Whether you choose to wear leather or not, is a personal choice and it's most likely determined by how you view the meat industry. This article aims to provide facts where there are frequent misconceptions. The truth is that leather can be a slow-fashion material, given its ability to withstand wear and tear. At ChromeFree Leather Alliance, we believe that for leather to be truly sustainable, we should give way to newer and more sustainable tanning solutions.
Myth: It's cruel to make leather
The answer: It's complicated
Leather has a bad reputation, and we get why consumers would opt for alternatives like faux leather, which presents its own set of environmental challenges since synthetic fibres from clothing are a significant source of micro-plastic pollution in the ocean. The common perception is that it's cruel to make leather from animal hides and skin. And while we see a global decrease in meat consumption, it's hard to imagine a world where the meat industry doesn't exist. For as long as there is an industry that serves meat consumption, animal hides will continue to come out of that industry. Now more than ever, we need to reevaluate how we can create a more responsible leather value chain.
Currently, chrome-tanned (a process that gives the leather its texture and ensures that the hide doesn't rot) leather contributes to about 80% of all leather produced — which is highly toxic when not managed correctly. Chromium is also a heavy metal and has been used extensively because of how efficient and cost-effective it has made the tanning process. The only alternative that we've seen so far is Vegetable Tanning, a traditional practice that uses naturally-derived plant chemicals to purify the hide; however, this process is much less common and more time-consuming.
With the ChromeFree®Leather Alliance, we aim to make leather tanning circular by taking away the toxic and non-renewable component of Chromium and replacing it with ChromeFree®alternatives that replace Chromium without affecting the effectiveness or quality of the material.
It's important to note that Chromium isn't necessarily a problem for most European states who have far superior waste management systems, but remains a massive problem for Chinese Tanneries.
China is supposedly the world's largest leather producer by volume at 40%. Going chrome-free will not only significantly reduce the time it takes to make leather goods but also solve the environmental dangers that come with using and dealing with the toxic waste that Chromium and other heavy metals such as Zirconium produce.
Myth: There are better uses for hides and skins
The answer: Realistically, it would have to go to waste
Another common misconception is that there are "other" uses for animal hides once they are made available. The only realistic answer to that is to let it go to waste - which would not only mean loss of revenue for tanners but also a substantial financial and environmental cost for farms to bear when disposing of raw hides. It's also valid for existing infrastructures in mature economies, which lack a waste management system to deal with a massive volume of raw hides appropriately.
Statistics suggest that the meat industry generates around 240 million cattle, 540 million sheep and 420 million goat hides per year. All of it amounts to about 9 million tonnes of waste per year. To put things into perspective - that's about 18 Burj Khalifas (哈里发塔)
There's no denying that leather is one of the most versatile, durable and timeless materials on this planet. The only way leather can remain competitive in an eco-conscious market is to have the value chain become more circular, safe and better for the people and the planet — that means going ChromeFree®.