Leather is used to to make shoes, coats, watches, couches, purses, belts, and even to line the seats of our cars.
It is seen as a high quality material with many benefits. It’s stylish, durable, breathable, and considered quite valuable. Unfortunately, as consumers, we are not informed of how the industry functions, and the unethical practices taking place in the leather industry. Here are a few points to consider when purchasing leather products.
1) It is a profit driven business
There is a common notion that leather is a resourceful way to utilize the full body of the over 56 billion farmed land animals we kill annually. While this is somewhat true, there are many drawbacks and negative results of the leather industry that need to be considered. As much as we’d like to think other wise, the leather industry is not driven by waste conscious altruism. Like most things in today’s society, leather production is part of a money making business with the goal of maximizing profits.
There is an important economic interdependence between factory farming and the leather trade. In fact, one of the biggest reasons meat is so cheap, aside from government subsidies, is because slaughterhouse byproducts, (such as leather) are so profitable. In other words, the meat industry isn’t sustainable on it’s own. It relies on skin sales to remain profitable.
The value of cattle hides and animal skins, represents about 5-10% of the market value of an animal, thus making it the most economically important byproduct of the meat packing industry.  In fact, The leather industry generates more than $53.8 billion USD worldwide each year.
2) The Animals
Another issue at hand, is an obvious one. Most leather comes from cows raised in the meat and dairy industries. These cows are not only confined and enslaved against their will, but they also endure horrific procedures such as castration, branding (which causes third-degree burns), tail-docking, and dehorning—all without painkillers.
Though majority of leather comes from the bodies of cows, pigs, goats, and sheep, there is an increasing demand for the skin of exotic animals, including alligators, snakes, ostriches, and kangaroos.
Because leather is normally not labeled, you never really know where (or whom) it came from. It is important to be aware of various terms allocated for the skins of different animals that can be misleading:
- Suede- lambs, goats, pigs, steer and calves
- Buck skin- deer
- K Leather- skin of kangaroos
- Cashmere- undercoats of cashmere goats
- Angora- fur of bunnies
- Shearling- sheep skin
Because the skins of animals is the most economically important byproduct of the meat industry, purchasing leather directly contributes to the horrors of factory farms and slaughterhouses.
3) The Forgotten Victims
However, innocent animals are not the only victims of the industry. Unfortunately, individuals of developing countries who work in tanneries suffer very poor working condition and tragic health problems. These includes slips and falls on improperly drained floors; exposure to lime, tanning liquor, acids, bases, solvents, disinfectants, and other toxic chemicals, and injury from heavy machinery are all terrifyingly real hazards. Workers and individuals living nearby tanneries also suffer a very high risk of different types of cancers, including leukemia. 
Unfortunately, the tanning industry has various negative impact on our environment as well. The primary environmental threat involves the dumping of solid and liquid waste that contains leftover chromium and other hazardous compounds.
Even in fully modernized and carefully managed facilities, it is nearly impossible to reclaim all of the pollutants generated by the tanning process. In fact, 70 percent of an untreated hide is eventually discarded as solid waste—the hair, fat, meat, sinew, all goes straight into the trash. 
You probably have leather products at home. Truth is, the harm is done and there’s not much you can do. Replacing these products with vegan alternatives may not be an option, however, if you are uncomfortable continuing to use these products, there is always an option of selling them (at a garage sale, online, ect.) or simply giving them away.
Though you may have leather products right now, what you do from this day forward, is what really matters.
There are loads of alternatives to leather that look and feel very similar, but do not involve the cruelty and harm of leather. When shopping, look for alternative, cruelty-free materials that imitate leather; including faux leather, pleather, synthetic leather, various man-made leathers, waxed cotton, and imitation leather. Here is a quick reference guide of companies that sell products that are either vegan or else sell alternatives to leather, fur, or down.
Now that you are aware of the truth behind the leather industry, it is time to ask yourself is this is something you want to be a part of. Next time you’re shopping, think about how your purchases are affecting the world and if they’re reflecting your values.