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Leather VS Fur: Same Cruelty Perceived Differently

We finally reached a point in the history of fashion when most people oppose fur. The leading fashion designers, major fashion shows, and even entire states like California are now boycotting fur.

But why is it that wearing a fur coat will at least get you some unapproving looks if not fake blood thrown at you at its most extreme while wearing a leather jacket is still cool and celebrated by the fashion industry?

Is it because the animals used for fur are cuter so we feel more sorry for them? Or is it because we, as a society, are so disconnected from the reality of leather we don’t realize we’re participating in the exact same cruelty. The animal is different, the method is slightly different, but the fact that we’re killing a sentient being just to make a fashion statement stays the same.

When it comes to buying and wearing leather, however, there are some misconceptions and traditions that make us more accepting whereas fur is something from which we can distance ourselves much easily.

Fur has always been for the 1% anyway

An average person might have aspired to have a fur coat one day, they might have even saved up for it and purchased one. But the average consumer was never the target audience of the fur business.

It is so much easier to condemn something we’re not actively participating in. Especially if it’s a luxury only the super-wealthy can afford.

For example, most people feel very strongly against hunting while they joyfully participate in meals made of factory-farmed animals.

When it comes to bad habits we’re practicing ourselves, such as buying leather, we tend to instantly get defensive, and instead of looking at the issue objectively, we’re desperately trying to prove we’re good people. So we go into full-on denial mode. Instead of changing what we do, we try to change our perception of our actions, and looking for excuses to trying to prove what we’re doing isn’t actually that wrong.

So that’s why it’s so easy to oppose fur because we aren’t part of the problem, it isn’t us who are responsible for fur farming. Most of us would never hurt those rabbits, minks, foxes, kittens that are sacrificed for fur.

Yet we willfully participate in and donate our money to the leather industry that kills cows, sheep, goats, pigs, and exotic animals.

Of course, most people don’t like to think about how a cow becomes a handbag. But if you feel strongly against people who wear fur, maybe it’s time to check the hypocrisy of your own actions as well!

We’ve been told that leather is only a by-product

“Leather is a by-product of the meat industry, so it’s okay for me to buy leather because the animals were killed for meat.”

There are two problems with this statement though.

First of all, if you believe that killing animals is wrong, then you shouldn’t be buying meat either. And, consequently, stop buying leather as well.

It’s like saying “plastic is a by-product of the petrol industry so it’s okay to buy as many things packaged in plastic as I want.” No, again, both are wrong, and we should be avoiding both of them as much as possible.

Or what if we reverse it? Would it be acceptable to continue making fur if we also ate the animals? You probably wouldn’t agree with that, would you?

The second problem with the “leather is a by-product of the meat industry” statement is that it simply isn’t true.

Leather is a multi-billion dollar industry on its own, it was valued at 394.12 billion USD in 2020. So no, it is not the kind-hearted recycling program many people like to think. Meat producers and even small farmers will expect a percentage of their profit coming from the skin of the cows. Actually, the product they are selling isn’t meat, nor leather, but a dead animal.

Calf leather

Calf leather is sold at a high price as super soft leather. But calf leather might not be what you think it is. Calf in this case doesn’t mean the lower leg of the cow. A calf is a baby cow.

Let me introduce you to the dairy industry where a male calf is truly a by-product. As you may or may not know, a cow, just like a woman, has to become pregnant in order to produce milk. Just like humans, and all mammals, cows produce milk for feeding their newborns.

However, we want the milk for ourselves, so the calf is taken away from its mother within the first 24 hours after birth. If she’s a female, she’ll have the same fate as her mother, if he’s a male, he’s useless because we only need a few bulls for artificially inseminating the cows.

So the male calf is killed within a few days of birth, and so it doesn’t go to waste, its body becomes veal, and its soft baby skin becomes expensive calf leather.

Exotic leather

Exotic leathers can also be by-products. For example, endangered species such as elephants and rhinos are poached mainly for their tusks or horns. But in order to make even more money, poachers also sell these exotic animals’ skins which are made into wallets, shoes, and other accessories.

I hope you see why an unethical action’s by-product still stays unethical.

Animals like crocodiles, snakes, etc. are often farmed though. But why would these exotic leather farms be any more ethical and acceptable than fur farms?

Leather alternatives aren’t attractive

Another big misconception about leather is that it’s superior to alternative leathers.

And there is some truth in that. The most common alternative to leather is PVC which is a cheap, low-quality leather imitation. This is usually what you can find at fast fashion stores. They are not very durable, they look nothing like real leather, and they are bad for the environment.

But there are other vegan leathers that are not as well known. There’s PU leather which is still a synthetic alternative, but it’s much more sturdy and leather-like.

There are also plenty of innovations in the plant-based leather world. We can now make leather alternatives from pineapples, apples, leaves, mushrooms, and even coffee beans!

We’ve been told that leather is the more sustainable solution because it is natural and it is biodegradable. Which is just another misconception.

Leather has a much bigger environmental impact than its vegan alternatives. And as a result of the tanning process, leather isn’t biodegradable anymore. The whole point of leather tanning is to treat it with toxic chemicals. After all, it’s a piece of dead skin, and if you want it to last, you have to stop it from decomposing.

This chrome-intensive process isn’t only a significant contributor to water pollution, it is also linked to causing cancer and other health problems in tannery workers.

The newest leather alternatives are recreating the look, touch, and durability of real leather. Not all vegan leather is the same, though. Plant-based leather is better for the environment than synthetic PVC and PU leathers. There are more and more innovative plant-based options, and you can easily choose those for a kinder and more sustainable alternative to leather.

Leather is just as cruel as fur, but it is more engrained in our culture

Objectively, there is no difference between the cruelty of fur and leather. In both cases, animals are killed, and some of their parts are turned into clothing and accessories.

The main difference that causes a very different perception of the two “materials” is how big a part they play in our culture and our lifestyles.

Most of us never wore fur but do wear leather on a daily basis. We’ve been told more inaccurate information about leather than fur via marketing and just general misinformation.

The active participation in the industry, the lack of awareness, and the scarcity of good alternatives are what keep leather still acceptable for most people (for now).

But as public awareness grows, and the quality and quantity of alternatives are improving, fewer and fewer people are going to keep buying leather. This will eventually tip the scale, and in a few years’ time, people will be boycotting the leather industry as they are now boycotting fur.

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