ABOUT LEATHER

ABOUT LEATHER

AVESU IN DETAIL

WHY WE CHOSE TO OFFER VEGAN SHOES


We know that people often have questions about the thoughts and motivations that go into what we at avesu are trying to do.


Sustainable, fair, and vegan: those are the principles on which avesu is based.


We created this part of our website to provide our customers with a comprehensive resource on everything they’d like to know about vegan, ethical shoes, avesu itself, and of course avesu’s own ethical policies.


We hope you’ll not just find the answers to your burning questions, but also interesting informa- tion and perspectives on things you might never thought to ask about. It may be that even after reading this section you still have a question or two that you’d like to ask.

If that’s the case, please do get in touch! This section will continue to be updated as we are asked more interesting questions and add relevant information as it becomes available to us.



SO WHY VEGAN SHOES?

We tried to collect the most common questions about this issue. We understand that there is much information needed.




LEATHER AND TANNING

isn’t bovine leather just a by-product of the meat industry?




Photos © KARREMANN for PETA


Contrary to popular belief, leather (or indeed any other animal product commonly used to manufacture shoes) is not a by-product of the meat and dairy industry, but a commercially valuable good in its own right. This means that animals must be bred and slaughtered in large numbers to support the demand.

All the standard environmental and ethical arguments against the consumption of meat and dairy apply equally to the production of leather, such as CO2 emissions, factory farming, monocultures, deforestation to grow animal feed and the moral issue of breeding to slaughter..

Non-leather alternatives also avoid the environmental issues associated with both the vegetable and chemical leather tanning processes.

Another factor to remember is the considerable money made from animal skins – after all, it is the most valuable part of the animal by weight, and according to research by PETA, bovine leather represents 50% of the slaughtered cow’s entire commercial value. .

Consequentially, there is an increasing reliance on the money made through selling skins, even in parts of the world where the meat is highly valued.

Even India, for example, a country where the consumption of beef is still somewhat taboo among a large portion of the Hindu population, has a massive leather industry, which involves extensive and illegal transport of animals across states and ultimate slaughter. Their skins are then largely sold to the international market.

The point to remember is this: when you buy leather, you may as well be buying meat. Where high-end leather is concerned, especially for jackets, bags or boots, this leather often comes from animals bred for their skin and it is the meat that is the by-product. Leather means suffering, artificial insemination, captivity and slaughter. avesu is there to provide you with an attractive, happier alternative.


What about other leathers? Are there more environmental-friendly ones?


There is a wide range of non-bovine leathers and skins on the market today. However, ethical arguments in favour are of questionable substance:

| As organic material, these skins must still go through a chemicals-intensive tanning process, no matter whether this is called “vegetable tanning” or not.

| As organic material produced from living beings, any environmental advantage of using skins from animal X as opposed to animal Y will be comparably minimal. Similarly, leather is still made from animal skins, meaning that the usual ethical arguments against animal husbandry and slaughter still apply.

| Despite some claims to the contrary, these skins are no more by-products than bovine leather. On the contrary, there are “luxury” leathers, such as ostrich skin, and 80% of the value of a slaughtered ostrich comes from their skin.

| Because some of the animals that are used for luxury leathers like alligators or kangaroos are relatively exotic to us, it is easy to imagine them living in the wild and far away from animal farming facilities. Bear in mind though that all these animals, just like cattle, are specifically bred in facilities in large numbers and systematically killed in order to increase turnaround and commercial output.


HOW DOES TANNING WORK AND WHAT DOES THE PROCESS INVOLVE?


Some might think that because animal skin is a natural product, leather must be environmentally friendly and the production is a natural process. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

As a natural product, animal skins must be chemically treated in a process known as “tanning” in order to ensure they do not deteriorate and decay like any other organic product would – meaning the leather is, to all intents and purposes, no longer a “natural” product.

Tanning puts an incredible strain on the environment, as 20 to 80m3 of wastewater – the equivalent of 20,000 to 80,000 average bathtubs (!) – are produced for every ton of hide processed. However, wastewater is far from the biggest environmental hazard created by tanned leather production: the tanning of leather and hide results in the release of everything from formaldehyde to arsenic, chromium, lead, cyanide, ammonia, mercury, various pathogens into the environment, causing dangerous levels of pollution and endangering natural life.

Predictably, the substances released into the environment through the tanning process include carcinogens and other (occasionally banned!) toxins that are also very dangerous for the people who work in the tanning industry. For this reason, approximately 90% of all tanning worldwide is done in India and China, where working conditions are generally poorer and environmental regulations are somewhat less strict – either by design, or through lack of regulation or proper enforcement. Tanning methods used in these countries have such a devastating impact on the environment and human health that would never be legal within the European Union.






DOES THAT MAKE LEATHER A HEALTH HAZARD?

In fact, tanned leather is not always safe for the consumer. Hexavalent chromium, a strong allergen, is used in the production of all tanned leather. Studies by German state regulatory authorities have confirmed that many leather goods contain levels of chromium salts that can lead to allergic skin reactions in sensitised individuals, such as contact eczema, and that even low levels can cause a reaction in hypersensitive individuals. The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment has therefore suggested enhanced labelling and the development of alternative tanning methods.

While the most harmful and concentrated form of chrome used in tanning, Chrome VI, has recently been outlawed in Germany. As the aforementioned studies show, chrome is toxic and can cause serious allergic reactions even in small concentrations – which are still perfectly legal despite this new legislation! This is why it is better to avoid chrome tanning altogether.


WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN VEGETABLE AND COMMON CHROME TANNING?


Vegetable tanning is often marketed as that much-needed, more environmentally friendly and natural alternative to chrome tanning. Vegetable tanning uses conventional methods involving only natural products during the dyeing process, resulting in a look many find aesthetically pleasing.

Despite the spin, it should be noted that vegetable tanning is identical to chrome tanning in every way except the source of the colour, and industry representatives have admitted that it is just as ecologically damaging.

Vegetable tanning is a very resource- and time-intensive process (15 to 30 months, depending on the method used), and a mass of approximately 30 kg of bark, 20 kg of fruit or 90 kg of oak and used over this time. The amounts of water involved are phenomenal, and this immediately offsets any supposed environmental benefits. Much like the proportion of factory farming in relation to the allegedly ‘high-welfare’, organic ideal, only 5% of all tanning done is vegetable tanning.

Given all of the above factors, vegetable tanning could never be expected to replace chrome tanning, as it simply would not be economically or environmentally sustainable. Instead, it remains largely a luxury for those who prefer the aesthetic or enjoy the false belief that it is less environmentally harmful than conventional chrome tanning.





Photos © KARREMANN for PETA