To All The “Ethical” Brands Who Choose To Use Animal Skins In Their Clothing Lines

We're calling bullshit and here's why.

By: Dani

**Disclaimer: this post was, in no way, written with the intent on bashing any ethical brands. This is simply a plea to hopefully encourage these brands to do the right thing – stop selling animal skins as “fabric.”

It kills us when we find a so-called ethical brand and then after browsing through their website, we find clothing items that have things like, “ethically-sourced leather” in the description. We mean, come on. We’ve never heard a more paradoxical statement than that other than the infamous oxymoron, “humane slaughter.” Same goes for “ethically-sourced wool,” or “ethically-sourced fur.” 

But let’s backtrack for a second. What does it even mean to be ethical? According to the dictionary, ethical means, “morally good or correct.” Well, what exactly is morally good or correct about slaughtering animals purely for something as trivial as fashion?

The truth of the leather industry ain’t pretty

And before anyone tries to defend this horrendous shitwork and say that leather is only the byproduct of the meat industry, and therefore it’s perfectly fine and morally justified to use the rotting skin from the corpse of a dead body, it’s not. At least, it’s not always. Most people don’t know this but most of the leather we wear comes from Indian cows. Another fact you may not be aware of is that India strictly forbids the slaughter of heathy cattle, as they are seen as sacred to the land. So to get around this law, Indian cows are beaten and mutilated specifically and exclusively so that they can be slaughtered for the use of their skin. Once they are in bad enough shape to be considered “fit” for slaughter, they are forced to march miles to their own deaths, some of which are so badly tortured (broken legs, poison in the eyes) or neglected, they die on the way from malnutrition, injury or exhaustion. 

So sorry to bust your bubble of ignorance, but leather isn’t derived from happy, free-range, grass-eating cows. And just think, “high-quality” leather, especially the kind designer brands use, comes from baby cows – the calfs stolen from their mothers soon after birth which were used for veal. What even sicker is that some “luxury” brands even sell leather from unborn calves that were forcibly aborted from expecting mommy cows. Disgusting.

Speciesism at its finest

And even if it were true – if indeed all leather came from cows killed by way of the meat industry – does that really morally justify wearing the skin of a dead animal? Is wearing the skin of an animal who wanted to live, but was instead robbed of its right of life, ever morally justifiable? Well, let’s put this into context. If someone killed your dog after, say, four years of life, and then after brutally slaughtering your dog and chopping it’s body into small, sellable pieces, they took its skin, dipped it into chemicals, tanned it, and then sold it in stores, would that be morally justified?

Don’t go all sensitive on us. This isn’t some crazy, extremist example just to prove a point. It actually happens in China. Yes, humans kill dogs in China. The same way we slaughter billions of chickens, pigs, turkeys and cows every year for food, China kills dogs. In fact, each year China has their annual Yulin Dog Festival, where, over the span of about ten days, around 10,000-15,000 dogs are consumed. Dog skin is sometimes even sold as leather, by way of Chinese export, according to PETA. You see, in China (the world’s number one leather exporter), and in India (number two on the list), there are no animal welfare laws in place that prevent the use of dog skin as leather. And yes, the numbers are much higher when it comes to the use of dogs for skins versus food, totaling at an estimated two million dogs slaughtered per year. 

We see you cringing. But why the indignation when dogs are brought up, but not the same empathy for other animals? 

It’s ironic how you can stand up and say, “Save the dogs,” or even, “Save the minks,” and you are seen as an animal rights hero, but as soon as you say, “Save the cows,” you are seen as an extremist. But wait, there’s proof. There has recently been an uproar of people protesting this Yulin festival, completely disgusted and outraged: Dogs are pets, not food. They’re our friends. 

Why the blatant discrimination and speciesism? Where do we really draw the line between friend and fabric? It simply comes down to the ego-driven sense of self. We hate being told that we can’t or shouldn’t wear (cow-skin) leather because it’s something we enjoy, while, on the other hand, it’s easy to criticize other people in different cultures who essentially commit the same crimes as we do, such as people in Eastern societies who slaughter dogs for food and then sell their skins. No one likes to look in the mirror. 

It’s hypocrisy, plain and simple. 

We’ve been conditioned, but still need to take responsibility

Now, we’re no saints, and we won’t lie because there’s no reason to. Actually, we’ve said here before: we used to wear leather like it was holier than holy. We were so sucked in by our addiction we’d even considered saving up to buy a pair of leather pants that costed over nine-hundred dollars. One year we’d even bought two leather jackets in one month

The thing is, we wear leather (and other animal skins) for the same reasons some of us still eat meat, cow pus (dairy), and hen periods (eggs); because we’re disconnected. We’ve been conditioned to ignore and deflect and forget. The violence and horrors that go on within the walls of a leather or fur factory are done behind closed doors, away from public eyes, completely hidden. Can’t you see that this is no coincidence?

Do you really know how your shoes were made? Do you have any idea? We’re betting you don’t because, well, the industry does a great job of keeping it a secret. Of course they don’t tell you about the incredibly toxic chemicals (shit like formaldehyde, arsenic, cyanide-based dyes and chromium) that the animals skins must be immediately doused in to keep it from decomposing and rotting (after all, it is dead flesh). That would be bad for business. They also don’t tell you about the hundreds of deaths and birth deformities per year from the overexposure to these aforementioned hazardous chemicals. Yeah, we’re talking humans here. Um, what part of this is morally good or correct, again? 

We’ve also been conditioned by the use of specific terminology designed to distance and disconnect. We don’t call leather “cow skin”. Or “pig skin”. We say leather, a perfectly nice word with no connection to the sentient being that was once alive. Which can probably explain why most people are all for protesting against wearing animal furs; we call fur what it is: mink, fox, etc.

Leather isn’t the only problem

Wool is another annoying one and it seems that so many “ethical” brands are so okay with incorporating it in their “conscious” and “sustainable” collections. Not only that, but they seem to be proud of it, which completely confuses us. Guess they figure since the animal doesn’t have to die for us to wear their hair, it’s totally okay to enslave, use abuse and exploit them? Plus, sheep need shearing, don’t they? We can easily call bullshit, but let’s explore this more. Just how sustainable or ethical is wool?

First off, it’s important to point out that sheep have been genetically modified over the years (like every other animal used for human consumption) in order for it to grow heavy, unnecessary amounts of wool. This is the only reason why they “need” to be sheared. Naturally, sheep would only grow enough hair to keep them warm in the cold, winter months and then when the weather warmed, they’d shed the extra growth. As you can probably imagine, too much hair causes them to overheat in the summertime as their bodies are not designed to shed the amounts of hair we’ve bred them to grow. 

In a practical sense, there’s just simply no way to ethically shear off a sheep’s wool at a rate that is profitable – not considering the fact that most farm workers are paid by weight and not by hour, and certainly not with the current high demand for wool. And there’s a reason why there is such a high demand. Wool, especially cashmere, mohair and angora, is almost synonymous with luxury when it comes to fashion, and even home items. And we all want luxurious things, don’t we? So even though some factories (which these “ethical” brands source their wool from) may have good intentions of not harming their sheep, more often than not, the animals are mistreated, injured, or even killed in the process. 

But that’s so beyond the point. The bottom line is that animals, no matter how much you love the way they taste or how good their skin looks on your feet or what you’re convinced your religion tells you, were not put on this earth for the purposes of human consumption. 

And we hear some of you. We hear your excuses so let’s demolish them all one-by-one, shall we?

But we’ve always worn leather and wool

*Weapon-grade face palm* This is the classic band-wagon fallacy animal skin wearers love to go to. You may even be doing it in your head without even knowing it. But our ancestors, though! Of course we’ve been wearing leather for centuries; it’s part of our culture, but we can’t use that victim mentality to justify still wearing the skin of animals in today’s society when there is no need to. Just because we’ve been doing something for hundreds, even thousands of years, and that something is socially or culturally acceptable doesn’t mean it is morally justifiable. There was a time when it was socially acceptable (and perfectly legal) for white Americans to own black people as slaves, but that didn’t make it morally justifiable, did it? Of course not. 

So yes, our ancestors wore the skin and fur of animals to keep warm during cold weather periods, particularly during the Ice Age, to survive. But here’s the crazy thing: we’re not in the Ice Age. Don’t know if you’re aware of that or not. We do not need to wrap our bodies in cow skin to keep from freezing to death, at least not in most parts of the world. 

Besides. Our ancestors also used to think masturbation made you go blind and caused tuberculosis. So, no, don’t think they’re the best group to base our everyday habits on. Once you make the connection like we have, you’ll no longer see animals as commodities, as servants to the human race.

(Psst: if you’ve never tried it, it can be hard to tell which fabrics are cruelty-free and which aren’t. That’s why we created this convenient dossier for you that explains everything. You can print it out or save it to your phone to reference when you shop. DOWNLOAD THE GUIDE HERE.)

But what about buying vintage?

Don’t get us wrong, buying vintage leather is much better than purchasing “new” leather items, but the fact of the matter is, if you wear leather, vintage or not, you are indirectly (or directly, depending on how you look at it) promoting it. You’re saying, it’s okay and acceptable. And frankly, it isn’t.

But fake leather ruins the environment

Okay. Point taken. To this we say, the answer, at least for right now, is to simply buy and consume less until there are better, more eco-friendly options. 

That said, is leather actually better for the environment? When you factor in that when you purchase leather you are directly funding the meat industry, which is the leading contributor to greenhouses gas emissions (51%), that theory falls flat. Not to mention, the amount of fossil fuels required to make genuine leather are far more than the amount needed to create synthetic imitations. 

Still, natural fibers are better 

They try to get you by saying that it’s natural. But we’re sorry, there’s nothing about wearing the decomposing flesh of an animal. 

But we digress. Sure, we believe no one should buy leather or wool ever again, and that would makes us two happy campers, but there’s something more important here, the contradiction that started this entire conversation: why are so many brands that claim to be ethical and actually give a damn about the welfare of the environment going out of their way to support the exploitation of animals for their skins? Our issue is really with them. Because the only thing worse than supporting animal cruelty is being a hypocrite that supports animal cruelty. 

As you can see, there is no way a brand can truly be ethical while still including animal products in their lines because it’s painfully obvious that both the wool and leather industries are not cruelty-free by far, thus not ethical by any standards. Not only that, but it’s clear that the objectification and commodification of any animal is wrong. 

So, all you brands out there that claim to care about the environment, who pride yourselves on “ethical practices” and preach sustainability, don’t…okay, please don’t claim to be ethical if you participate in one of the most unethical processes in the world. It’s ridiculous, and pretty embarrassing. If you want to say you are fair-trade, fine, just don’t use the E word.

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What do you guys think? Is leather or wool ever ethical? Do you wear leather and see no problem with doing so? Feel free to fire away in the comments below.

P.S. Whether you wear leather or not, it’s important to know where it comes from and how it’s made. Are you brave enough to learn more about how your leather is made? Just watch this video.

Also, just to be clear, we still continue to support certain brands who make an effort otherwise for two reasons really: we want to show our appreciation for the good things these brands do, and because, well, buying only the cruelty-free options is still the better way to go than to support the huge fashion conglomerates that wouldn’t recognize compassion if it kissed them on the cheek.

We just desperately want to persuade some brands to change some of the products they produce, and we hope this little bit helps. It’s unsettling and quite heart-breaking that in a time with such technological advances, we still associate leather with being “expensive” or “luxurious,” the same way the Chinese associate dog meat with being a delicacy. It’s time to associate leather and wool with what they really are – unnecessary pain, death and suffering.

As always, we have a special curation below. You can shop some truly gorgeous fully “ethical” pieces in the carousel below. (Disclaimer: some of the products are affiliate links, which means we will make a small commission if you purchase.) If you found this post helpful, it would mean a lot to us if you shared it :). Please take a moment and click below to share to Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. Really like what you see? Sign up to receive updates straight to your inbox: Sign up here!

Leave a Thought
  • This was brilliantly written and definitely thought provoking. I personally don’t wear leather but not necessarily because of moral objections to it (I never really paid attention to how it was created to fully understand anyways). But I appreciate what you’re doing here and that you don’t find it necessary to be so polite about it.

    • Nadeena,

      Thank you so much for the compliments :)) Glad you liked this post, and hoping more people do too.

      Just curious, why don’t you wear leather? Personally, it was a hard concept to get over since, like I mentioned, I really loved leather (the way it looked, the way it smelled, the way it added a badass vibe to an outfit, especially leather pants or the classic biker jacket). But when we decided to stop wearing leather and never buy it again, I realized it was not as hard as I’d thought. It was just a matter of adjusting mentally and finding (high-quality attractive!) non-leather shoes. So I definitely don’t think we would have been able to stop wearing leather without the ethical connection, which is why I think its so impressive that you don’t wear leather.

  • Veronika

    Thank you for writing such an honest article! People are usually less direct about the subject to avoid hurting people’s feelings, but the ugly truth has to be exposed! And people’s feelings are irrelevant compared to the pain suffered by innocent creatures who just want to live. I am 100% guilty as I have been vegan only for a couple of months, but neither food or fashion transition to being cruelty-free was as hard as people think. Once you stop being sensitive, force yourself to learn more about where leather/fur/wool come from, you just can’t go back to mindless shopping.
    Yes, it takes some time to search for nice looking alternatives to a leather purse or a pair of your favorite leather stilettos. But people do so much research about other things in their lives: restaurants, hotels, for example. What about most of the things that literally touch our skin every day? Selection is not large YET, but I strongly believe the fashion industry will get us there very soon. Demand drives the supply. I appreciate you being honest and looking forward to more articles! 🙂

    • Hey Veronica,

      Thanks so much for writing such a thoughtful comment. So happy you loved this post.

      I completely agree with you: going vegan is not hard at all. It seems like it before you take the jump, but once you’ve made the connection, the commitment part is effortless.

      I also love your point about how people willingly do research and put effort into other things, but can’t seem to wrap their heads around looking for vegan alternatives. The bottom line is that there’s no reason to not be vegan; there are only excuses. And you’re right, it’s not as assessable right now. As consumers, we HAVE to drive up the demand first if we want the supply to increase, which is one of our main missions with GOCO.