Leather: The Ugly Truth Behind Fashion's Favorite Fabric

Leather: The Ugly Truth Behind Fashion's Favorite Fabric

By Roberto Martínez Romero

Alright, fashion lovers, it's time to spill some tea. The leather industry has been hiding behind a polished façade for too long, and we're here to expose the dark secrets lurking beneath that glossy surface. Ready to get real about the dirty side of leather? Buckle up, because we're not holding back.

Animal Leather: A Love Affair with Destruction

We’ve all heard the animal leather industry’s sob story: "Oh, leather is just a by-product of the meat industry, so it's eco-friendly, right?" WRONG. Leather is a lucrative co-product, and its production wreaks havoc on our planet, animals, and even people.

The Grim Reality for Animals

  • Let's start with the ones that suffer the most: bovines like cows and buffalo. These aren’t mindless creatures; they’re sentient beings with best friends, musical preferences, and a knack for learning. Yet, the leather industry treats them like lifeless objects. When calves are separated from their mother, both experience severe stress and depression. So much for "humane" farming.
Photo: WeAnimalsMedia

From Birth to Slaughter

  • Artificial insemination is standard practice in the dairy industry. Bulls undergo a horrific procedure called ‘electro-ejaculation,’ and cows are forcefully impregnated. This violation happens repeatedly until the cows are ‘spent’ and killed. Buying leather directly supports this cruel cycle.

Environmental Mayhem: Leather's Legacy

Leather's Price Tag on the Planet

  • According to data from Collective Fashion Justice, the animal leather market was valued at $394 billion in 2020. That’s not a "by-product" economy; that’s a massive cash grab for the meat and dairy industries. Without the profits from leather, these industries would struggle. 

Slashing Forests for Fashion

  • Here’s a not so fun fact: 80% of Amazon deforestation is due to factory farming. Stand.earth's research uncovered that countless mainstream and luxury brands are deeply entangled in and funding Amazon deforestation through their leather supply chains. And guess what? This happens even when they claim to use "eco-friendly" leather.
  • Collective Fashion Justice reports that producing one pair of cow skin leather boots emits at least 66kg of CO2e—about the same as charging 8,417 smartphones. The leather industry’s methane emissions are so significant they surpass the emissions of all planes, cars, and trains combined. Next time you slip into those leather shoes, remember, they're a climate nightmare.
Photo: Stand.Earth

Water Wastage

  • Making a single animal leather tote uses nearly 17,128 liters of water—roughly 537 showers worth. PU synthetic leather uses 14 times less water. Animal leather is literally draining our planet dry.

Toxic Tanning

  • The tanning process is a chemical horror show, involving carcinogens like chromium, formaldehyde, and arsenic. These toxins wreak havoc on tannery workers and nearby communities, turning rivers into poison and creating ‘cancer villages’ in places like China. Glamorous, right?
Photo: WeAnimalsMedia

Human Toll: The Dark Side of Leatherwork

Mental Health Carnage

  • Working in slaughterhouses isn’t just physically taxing; it’s mentally devastating. Studies link slaughterhouse employment to higher crime rates, increased mental health issues and violent behavior in nearby communities. It’s a vicious cycle of trauma and violence.

Worker Nightmare

  • Factory farms and slaughterhouses pose serious risks for workers, with many carrying deadly bacteria or exposing them to severe psychological trauma and injury. Oxfam revealed that workers at major companies are denied breaks, sometimes resorting to diapers. Trapped in a profit-driven system, these workers, especially immigrants and marginalized groups, endure horrendous conditions.

Photo: WeAnimalsMedia

The Future: Beyond Animal Leather

Here’s the good news: we don’t need to stay stuck in this destructive loop. Next-gen materials like bio-based vegan leather offer a stylish, sustainable, and cruelty-free alternative.

Next-Gen Vegan Leather

  • Made from plants, algae, agricultural waste, fungi, microbes, and even captured CO2, bio-based vegan leather is the future of fashion. It’s truly, eco-friendly, spares countless animals, and significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions and water usage.

Vegan Leather Revolution

  • Vegan leather alternatives are taking the fashion world by storm, driven by savvy consumers who demand better. This shift is forcing the leather industry to rethink its practices and embrace greener, more humane options.
Photo: Natural Fiber Welding


The animal leather industry’s devastating impact on our planet, animals, and people is clear. But we have the power to change the narrative. By choosing next-gen vegan leather and other sustainable alternatives, we can make fashion truly fabulous—by contributing to such an awful and cruel system. So, next time you’re shopping, remember: the future of fashion is compassionate, ethical, and absolutely stylish. Let’s ditch animal leather and make a real difference. Because looking good means doing good.