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That innate rebelliousness must be why leather originally made its way into the styles worn by so many musical performers, from hip hop artists, to rockers, to metal heads, country artists, and more.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

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