Time for Leather to Die
Dead Animal Leather Industry to Succumb a Fabulous Vegan Future
I usually take such pride in my plant-based lifestyle, knowing I can resist a carnal urge to devour flesh. It might look like strong willpower, but really I’ve just developed good coping mechanisms to keep me on track. Mechanisms like thinking about how cute animals are, or that I really do believe they have thoughts and feelings, and most often, how proud I am to be part of something that I believe could help save the world.
Pride mostly helps when people talk about how much I must miss certain things. When this happens I just think about how I am lessening the impact of humankind's cruelty in the world and reducing climate change. Not eating animals means creating less waste and creating more space to plant vegetables, trees, and other life-giving things rather than destructive livestock farms.
As much as I value these things and work to maintain my plant-based lifestyle, it all goes out the window when those leather boots are just so damn cute, or that leather bag is exactly what I was looking for. I start to justify these purchases to ease my discomfort. I turn a blind eye on my values to justify my own wants. Friends “help” by reassuring me that the quality is so much better, and that that I’m actually preventing waste since we say it is better for the environment if we use the whole cow. “It must be more sustainable,” cries of the part of myself that wants to have nice stuff and for it to be a little easier on my conscience.
I’ve had a change of heart recently. I’m no longer allowing myself to get swept up in these material things and peer pressure. I’m always learning to be more aware of what I put in and on my body. I’m learning to live my truth and be my authentic self. This also means holding my values closer and allowing myself to be guided by them. This forced me to finally do some research into my previous justifications:
Is leather really that bad? Spoiler alert! It is.
The leather industry thrives on our cognitive dissonance, profiting as many industries do, on our out of sight, out of mind purchasing. We have accepted leather making as rustic and artistic and though there are some artisanal leather makers, the majority is either made in a massive factory or it’s made in sweatshops. I felt deep shame for past the past excuses I made while I read about the horrible conditions in tanneries in Bangladesh. In one story, from a 17-year-old boy, he talks about working in 4x4 foot pits full of water with acid in it. As he throws hides out of the pit, acid splashes onto his arms causing burns and rashes and the chemicals he breathes in everyday cause asthma. All this, for only $37 USD per month.
"I was thinking how cool it is that the future is coming, we are taking steps to evolve past cruelty, and in my revelry, my mind was blown to learn about Bio-fabricated leather manufacturing. What feels like what will be the final nail in the coffin of the suffering-filled traditional industry."
Buying leather from a reputable source can be a challenge. Researching the leather industry in Bangladesh got me thinking about the conditions in North American or European factories. I learned that even a ‘Genuine Italian Leather’ tag won’t save you from supporting companies with terrible human rights records since there’s a law that says that leather with that tag just needs to be finished in Italy. Canada has a similar law by the way. According to the Government of Canada, “at least 51% of the total direct costs of producing the good [must] have been incurred in Canada,” to get the ‘Made in Canada’ label. Interestingly, it’s The United States which is the most strict about their ‘Made in the USA’ designation. The Federal Trade Commission states that “all or virtually all” the product has been made in America.”
After reading all of this, I still had hope that the leather industry would get back on track. That is until I read the guidelines for a sustainable leather manufacturing process from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization and I realized how far we still had to go to get there. The methods widely used throughout the world leave little to be desired. The cruelty I read about nearly made me sick. There’s also a baffling amount of water used, which is mixed with salt for preservation of the hide—meaning the water needs to be disposed of and can’t be used again. And then there’s all the chemicals and chemical waste.
The industry is also notoriously resistant to change, especially when it comes to sustainability. “For all the claims about favourable cost-benefit ratios and/or environmental benefits to be derived from many of these technologies, tanners are not quick in adopting them,” according to the United Nations report.
So that settled it for me. No more leather. The future is plant-based and the faux leather industry is fighting to make it elegant and interesting.
Vegan fashion brands like Matt and Nat, Pixie Mood, Bourgeois Boheme, and Beyond Skin are taking over your local hip clothing shop already. They use sustainable materials like cork, pineapple skins, recycled nylon, and rubber to make fun, durable, and high-quality bags and shoes. Next time you have a lust for that rustic leather feel, there are some damn fashionable and guilt-free options already on the market. I was thinking how cool it is that the future is coming, we are taking steps to evolve past cruelty, and in my revelry, my mind was blown to learn about Bio-fabricated leather manufacturing. What feels like what will be the final nail in the coffin of the suffering-filled traditional industry. One that heavyweights involved in the leather industry are trying to get ahead of the curve of, showing an awareness that progress is coming, as Maureen Ball of Modern Meadow explained in an email, CEO Andras Forgacs was approached by players in the leather industry after creating bio-printed human skin tissue, they asked about creating animal tissue. This inspired the formation of Modern Meadow, working to make Zoa™ (http://zoa.is/) cruelty-free leather.
They start off with cell banks, from beer breweries to pharmaceutical companies making insulin, They edit the DNA-sequence to alter yeast cells that happen naturally, into “little factories that churn out collagen, which is the main structural protein found in animal skin.” (Maureen Ball) It is then grown into fibrous sheets which can be combined with other materials to get really creative. That collagen cell is made from yeast with no involvement of animals, a step the company choose to take, in order to move towards the needs of animal advocates. It starts as a liquid and as a result is fully customizable as Ball explained the “Zoa™ bioleather materials can be used - sprayed, poured, molded, you name it. We are still in the process of exploring all of its uses.” and although they still tan the ‘leather’ it is done locally and would not require unhairing or the massive amount of water and chemicals used to preserve traditional leather. If all that DNA-sequence talk is a little scary, Ball assured me that “The final product contains no GMOs.The final product contains no GMOs.” They are proving innovation already and some of their work is currently displaying at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
MycoWorks fits a bucolic vibe which the leather industry could only hope to achieve. By manipulating what they feed off of and the environment they are grown in (including their lighting, moisture levels, temperature, etc.), MycoWorks is able to control the density, composition, and feel of the final product. This breeding process reminds me of processes used by early farmers to achieve a naturally delicious and high yielding crop. The mushrooms offer more options than skin as well, taking on dyes easily of any colour and avoiding a tanning process completely. Instead of creating waste they use waste from other industries to feed the mushrooms, creation instead of destruction. MycoWorks doesn’t stop there! They are looking into building wood like furniture, bricks, and even looking into making car engines made from the fungus.
I get so excited at the prospect of the future being a little kinder and a lot less wasteful. In a previous article titled Why I Support Big Meat Purchasing Plant-Based Companies, it was identified flexitarians are one of the fastest growing markets for vegan products. So, even if most of the population is not invested enough to commit to never using materials derived from cruel, wasteful practices, if we make it easy, cool and fashionable they will join in as well!
I am no longer concerned with the temptation to cheat, I can go online and find so many options already available. I find so much hope in the ability to put things in, and on, my body that won’t trace back to practices that send children to hospitals miles and miles away or killing a cow I think is so cute. I am then overwhelmed with gratitude and hope when I think of people using their intelligence to create a better world in such creative and sustainable ways. I get excited to think Modern Meadows is looking to share this with the world soon, as a representative Maureen Ball stated:
"We are focused on bringing bio-fabricated leather to market in the next few years, and are currently partnering with world-class brands across luxury and consumer goods categories to grow products of Zoa™.
Perhaps the world will be a little more vegan, while maintaining or even increasing quality. It sounds like I have lost any excuse for cheating and have so many more tools to assist in grounding into my values. My being able to do good, means a death cry for an industry, but a rallying call for the vegan revolution.