The smell of synthetic fabrics is overwhelming when I enter a shoe shop. I quickly find my exit, wondering how the sales person can stand the fume-y odour in this unventilated shop for any length of time. Then my mind drifts to an internal debate about using leather-alternatives. While I love having non-leather options, the polluting costs of these synthetics are very high.
I am still waffling on the subject of using leather, only because it’s so difficult to find non-leather shoes in Asia. Otherwise except for one handbag that was a gift and still new, straps on another bag and a wallet, there is no leather in my closet. My good friend pointed out that it’d be a double waste if we were just to junk all our leather goods from our wardrobe. She intends to use them to their “natural” end and just not purchase any more leather.
What I am 100% against is the use of exotic skins.
Leather has been used since ancient times, for footwear, clothing, amour, and containers of wines and liquids. It’s no surprise that leather is used all across the ancient world since people lived more in harmony with nature, and used every part of the animal when killed for food. Now food consumption has exploded into a billon-dollar industry that hinges on the suffering of massive numbers of animals.
Perhaps the most important byproduct is the skin of livestock that is processed into leather. Some feel that since it’s using parts of animals that are already being slaughtered, the use of cow, pig, and lamb leather is justified.
As I said, I’m waffling. Not because I believe it’s justified. It’s not really when what you are justifying is the continuing inhumane treatment and wholesale suffering of so many animals for the benefit of a few, for the greed of a few. I say a few since the food industry is a non-sustainable way of feeding people who demand low prices so they can enjoy meat. The excess from the supermarket and dining table goes to the bin, not to satisfy the hungry tummies of those who cannot afford food. World hunger has only increased.
Even while our shoes may say with prestige “Made in Italy” the chances are the raw leather is sourced from India (where the cow is revered) and China, neither of which country boosts good records of human and animals rights. Much of the world’s supply of leather comes from these two powerhouses of manufacturing.
Every time I go shopping, I’m on the look-out for non-leather shoes. The closest I got was a pair from National Geographics, until I realized that there was a thin layer of leather or leather-like fabric supporting the bottom of the top of the shoe. Otherwise it’s a shoe made of hemp, which is less polluting than cotton. There are online vegan shoe shops. Unfortunately I’m one of those people with strangely long toes and finding the right fit is a mission in itself. While I prefer non-leather options, the alternative of synthetics is highly polluting to the environment (as is leather!). So I continue to waffle when discussing this with others as I have found that until I can find good viable alternatives, people tend to listen less.
What I do stand behind 100% is the need to stop using exotic skins – crocodiles, lizards, zebras, seals, walruses, sharks, dolphins, stingrays, frogs, bison, water buffaloes, boars, deer, kangaroos, eels, etc. When the American food (with leather byproduct) industry is not regulated and bypasses state animal welfare laws, can you imagine what goes on with the hunt and slaughter of these wild animals? Poachers do not have humane treatment of animals high on their list. Perhaps there are moral poachers but that seems an oxymoron.
I would think that most people would want their lives to be cruelty-free, including their wardrobes so I will hazard to guess that most people are unaware of how their crocodile shoes, lizard clutches, and leather gloves are made.
Animals are skinned alive. Snakes are nailed to trees, their skin ripped from their bodies, then tossed into a pile to die, which often takes days, when they finally succumb to shock or dehydration. This happens to all of the animals, whether it’s clubbing alligators and crocodiles until they are motion-less, but not necessarily dead. Cold-blooded animals have a slow metabolism which means that they can still be alive even after they are decapitated and skinned.
It’s not only reptiles that are being slaughtered for their exotic skins. Millions of kangaroos are killed each year (most of it for soccer shoes). Adults are shot but wounded adults and orphaned joeys, according to PETA, are decapitated. Young joeys are often just stomped on by the boot of the hunter.
In 2001, Singapore imported 34,000 kg of Kangaroo meat.
Shearling wool comes from the skin of a yearling slaughtered with wool still attached, a yearling who was shorn once before its demise. Not shorn wool. Kid goats may even be boiled alive to make their signature soft gloves. The way we allow animals to be treated is based on consumer preferences – soft, supple leather at affordable prices, exotic patterns from the wild for high fashion…
You can call me a bleeding-heart animal lover but I believe that using exotic skins, especially for fashion, is unnecessary. Has our vanity pushed us that far beyond our humanity? That we don’t recognize true beauty.
I would much rather watch the beautiful patterns of a python undulating on a National Geographics documentary than on a person. We no longer live in the caveman age, where our resources are limited. I hope that we can find better environmentally-friendly alternatives soon but if I have to choose between options that are both polluting and cruel or just polluting, well… it’s not really a choice is it?
Watch here to hear Joaquin Phoenix describe the exotic skin trade
Exotic Skins in Fashion
Learn more about the types of animals used for their exotic skins
Find out more about the leather trade and the animals involved
Learn more about Snakes from the Snake Man himself
Save the Kangaroo