Cow's leather deemed the world's most environmentally damaging textile
Did you know that Global Fashion Agenda found cow’s leather to be the most environmentally damaging textile in the world? We were shocked too.
The Global Fashion Agenda, a Copenhagen-based not for profit, is the world’s foremost leadership forum for global collaboration in sustainable fashion, working with industry giants, such as H&M and Target, towards a more sustainable fashion future. Their ‘The Pulse of the Fashion Industry 2017’ report, produced with the Boston Consulting Group, analysed the cradle to gate environmental impact of the fashion industry’s most common textiles. The research found that cow’s leather is the most environmentally destructive textile of all.
Leather is often considered to be environmentally friendly, cited as a natural by-product of the meat industry. However, cow skin is actually a lucrative co-product, with an international market worth billions. This makes leather a massive contributor to the financial viability of animal agriculture, which according to the United Nations (references at end of article):
- Produces more emissions worldwide than the entire transport industry
- Takes up roughly 80% of agricultural land but only produces 18% of the world’s calories
- Is a leading cause of deforestation and biodiversity loss
- Pollutes waterways with animal waste runoff
In addition, to stop cow skin from decomposing and to create leather, a harsh mix of chemicals are used. These chemicals often pollute the air, soil and water of surrounding communities, and have dire consequences for the respiratory and skin health of tannery workers.
So whether you’re a meat eater or proud vegan, we can all acknowledge that there are more environmentally friendly textiles that we can choose for our accessories.
What environmentally friendly leather alternatives are out there?
Obviously, there are a wide range of textiles used in the fashion industry, but what if you want something that replicates the look, feel and durability of leather? The best options on the market currently include polyurethane, microfiber based textiles, and textiles made from natural materials such as waxed cotton, pineapple, mushroom skin and cork.
Here at Lost Woods, we use natural cork (cork oak tree bark), backed with a blend of polyester and cotton, and lined with a synthetic polyester suede to make our handbags. This results in a robust, water resistant, smooth and attractive material.
As represented on the bar graph at the start of the article, cow's leather has a high negative impact score of 163. Polyester has a score of 41. Cork is one of the world's most sustainable materials, falling off the bottom of the chart with an impact score as low as 14.
To make cork, the bark is peeled from the cork oak tree without harming the tree. The bark is then boiled, pressed and dyed, resulting in a beautiful, eco-friendly leather alternative.
Check out our tote bag or read more about cork in our following articles:
- The environmental and community benefits of harvesting cork
- The incredible characteristics and history of cork leather