Numbers, facts, and myths about leather

Are animals killed specifically for leather production?

No, they are definitely not, even if some activist groups or animal rights organisations keep saying so! Quite the opposite: no animals die for the production of leather!

Animal skins are a by-product of livestock farming. As these materials are produced anyway, it would be a waste of valuable resources to simply throw them away! In terms of sustainability, it is therefore better to process existing hides into durable, high-quality leather.

Leather comes from cattle (69%), sheep (13%), goats (11%) and pigs (6%). If you do the maths, you get 99%. This is because not all countries have reliable statistics. But one thing is certain: nobody simply throws away the animal’s meat – because that is the most valuable part of the animal and not the skin. Unfortunately, it is true that more and more hides and skins are being thrown away. And that is definitely not sustainable!

Leather is a particularly sustainable material – right?

Leather is very sustainable! The animal skins used for processing are natural resources that might otherwise be carelessly thrown away. What’s more, everyone knows for themselves or from their family, how long high-quality products made from real leather can be used – namely for many years and decades. Quite a few leather bags or leather jackets are literally “handed down” from one generation to the next. Being able to use it for a long time is better and considerably more sustainable than a throwaway mentality because it saves on waste and makes optimal use of existing resources.

How much water is needed to produce one square metre of leather?

To answer this question, we at VDL have carried out extensive research in numerous tanneries. The result: around 120 litres of water are required to turn one square metre of animal hide into leather. The water is used for washing, tanning, dyeing, and rinsing, then it passes through modern wastewater treatment plants and is returned to nature at least as clean as before.

Sometimes other, significantly higher figures can be read. How can that be? Some people add the water and rain that cattle and grass need to grow and live to the water used in the tannery – but this gives a completely distorted picture of leather production.

“Vegan leather” – does it even exist?

Leather is a natural product made from valuable animal skins. So “vegan leather” – something like animal-free leather – is a contradiction in itself. Strictly speaking, this inadmissible term is pure marketing intended to create the illusion of an ecological value that it cannot always fulfil. In fact, “vegan leather” is not leather at all – instead, it is a synthetic product, i.e. mostly petroleum-based plastic with lots of chemicals. It has nothing to do with a natural product whatsoever! Instead, these synthetic products consume large amounts of raw materials and energy. Consumers should not be blinded by the trendy term “vegan”!

What is the difference between leather and leather substitute products?

Real leather is made from natural animal skin. This is a fibre layer that provides protection, heat balance and moisture regulation in nature. In contrast, artificial leather, leather substitutes or imitation leather always consist of at least two layers: A textile backing layer and a plastic top layer, usually polyurethane (PUR) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC). This is why artificial leather is less durable: the layers separate from each other over time when it is used.

Leather and chemicals – how dangerous is it?

The statistics from the Trade Association, for example, show that skilled leather production is not dangerous at all. The domestic leather industry is made up of experienced and responsible family businesses that prioritise safety. Indeed, some chemicals are necessary for leather production – but if handled correctly, they pose no danger to people or the environment.

Is “chrome” leather compatible with your skin?

Of course! In fact, chrome-tanned leathers are the most commonly used. And that is no cause for concern. Whether chrome tanning, chrome cutlery or chrome-plated bumpers – chrome is simply part of our lives. Qualified tanneries handle the materials with care so that chrome leather is absolutely safe. And that’s not all: high-quality, chrome-tanned leather always feels very good and comfortable on your skin!

Leather is better than synthetic fibres – is that true?

Synthetic fibres are – as the name suggests – manufactured synthetically. This usually involves crude oil components. In addition to this high consumption of resources, plastic products have a significant disadvantage once we no longer want to use them: This is because plastic breaks down into pieces that become smaller and smaller over time, from macroplastics and microplastics to nanoparticles. Today, these particles can be detected in the sea, in water, in living creatures, in other words: almost everywhere – an enormous burden for the entire ecosystem!

Even when we wash clothes made of synthetic fibres, microplastics are produced in the washing machine, which end up in the wastewater and pollute. The situation is completely different with the natural product leather: not only can it generally be used for much longer than items made from synthetic fibres – leather is also completely harmless to the environment over the entire lifetime of the product. Aniline leather, for example, degrades completely in nature. Admittedly, this takes time – but after all, leather shoes or a leather jacket should last a long time…