As Lucky Magazine’s newest issue touts leather as a completely eco-friendly choice, we went to eco-vegan shoe designer Elizabeth Olsen (from banging hot and editorial darling line OLSEN HAUS) for the real scoop. IS Leather eco-friendly, or are those touting their Birkin bags and calling themselves “Green Goddesses” kidding themselves?
Here are the cold, hard facts: Producing leather heavily contributes to global warming, land devastation, environmental pollution, usage of valuable natural resources, water supply contamination, the abuse of billions of animals, and diseases in Adults and children.
From start to finish the amount of energy to create a leather hide is 20 times greater than that to produce a synthetic material. The production of leather requires: transport of feed to animals, removal of waste from animals, electricity in housing facility, electricity for other operations and killing in facility, pesticide use, vaccine and antibiotic use, transport to remove carcasses, transport of pelts; then to a tannery which involves sorting, soaking, fleshing, tanning, wringing, drying, kicking, cleaning, trimming, buffing, drying, finishing; then transport to the garment maker, then a wholesaler, and so on. (source 4)
Leather is the hide of a dead animal, it is by nature meant to decompose. To prevent decomposing it is treated with chemicals, just some of which are: hexavalent chromium salts, aniline, azo dyes, lead, cyanide, formaldehyde, tannins, solvents, formaldehyde, and chlorophenols. These chemicals pollute the land, air and water supply. Groundwater samples collected near tanneries indicated the presence of arsenic, chromium, lead, zinc, and total organic halides. Toxic gases like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide heavy metals and carcinogenic aryl amines are emitted into the air.
Vegetable-tanned leather is often touted as being less harmful to the environment. However, Bill Bartholomew, a representative for The Leather Group at World Shoes Accessories ecoEthics Conference, admitted that “eco-friendly” vegetable tanning is actually just as polluting as chrome tint.
I have not even touched on the billions of animals & people that suffer to produce leather. There are multiple studies regarding the health of the animals and people suffering from abuse, child labor, deplorable conditions. Or the wide variety of diseases and cancers contracted by workers and people in surrounding areas of tanneries.
Synthetic materials account for far less pollution, and only a fraction of the energy used. Regardless, synthetic polymers are not the only alternatives there are plenty of plant-based or sustainable and renewable fabrics available, including hemp, cotton, bamboo, ultra suede, and more.
I am a vegan for reasons that extend beyond the environment, such as I do not believe in the torture, castration, exploitation, electrocution, murder, and rape of any living being, but the facts above regarding the environment stand alone. In addition I have personally been to a tannery; the smell alone was the most horrifyingly putrid smell on earth.
Anyone trying to defend “eco-friendly” or sustainable leather, I invite you to do your own research, look deep inside for some critical thinking for the root of the problem.
I too, love free trade coffee in a recycled cup, and the latest eco- tote, but I am not under the illusion that these changes alone are going to save the planet.
Elizabeth Olsen is the furthest thing from a typical industry blonde. For one-she wouldn’t be caught dead in fur or leather. She’s peddling a whole new form of southern charm: vegan shoes. If every bit of gorgeous truth came packaged in an Olsenhaus shoe-box, we’d all be walking taller. Four inches taller, in some cases. She has been the Creative Director at Tommy Hilfiger and designed for Calvin Klein, Bulga, Nine West, Jodi Arnold MINT, and many others. On the West Coast, she’s worn the shoes of a print and ad-campaign stylist, and commercial and film stylist. Clients included Nike, Nike Goddess, Nissan, Universal Studios, IBM, and Corbis to name a few. For over twenty years, Elizabeth has been an outspoken advocate against the use of animals for food, clothing, experimentation, and entertainment, as well as for the environment and social justice.
1-Leather and the environment – Article from E/ The Environmental Magazine http://www.healthnewsdigest.com/news/Environment_380/Leather_and_the_Environment.shtml
2-UN Report “Livestock’s Long Shadow” 2006-http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.HTM
3-Doris Schubert, “Assessment of the Environmental Release of Chemicals From the Leather Processing Industry,” IC-07 Leather Processing Industry 28 Jul. 1998.
4- Adventures in the Skin Trade, Forbes.com http://www.forbes.com/business/forbes/2007/1126/142.html
5-United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Regis Tannery,” Waste Site Cleanup and Reuse in New England 9 Aug. 2006.