so, this becomes a serious problem. Since no one throws out a leather jacket after
10 days, the likelihood is that you’re going to be
keeping it around , and the more time that leather jacket sits
around either in your closet, or on your body, it’s going to start releasing more and more
hexavalent chromium. And that hexavalent chromium is the dangerous
form of chromium, and it can actually cause all sorts of problems. The amount, that 9 mg/kg was about 50 times
higher than what was required to produce allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to chromium, and the thing with chromium is that it actually
causes more allergic dermatitis – you’re more likely to get a rash or something the longer
that you’re exposed to it. So, over time, you become more likely to get a reaction from
exposure to hexavalent chromium or to regular chromium. Either one could cause an allergic reaction. But that just keeps going up over time. So there’s really no way to eliminate that
risk. But what about the toxicity? This was a little bit harder for me to find
out. And again, if anyone has access to any articles
that I was not able to find, please check the articles on my website. I’m going to have an extensive bibliography of some of the information that I used to
research this video, but what I would like to say, is that, at least we know that around 500
mg/kg was enough to kill a rabbit. And although rabbits are extremely sensitive
creatures, and I don’t think if you were a leather jacket, it’s going to kill you. That’s ridiculous. But, it’s worth nothing that you’ve got a
9 mg/kg emission of hexavalent chromium in your shoes – so 9 mg/kg, and yet the lethal dose for a rabbit is 500 mg/kg. And obviously, that rabbit is a lot smaller than you are, it’s not anywhere near the size, but it still is somewhat troubling that a rabbit will die with that level of
exposure to chromium, because we’re getting such high exposure through
things like shoes. Especially for women. If you wear shoes without socks, it’s a much higher risk for you, I would imagine, based on the research that I have done. There’s definitely more exposure there, and women do wear shoes without socks, and some guys wear shoes without socks. If you’re doing that, you’re exposing your
body to a great deal of this chromium. If I had known this before in my life, I never would have bought leather. It absolutely sickens me to know the kind of damage that I’ve probably
caused to children in the developing world. It’s sickening. And when you see photos of the kids that are working in these factories, and I encourage you to take a look. Take a look at what a leather tannery looks
like in Dhaka, in Bangladesh. Take a look. And think about whether you ever can make
the excuse that leather is more natural, and therefore you’ll wear it. I don’t think you can. I honestly don’t think that anyone with a
conscience or heart will ever be able to buy leather after they
look at that stuff. And it’s something that I know not everybody
knows. It’s something I didn’t know. It’s definitely something that the industry
doesn’t want you to know. Because there is so little research done on
it. I had to dig a lot through scholarly articles
in order to be able to get the information that I presented to you in this video, but it’s hard to find out, and what you do find out is very disturbing. And, at the very least, promise me, promise me that you’re going to take a look at what tanneries really look like. What happens to the people that work in them. And I dare you to go out and buy leather shoes
after that and feel comfortable about it. I know that PVC and even polyurethane, which
is a better material, you can use polyurethane, there’s lots of bamboo fabrics, they can even use cork and other materials in order to create shoes. There’s a lot of different options. We can use textiles, we can use other things. But what we shouldn’t be using is leather. And I just cannot justify it. When I see those things, I don’t see how… I mean, I’m already a vegan, I don’t want to hurt animals, I don’t want to lead to profit for animal
abusers, but, aside from that, when you look at the human health risk, and you look at what it does to people, that’s enough for me to say, “I could never touch that.” And so, this little controversy that’s been
going on on YouTube, with people saying “oh, you know,
it’s not such a big deal if you wear leather, don’t pick on people for wearing leather” I don’t want to pick on anyone for wearing
leather. But what I want them to do, is to find out the reality of leather. I think a lot of people simply don’t know, because it’s very hard to find out this information. It is not easy, they don’t make it easy for
you. Everyone wants you to think of leather as
this delicious-smelling thing that’s so worthy that it should be put into perfumes. But it’s not. And I really hope that all of you will take
this seriously. And that even if you’re not vegan, that seeing this video will help change your
mind, at least about learning more about this topic. And that’s all that I can wish. Anyway, thank you so much for watching. And please let me know what you think in the
comments below. If you enjoyed this video, please subscribe, click the little “bell” icon so that you get
notified about new videos when they come out, and I just encourage you to take a look, learn a little bit more, and have a beautiful
day, and please don’t buy leather! Thank you so much, take care, bye!

52 Comments

  • I look at Fur and Leather the same (in terms of animal cruelty)
    I see beauty gurus on YouTube doing hauls saying "and this is faux fur – of course" and then the next item will be real leather.
    I hope leather is looked at the same as fur is soon in society

  • Holy research, Batman! Very informative, thanks so much for doing the legwork!! I don't buy leather anymore, but sometimes things with leather are given to me as a gift, or my husband will buy things made from leather. This has really given me the push/reality check to make a concerted effort to cut that crap out. Great video as always! 🙂

  • Since I became vegetarian 22 years ago I avoid leather

  • Thank you. I've actually had the reactions you speak of. I wondered why they went away when I went vegan, and disowned my leather.

  • i have so much confidence for the future of veganism i'm seeing changes everywhere and your videos are a major key and influence! nothing else to say but thank you & keep hustling!

  • Why is it so hard for common-sense fact-based arguments to sink in?
    Because you have to break through culture. Dead animal skin is almost a cultural thing.
    Another effective video though!

  • Thank you so much for this video! I attend fashion school in NYC, and plan on using this video to talk to future designers in hopes that they reduce, and eventually eliminate leather in their collections.

  • I'm so excited to get watching your videos! This was a good one

  • Thanks for this informative video, it's really sad what's going on behind a pair of shoes

  • Thank you for this! I used to be obsessed with leather handbags but I will never purchase some again! I'd rather use the one that I still have and when they fall apart I get rid of them or just get some fabric ones 🙂

  • I never used to think about leather at all before going vegan, I still have leather products from before I went vegan. For a lot of products unfortunately it's so hard to avoid! So many gloves, bags, etc. will be mostly vegan but then have small patches of leather. Why?!
    Great that you brought up the human cost and environmental costs! I'm doing my best to avoid fast fashion and products that have such disgusting environmental costs.

  • great video! well researched! obviously leather is out but even making sure other clothing is ethically sourced is important. once again Margret excellent video keep it up!

  • To my recollection I haven't bought leather clothing in 20 years, except for shoes. Or leather shoes since going vegan 4.5 years ago. As a Canadian what kind of shoes do you wear for winter storms and snow? As a guy with a wide foot boot shopping is difficult. I live in San Diego so plant fabric shoes work here. I need to head to DSW shoe warehouse to see what they have in non-leather boots. Any tricks for discerning what is animal leather and what faux leather. I think the accessories i have bought are faux leather.

  • This is so in-depth and informative….thank you!

  • This is so disgusting, very informative video, I wasn't aware of all this! Thanks for all your research Margaret, great vid!

  • Margaret, I think this is one of my favourite videos of yours. You really cover all the bases, not only the cost to the animals but the cost to the environment and the cost to the humans working in these tanneries. I can totally see how, as a mother, you're so angry that someone else's child has to work in such danger, and your passion to protect everyone involved really shines through. xx
    I loved getting a glimpse of passionate underdog-defender Margaret, I hope you let her out more often. 😀

  • leather is often made of dogs, not cows. Not that this distinction would matter to vegans.

  • Ohh whatever India does is bad and what US does it good ,but get to know that 75% population of US do use leather item and other developed nation ,now you get to know that leather is bad but US was the #no1 expoter in world before 10years ago stop raising questions on particular national and tell your great nation to stop production.

  • thank you for making this video, very informative. this is a great example of how human rights and animal rights are intertwined in ways that most people don't realize. people complain that vegans only care about animal rights, and not human rights, but they don't realize that it is all part of the same fight. it is the same mentality of oppression that allows people to justify harming animals for profits as well as harming humans for profit.

  • Omg I'm never going to buy leather again!!! But what about synthetically produced fabric is that also harmful for the environment animals humans and plants?

  • Jesus what they heck it's cruel!!! I am going to share this video

  • Excellent video and well researched! Discovered your channel from Eisel's videos.

  • When I talk to vegetarians about leather, they will often say "but it's a by-product of the meat industry" and a variety of other justifications. It's so frustrating that most people choose not to educate themselves about where these things come from. I don't think we can ever really know the entire story of the objects in our lives, but wherever possible we have a duty to educate ourselves about the impact our choices have on ourselves and others.

    Thank you for this video, it's given me lots of things to think about and research.

  • Leather really does disgust me. I have gotten rid of all of mine. Thank you for bringing the human aspect to our attention. It is so very sad and criminal.

  • Hard to see the "on the other hand" side of that argument. I guess you might have tipped the balance in my future purchasing decisions.

  • Thanks for your passion and thanks for letting people know about all of the bullshit we got used to and tend to ignore. <3

  • UV sent me here, so I subbed to give your content a shot. a lovely lady, UV, I'm trying to go vegetarian and It's all her fault.

  • Followed the link from Swaze here. Good stuff.

  • Wow, I stopped buying leather when I went vegan but kept my old shoes (because I was broke, didn't know what to do with my shoes that were well taken care of, thought that I will replace them over time…) but now… I could never wear them again, nor give them to anyone. It's a shame that video doesn't have more views! Great job and thanks for sharing all your info.

  • Listen to Margaret, tanneries are incredibly dangerous bto the workers & the environment! Don't forget the poor animals! Do not buy leather! Great job +ModVegan!

  • what about artificial leather?

  • people say i am hypocrete because i still use leather, they actually assume i use leather since i just can't not use it. What kind of logic is that? They just can't imagine somebody can just refuse to use it. Crazy

  • Best video on leather I have ever seen

  • Hi, thanks for the video. I've just become vegan and I need knew shoes! Can you suggest some good companies? Where do you buy shoes. Giving up eating animal things was easy but the slow realisation that I can't high street shoe shop anymore is a bit of a shock! Can you help me?

  • I showed this video to my cousin and his immediate reaction was, isn't every material other than leather also treated the same way? what can I say to that?

  • Hi ModVegan, thanks for the video. I'm not buying anything new in leather since starting vegan eating last July. I want to find quality vegan leather dress shoes, that one could wear with a nice skirt or dress. I have wide feet and don't want pain and suffering for myself either. I bought a pair from Beyond Skin, but they are quite tight and I don't anticipate they will stretch to the shape of my feet. Any ideas?

  • I just researched leather for the first time and found some truly disturbing things! It is definitely important to learn and avoid leather products! I definitely own a lot, but will not be buying anymore!

  • Great info! Thanks for this.

  • Thank you. You're making an impact. This is a video I needed to see and a topic I need to stop avoiding.

  • Thank you Mod Vegan.. I had no idea how leather was made or the dangers of the chemicals that are used to dye them, make it soft etc. Nor was I aware of the human or environmental costs associated with leather making. it is true, industry's (such as meat, egg, dairy) will do their best to keep this kind of information from the public, but I did not consider the "details" of how leather is made. Thank you for all the hard work you did on putting this vid together, I will be taking a close look at how leather is made, and the impact the leather industry has on the environment as a whole..

  • Stop kink shaming!!!!!

  • I'm a vegetarian but I won't buy leather or fur

  • My sister in law offered us a big leather sofa nearly new but I said no , I don't want to sit on a dead animal

  • I'm a fashionisto and I'm never going to stop wearing leather. For the following reasons: it's one of my favorite materials next to wood. Also, what I like about leather is its durability. It's the best of both worlds: it's extremely durable and relatively elastic / soft to the touch. There's nothing better. I also don't care how the people suffer in third world tanneries. The countries are to blame for those horrific factory conditions. If they'd enforce policies and regulate the conditions we wouldn't be having this discussion. It's not for us to solve this problem, the foreign governments have to do their job properly.
    Furthermore, the toxicity is not an issue. I never wear leather on my skin. All of the leather products that I wear have the leather on the outside.

    I know what tanneries look like because I visited a tannery once. Here in Germany we have regulatory bodies that ensure stable working conditions. If undeveloped countries like India and Pakistan have such shitholes of tanneries it's their own problem. Not mine. You literally made no actual point. All you did was abuse a logical fallacy; appeal to emotion. If you really cared about kids who are forced to work under such conditions you'd join a political think tank and solve the problem in an elaborate effort. I was in a think tank so I have first hand experience with this subject matter. Once you take a step back and objectively assess the situation you'll come to realize that the consumer is rarely the main problem. The regulations are. Especially in this particular case.

    I understand the moral implications of veganism but I hate how vegans are making minor semi-related issues a thing. This is not why people kill animals. This is what we do with the remnants of the deceased/killed animals. It's not like their going to need their skin anymore. And yes, "thanks" to the constant killing of animals for the meat industry we have more than enough "skin" for the leather industry. So, this doesn't really abide by the rules of the "demand-supply" spiral since the supply is technically endless / saturated.

    Addendum:
    Just to be perfectly clear about it; I'm almost 100% certain that every vegan owns at least 1 item that's made out of leather. I mean, when I look around and really think about it even some of my books are covered in leather (I collect books, and I'm also an avid reader). They are coincidentally also the best looking books in my book shelves.

    On a personal side note:
    that Kleenex on your bed counter looks suspicious. But I won't elaborate on that train of thought.

  • Everyone should watch the documentary 'The true cost' on netflix as they go over the horrific effects of leather production on the health of the workers, although it is not extensive as what was covered in this video.

  • Thank you so much for this very informative video. I learned a lot and now have knowledge I can use in talking to people about leather.

  • Great video. What are your thoughts on vegans buying second hand leather products? I recently saw a video by vegan youtuber Bea Jonite who purchased a second hand leather bag stating that she didn't care because the money was not going to leather producers. It's a tricky subject. Just imagine how many discarded leather products are out there or in landfill as well …

  • You really know your stuff, thanks for your video, I started out making leather products not knowing what was entailed in it, i'm now embarking on making goods out of cork and cotton, education on the reality of how much leather damages the environment and our bodies is paramount, I will be posting info on my future website, can I use your video as a link to show my customers please? Thank you and blessings 😊

  • Could you do some videos on vegan accessories? Also, I'm interested in shoes for difficult feet as well. I'll check your website. Thanks for this information.

  • So as a industrial mechanic I have to use good boots in order for them to last a while. How can I avoid leather? All good work boots have leather

  • Hi! After watching this video I don't think I will be buying leather anymore. However leather shoes/boots is the type of footwear that last longer for me. I try to be careful and take care of my shoes but apparently I have a "destructive" way of walking. Which resistant alternatives could you recommend?

  • Is nylon ok?

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