Elizabeth Olsen, founder and owner of Olsenhaus
Producing leather—whether by chrome/chemical tanning or vegetable tanning—comes with a host of problems. It heavily contributes to global warming, land devastation, environmental pollution, the depletion of valuable natural resources, and water-supply contamination, not to mention the spread of disease and the abuse of billions of animals.
Chloé Jo Berman of The GirlieGirl Army
From start to finish, the amount of energy required to create a leather hide is 20 times greater than what’s used to produce a synthetic material. The production of leather includes breeding and raising the animals, transporting feed, removing animal waste, powering housing and killing facilities, the use of vaccines and antibiotics, and removing carcasses and transferring pelts. At the tannery, the skins are sorted, soaked, fleshed, tanned, wrung, dried, kicked, cleaned, trimmed, buffed, dried again, finished, then transported to the garment maker, wholesaler, and so on.
From start to finish, the amount of energy required to create a leather hide is 20 times greater than what’s used to produce a synthetic material.
Leather is the hide of a dead animal. It is, by nature, meant to decompose. To prevent decomposing, it is treated with chemicals—including hexavalent chromium salts, aniline, azo dyes, lead, cyanide, formaldehyde, tannins, solvents, formaldehyde, and chlorophenols—that pollute the land, air, and water supply. Groundwater samples collected near tanneries have shown the presence of arsenic, chromium, lead, and zinc. At the same time, toxic gases like ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and carcinogenic arylamines are emitted into the air. The smell of a tannery is the most horrifyingly putrid smell on earth.
VEGETABLE VERSUS CONVENTIONAL TANNING
There are several methods used in the tanning of hides: vegetable, chrome, aldehyde, alum, and synthetic. The only difference between vegetable versus chemical tanning is the source of the color. Vegetable tanning uses ingredients from vegetable matter, such as tree bark, which gives the leather a more subtle, muted color. Every other step in the process is the same.
The smell of a tannery is the most horrifyingly putrid smell on earth.
Although vegetable-tanned leather is often touted as being less harmful to the environment, Bill Bartholomew, a representative for The Leather Group admitted at the World Shoes Accessories ecoEthics Conference in February that “eco-friendly” vegetable tanning is just as polluting as chrome tanning.