Material Myths - Leather UK director: claims around alternative materials are untrue
10 June 2021

The director of industry body Leather UK, Dr Kerry Senior, has told fashion education platform the Sustainable Fashion Collective that the biggest misunderstanding surrounding leather is where the material comes from. Report by Leatherbiz.

Dr Kerry Senior

In a recent question-and-answer session with the Sustainable Fashion Collective, Dr Senior said the origin of leather was probably the most important point to put across to people who are unfamiliar with the industry and may have picked up negative messages about it.

He said: “It’s really important that people understand that leather is made from hides and skins that are a by-product of the meat and dairy industries. The animals they come from are reared for meat, milk and wool, and the hides and skins are produced, inevitably, when you slaughter the animals.”

Dr Senior made it clear that none of these animals are reared specifically for their hides and skins. He said: “A hide’s current value is around 1% or 1.5% of the value of the animal and no one is going to rear an animal for that. And when it comes to small skins such as sheepskins and goatskins, many of them have no value at all.”

He went on to say that without tanners using the by-products as a raw material there would be an estimated global volume of between 7 million and 9 million tonnes of waste that would need exposing of every year. There are alternative uses for some of the material, he said, but none of these would currently absorb all of the material being generated.

The Leather UK director explained that he thought this was particularly important to keep in mind when considering alternatives to leather. “People talk about these alternative materials as being more environmentally friendly because they avoid animal rearing,” he said, “but you are not going to change anything [in the meat and dairy industries] by using them.”

He pointed out that people are, of course, at liberty to choose not to use animal products or by-products if they want to. “That’s fine,” he said. “That’s entirely someone’s choice. But companies making other materials are claiming as an environmental benefit that they are either improving the welfare of animals, because the animals aren’t being slaughtered, or that they are lowering the environmental impact of livestock rearing. It’s untrue. This [the making of these materials as alternatives to leather] won’t change a thing.”