The Problem with Leather

Jim Morrison of the Doors, in 1960. Photo by Michael Ochs.
Jim Morrison of The Doors, January 1960. Photo by Michael Ochs.

Music is one of the greatest joys of my life. I’ve got a rebellious, anti-establishment nature, and it’s one of the things I truly appreciate about my favorite artists – that they’re not afraid to go against the grain and speak their minds.

That innate rebelliousness must be why leather originally made its way into the styles worn by so many musical performers, from hip hop artists, to rockers, to metal heads, country artists, and more.

It’s arguable where the association of leather and rebelliousness originated, and not to mention, the association of leather and sex appeal. Cowboys, outlaws, and Native Americans in the Wild West wore leather, probably more for functionality than looks, but that’s how fashion is born – like any art form, it reflects the cultural perceptions of an era.

Wikipedia sources the original leather jacket back to the early 1900s, when they were worn by aviators, and then became known as “bomber jackets” in WWII. Leather jackets were also worn by the rebellious Russian Bolsheviks, who came to power during the Russian Revolution of 1917. Of course, one of the most iconic rebels of all time, James Dean, wore leather. And later on, one of my all time favorites – Jim Morrison did too.

But all of that is interesting history, and we are living in the now. Our world is different today, and thus what it means to be a rebel is different. If you’re not a rebel for your own times, then you’re just a relic.

Neither the Bolsheviks nor the Lizard King had access to social media the way we do today. And through social media, I’ve come to learn a lot more about leather and what it takes to produce it. It is anything but sexy.

We wouldn’t want to live this way. Why would we subject anyone else to this?

Every year, the global leather industry slaughters more than one billion animals for their skins and hides (PETA). That is far too many sensitive, social creatures suffering greatly because we want to wear leather – despite the fact that we have scads of super cool alternatives to choose from (unlike our forebears in the Wild West.) Animals used by humans to make clothing, shoes, wallets, purses, luggage, and other accessories include cows, crocodiles, snakes, ostriches, and even dogs and cats. Not only do the animals suffer, but our health and the environment do too.

The production of leather and suede isn’t healthy for the workers who are producing it. Skin is a biological material that naturally decomposes when it’s dead. Leather clothing and shoes do not decompose because they’ve been treated with chemical preservatives during the tanning process. Tanning is considered one of the most toxic industrial processes in the world due to the number of harmful chemicals used. (Gizmodo)

Workers tanning leather. The process uses harmful chemicals that make the leather industry one of the most toxic in the world.

I’ll venture to say that the true rebels today are the ones who are ditching leather altogether, and hopefully, setting the trend for others to follow in their footsteps.

Call me overly sensitive, but I hate it when I see my favorite musical artists wearing leather, like I hate it if I learn that one of my favorite athletes cheats by using performance-enhancing drugs. It turns me off and, yeah, it gets in the way of my enjoyment of their music or their sport.

The two reasons it bugs me more when they do it than when other people do (though that bugs me too) is that, fair or not, musical artists and professional athletes are watched, listened to, adored, and celebrated far more than, say, dentists or bus drivers. They’re envied because they’re making money doing what they love, they’re good at it, and they even get the chicks (or the dudes, as the case may be.) They have the almighty power to influence a lot of people and to shift culture.

I can see why someone would want to be like Jim Morrison. He was irreverent, sexy, and talented. But Jim Morrison is dead and so are his leather pants.

If you’re a musical performer and you have any sense of empathy or respect for life, don’t wear animal skin. You have the power to influence the style of dozens, if not thousands, of fans, and to therefore dispel a hell of a lot of suffering from the world.

The Purple Suede Fringe Pants

When I was in my twenties, I owned a pair of purple suede hip huggers that laced up the front and had long purple suede fringe from the knees to the floor. When I found those pants in a used clothing store in Austin, my only two thoughts were: Damn, those are cool! and Will they fit? I wasn’t thinking about the fact that they were made with someone else’s skin.

They reminded me of The Who and Cher and Sly and the Family Stone. I felt like a rock star when I wore them. They were vintage, so they were recycled, and recycling is better than putting old things into the landfill, right? But if I had been aware then of what I am today, I would not have bought those pants. Those pants were attention getters – and based on what I know today, I don’t want that kind of attention.

At the risk of sounding like a hypocrite, you can look in my closet and find a pair of leather boots and a pair of leather hiking shoes. They’re not worn out yet, and I may still get some use out of them, so I’ve kept them. But honestly, I can’t look at them without thinking about animals.

I know it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to go through their closets and replace every item they own that’s made from animals with something new that’s vegan. But we can all start. When it comes to buying new things – it’s high time that all of us ditch the animal skin. And it’s way over time for clothing, shoes, and accessories designers to stop designing cruelty into their creations.

Let’s be rebels with a cause: and that cause is to get others to stop buying and wearing animals’ skin.

Here are some cool products that are not made with leather:

Vegan Boots

Vegan Cowboy Boots

Vegan Sandals

Vegan Sneakers and Athletic Shoes

Vegan Dog Collars


By Kristen M. Stanton

Why Cork Is Such an Awesome Material for Sustainable Products

Cork isn’t just for wine bottles and laundry room bulletin boards anymore. Like hemp and bamboo, it is a darling of sustainable materials because of its multi-faceted, good-for-people-and-planet qualities. Today you can find a variety of eco-friendly products made from cork, including cell phone cases, wallets, purses, hats, and more.

The Cork Forest Conservation Alliance (CFCA) has a wealth of information about the many wonders of cork. And if you haven’t seen it, be sure to check out CFCA Founder Patrick Spencer’s TED Talk on cork. This is a win-win-win (people, planet, and profits) story we all love.

Why Cork Is So Awesome

  • It’s a 100% natural, renewable, recyclable, and biodegradable material that is obtained through an Earth-friendly harvesting process.
  • Cork oak trees don’t need to be cut down to harvest the cork. Instead, the bark is harvested by hand every nine years, and cork oak trees can live for up to 300 years. When cork is harvested, a tree is saved.
  • And it gets better: when the cork bark is harvested, the tree is able to absorb even more CO2 from the environment.
Iberian Lynx
Cork oak forests are the natural habitat of the endangered Iberian Lynx.

Cork oak forests support one of the world’s highest levels of forest biodiversity, second only to the Amazonian Rainforest. There are approximately 6.6 million acres of Mediterranean cork forest across Portugal, Spain, Algeria, Morocco, Italy, Tunisia, and France.

  • 13,000 species of animals, plants, and insects are found in these cork forests that are not found anywhere else.
  • Thousands of families are supported by natural cork harvesting. (So not only are plastic or aluminum wine caps tacky, tacky, tacky and bad for the environment, they’re bad for families too.)
  • Cork is a plentiful resource. There is enough cork in the cork forests of Portugal and Spain alone to last more than 100 years. With the introduction of composite cork and using granulated cork obtained from smaller, leftover pieces of raw cork, there is now better utilization of existing cork resources than ever before. (CFCA)

Here Are Cork Products on UniGuide:

Cork Wallets

Cork Phone Cases

Cork iPad Mini Cases – coming soon!

Shoes Made with Cork

All Cork Products












The Pros and Cons of Polyester


The Cons of Polyester:

Polyester is not considered as an eco-friendly material for a number of reasons:

  • It takes a lot of energy to produce, and its production process emits greenhouse gases and harmful chemicals into the environment.
  • Its production process uses large amounts of water for cooling, plus lubricants that can cause contamination in the water supply.
  • It is not biodegradable.

The Pros of Polyester:

Polyester is not without its merits, however.

  • One of the positives for polyester is that it can be recycled.
  • It also uses less water to produce than some natural fiber materials (though unlike natural fibers, it is still not biodegradable.)

Source: NRDC

Nylon and the Environment


Nylon is a man-made material that is derived from petrochemicals and depends on large amounts of crude oil for production.

It’s harmful to the environment for a few reasons:

  • Petrochemicals are often obtained from fossil fuels, which are not renewable.
  • Nylon is not biodegradable.
  • Its production creates nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas that has 310-times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide (CO2).
  • Nylong production accounts for 5-8% of global human-caused emissions of N2O.
  • It’s difficult to recycle.

Source: Worldwatch Institute

Here Products Made with Recycled Nylon on UniGuide:




Organic Cotton vs. Non-Organic Cotton


Cotton is a widely used natural fiber, but unfortunately, it is not ecologically friendly. Whether cotton is organic or not, it does require a lot of water to produce. For example, it can take more than 20,000 liters of water to produce 1 kilogram of cotton–which makes the equivalent of one t-shirt and a pair of jeans. However, organic cotton is far superior to non-organic cotton when it comes to human health, the health of animals, and also the environment.

Here are the problems with non-organic cotton:

  • Non-organic cotton uses a lot of insecticides and pesticides: 2.4% of the world’s crop land is planted with cotton, and yet cotton accounts for 24% of the insecticides and 11% of the pesticides used globally. Pesticides and insecticides not only destroy natural habitats and kill insects–like bees–they also cause severe health impacts in field workers. (World Wildlife Fund)
  • Genetically-modified (GM) cotton has increased dramatically in recent years. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 94% of the cotton grown in the U.S. is genetically modified. (USDA)
  • The list of how genetically modified seeds and crops are harming humans, animals, insects, and the environment is extensive. In the case of genetically modified cotton, it has caused farm workers to become ill with skin and respiratory problems, it has killed livestock that have ingested it, and it’s built resistance in the very pests that the genetic modification was meant to curtail, requiring farmers to increase their use of pesticides. (Canadian Biotechnology Action Network)
  • For additional information on why genetically modified crops are so dangerous, visit the Institute for Responsible Science.

Why it’s better to opt for organic cotton:

While it’s difficult to avoid cotton altogether, wherever possible, opt for organic cotton. Yes, it can be more expensive, but more people buying products made from organic cotton will help drive down the price. And it’s superiority to non-organic cotton when it comes to human, animal, and environmental health is undeniable.

Here Are Organic Cotton Products on UniGuide:

Organic Cotton Hammocks

Organic Cotton T-Shirts

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