Furs! Leathers! Cruelty? Oh My!

Words and Pictures / Kate Mulligan

Grab your black leather biker jacket and hop on, we’re going for a ride. When we look at where society stands on fur in fashion, there is general feeling of aversion. Our use of animal fur in the fashion world has dwindled due to animal activists who have opened society's eyes to the harsh realities of fur harvesting. Often, consumers tend to opt for faux fur without having to compromise their taste. Cruelty-free makeup is also on the rise as customers demand transparency and humane practices from their companies; the mistreatment of animals is not something someone wants to apply to their eyelashes in the morning anymore. With a movement towards more cruelty-free forms of self-expression, where does society stand on the slick style of leather?

Leather is made from the skin of an animal through tanning or similar processes, usually made as a “byproduct” of the meat industry from cattle or goats. It’s a highly popular and notable foundation for many classic pieces like jackets, purses, belts, and shoes to name a few. While fur tends to have a negative connotation because of how it is sourced, leather is often overlooked because it is brushed off as a byproduct of an animal that will die for food anyway.

Fur, on the other hand, is derived from wild animals that are killed for the sole purpose of fashion, where animals are trapped in tiny confining cages, then either gassed or electrocuted to prevent damage to the pelts. Without laws protecting these animals in factories, the abuse can reach gruesome levels. The realities of these practices have been brought to the public eye and we are slowly turning away from fur. Given these differences, leather is understandably easier to swallow. When it comes down to the fundamentals, how different are the two?

Our society draws a line between leather and fur when they seem to be one and the same. They are both the skin of an animal and also result in the death of a creature we ironically label as cute. By purchasing leather, we support an industry that grows through the selling of animals. Leather is more than just a byproduct of the meat industry; factories don’t use animal skin to minimize waste, they use it to maximize profits. Leather is its own product, produced due to financial incentives to meet consumer demand. In an article from One Green Planet, the most luxurious leathers are taken from calves, sometimes from unborn calves prematurely taken from the womb. One Green Planet explains how “...as slaughterhouses often process up to 400 animals per hour, it’s not uncommon for an animal to be stunned incorrectly and therefore skinned alive.” These practices can be startlingly similar to fur, and are only in action because we, the consumer, are demanding it. Where do we mark the differences between animals when it comes to how we should value life?

Packing up and leaving leather isn’t a notion everyone can easily get behind. Leather provides interesting textures and patterns in fashion; it’s been around for hundreds of years not only for style, but for practical use as well on things like backpacks and knife sleeves. Those who are against leather as well as fur usually don't eat meat, so the concept of using an animal to their advantage, whether it be through meat or leather, isn’t deemed a moral action. After learning of leather’s origin and its processing, the practice is seen as inhumane to some. While leather is used in a wider market than fur, it still comes from an animal. However, with such a variety of fashionable and practical purposes to it, why would we want to get rid of leather like we have done with the less practical fur? Well, we don't have to get rid of the fashion or practicality at all.

Faux leathers are on the rise, and they might be right under your nose. Telling the difference between real and fake leather can be hard nowadays with the technology and creativity we have. Faux leathers pose a question to the consumer: if we can replicate leather’s stylistic and practical qualities without contributing to the statistically environmentally damaging animal industry, what is the purpose of buying leather in the first place? Not to mention, a fashionable faux leather wallet at $45 sounds like a much nicer price than a $115 one. Besides, what’s a faux fur coat good for if it’s paired with a leathered-up purse hanging off the side?