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What "Leather as a byproduct of the meat industry" means and why it's important

06/10/2019

What "Leather as a byproduct of the meat industry" means and why it's important

Ethically-sourced, responsibly-produced, sustainable– it can all get a little confusing, right? You want to purchase products that are good for the environment and good for the people creating them, but it can feel so intimidating and frustrating when you don't have the information needed to make a decision.

Let's talk leather

All ABLE leather is a byproduct of the meat industry. But what does that mean? And how does that impact the environment, product creators, and your shopping habits? 

Here are the facts.

Leather production and consumption are absolutely environmental issues.

Animal agriculture alone is responsible for 18% of worldwide emissions, according to EcoCult.  But here’s the thing to keep in mind– leather is not responsible for animal agriculture. Animal agriculture exists completely regardless of the leather industry.

If leather is a byproduct of the meat industry, all that really means is that the cattle was raised for meat, and the leather is just a byproduct. Some cattle ranchers choose to sell it, some don’t. It really depends on the situation. If it’s not used, typically it is just thrown out or burned, which is a big no no for the environment.

If the leather is not a byproduct of the meat industry, that means that the cattle is raised specifically for the purpose of creating products with the leather. AKA, the only reason these animals are slaughtered is to create more stuff, thereby making the leather industry the direct and active cause of animal suffering and death. No thanks.

All that’s to say– there is a BIG difference between the two. It’s either waste-preventative and resourceful or causal of pain and waste. So when researching leather, ask brands: “Were the cattle that were used to make this product raised for meat or for leather?”

Vegan leather isn't necessarily more sustainable.

While we're on the topic of the environment, our customers have asked us if we make vegan or synthetic alternatives to our 100% leather bags. We don't at the moment. And sometimes synthetic leathers aren't more environmentally friendly. Find out what materials were used in your vegan leather. Try to avoid polyurethane leather (made from petroleum) which is also bad for the planet.

Where your leather is made - and who makes it - matters.

We would be remiss not to mention the communities affected by leather production. The majority of ABLE leather is produced in Ethiopia! 

Ethiopia is the absolute prime spot for leather production, and here’s why. 2.5% of the entire world’s livestock production is in Ethiopia, according to All Africa. Every year, it produced 5 million tons (!!!) of hides. When ABLE looks for a new country to partner with, we ensure that  they have a developing economy with access to high quality raw materials, and that they are a community that needs employment opportunities for women. Ethiopia is just that. And their most viable natural resource? You guessed it– cattle.

We choose to work with entrepreneurs already doing businesses in their local sectors who understand and are deeply connected to their cultures. By choosing to use hides that exist as a result of Ethiopia’s meat industry, not only are we reducing waste and minimizing pollution, but we are creating jobs that help our partners’ local economy flourish.

So what does this all mean for you?

ABLE Leather Director, Krista Alexander, summed it up succinctly: “If you don’t think about where your things come from, you will never make a change.” 

“If you don’t think about where your things come from, you will never make a change.” -Krista Alexander

Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions.

Ask companies about their sourcing and production processes. Ask about the countries your products came from. And most importantly, ask about the people behind your products. Thoughtful consumers enact genuine change, and your role has never been more important. 

And finally– education is key.

Be a champion for the issues you care about, educate yourself on what matters, and confidently make decisions in light of that. No sinking gut feeling necessary.



  • Marjorie Smales on

    I have never heard of cattle being raised only for their skin. Can you site some evidence and/or resources for further research.

    Thank you.


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