How Sustainable Are Leather Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis

How Sustainable Are Leather Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis

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Quynh Nguyen

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Leather is a material with a long history and a troublesome modern-day reality. Demand for leather made with animal skin is high and current animal farming systems for meat and skin are far removed from how our ancestors hunted animals for food and used their hides for protective gear, including clothes. So, we had to ask: How sustainable are leather fabrics?

Leather is generally not a sustainable fabric. Farming animals, especially cows whose hides are leather’s most used raw material, has severe land use and global warming impacts. Also, chemical tanning in leather manufacturing is energy-intensive and harmful to the environment, animals, and humans. 

In this article, we’ll walk you through the life-cycle of leather fabrics used for clothes, accessories and household items. Then, we evaluate its sustainability, potential, and shortfalls. And in the end, we’ll show you tips for buying sustainable products made with leather fabrics.

Here’s How We Assessed the Sustainability of Leather Fabrics

Nowadays, leather is generally considered an unsustainable textile material. The common practices in modern-day’s leather production involve many toxic chemicals, which pose health risks to workers and contaminate the environment. Also, there are a lot of environmental and ethical concerns about animal farming, which provides meat for the food industry and skins for the leather industry. 

Sustainable: The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level | Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”

Oxford Dictionary

To understand the sustainability of leather fabrics, we must assess their life-cycle and each stage’s sustainability. This life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a method to evaluate the environmental impacts of products and materials. Over the years, companies have strategically used LCA to research and create more sustainable products. So, let’s have a look at the LCA of leather fabrics!

In this article, we’ll use the cradle-to-grave perspective of the LCA, examining the five stages of the life-cycle of clothing items and accessories made with leather fabrics. When applicable, we also look at cradle-to-gate assessments

The life-cycle stages of leather fabricsEach stage’s sustainability
Sourcing of leather fabricsThe raw material for leather is animal skin, which has long been considered waste from the meat industry. Sourcing this supposed by-product to make leather reduces waste instead of straining natural resources. However, some animal skins are high-value products, and sourcing these materials would help subsidize keeping animals for the meat industry, which is too often plagued with unsustainable and unethical practices, from deforestation to animal cruelty. Thus, sourcing animal skins could only be sustainable if animal farming or hunting follow reasonably sustainable practices. 
Manufacturing of leather fabricsManufacturing leather is generally unsustainable. Chemical tanning in leather production is energy and chemical-intensive. Manufacturing waste contaminates water and airways. Vegetable tanning doesn’t use toxic synthetic chemicals but takes a lot longer and generally produces more sturdy leather. 
Transporting of leather fabricsTransporting can be a carbon-intensive stage in the life-cycle of clothing items made with leather fabrics due to the distances covered and emissions associated with transporting vehicles. Leather fabrics typically travel from slaughterhouses, where animal skins are obtained, to processing and finishing factories, sorting centers, shops, and consumer’s houses before going to recycling centers or landfills. 
Usage of leather fabricsThe usage of leather is generally sustainable because of its durability. Quality leather products can last a lifetime if they are taken care of. Cowhide leather’s durability is down to its strength, which is superior to that of leather alternatives (artificial, plant-based leather, or plant-plastic hybrid leather fabrics). 
End-of-life of leather fabricsThe end-of-life stage for leather is generally not very sustainable because the heavy use of chemicals in manufacturing hinders the biodegradability of this material. 

Overall, we can say leather is not a sustainable material. However, the actual environmental impact of a particular product, like a pair of shoes or a handbag, depends on more specific factors, including the sourcing of the raw material – the animal hide, the manufacturing process, the transportation distance, and vehicles used during transport. 

Let’s dive deeper into each life-cycle stage and find out how you can buy leather fabrics more sustainably. 

How Sustainable Is the Sourcing of Raw Materials for Leather Fabrics

The raw material for leather is animal skin, which has long been considered waste from the meat industry. Sourcing this supposed by-product to make leather reduces waste instead of straining natural resources. 

However, some animal skins are high-value products, and sourcing these materials would help subsidize keeping animals for the meat industry, which is too often plagued with unsustainable and unethical practices, from deforestation to animal cruelty.

What Raw Materials Are Used for Leather Fabrics

The main materials used for leather fabrics are animal skins. (In bigger animals, the skin is often called “hide.”) 

Raw materials for leather fabrics could come from various animals, both farmed and wild. Cowhides account for the largest share of leather fabrics’ raw materials, with a recent study showing that 65% of all animal leather fabrics are made from cowhides

Here is a non-exhaustive list of animals whose skins are used to make leather: 

  • Cows (or steers or bulls)
  • Other bovine animals (buffaloes, bison, yaks, etc.)
  • Pigs 
  • Sheep (or lamb) 
  • Goats
  • Kangaroos
  • Reptiles (lizards/alligators/snakes) 
  • Ostriches 

It is important to note that the environmental impacts of sourcing animal hides vary significantly depending on the animal and the farming or hunting practices. We will provide you with examples in the following section. 

In most parts of this article, however, we will discuss cow leather because of its prevalence as a type of animal leather fabric and the severe environmental impacts of industrial cow farming. When relevant, we will provide you with examples of leather made with other animal hides to demonstrate the differences.

How Do the Raw Materials Sourced for Leather Fabrics Impact the Environment

The raw material for cow leather comes from the hides left after the animals are slaughtered for meat. Using this supposed by-product to make leather reduces waste instead of putting more strains on natural resources. However, raising cattle is a very high-impact activity, which would be partly subsidized (and encouraged) by selling the valued hides to the leather industry. 

Consequently, we would say that sourcing cow hides for leather fabrics is generally not very sustainable, but there would be exceptions where keeping or hunting animals for both food and hides are done in more sustainable ways. 

Leather has long been considered the meat industry’s by-product because this material is made with hides that would otherwise get thrown away after animals are slaughtered for food. However, this logic is becoming obsolete.

Nowadays, it is more accurate to describe animal skins as a subsidy to the meat industry because of the high prices the leather manufacturers pay for animal hides. 

Leather accounts for approximately 10% of the animal’s total value, making it the most valuable part per weight. Or, as an extreme example, ostrich farms in Africa sell the bird skin at 80% of the bird’s value. In this case, meat is a by-product. 

All this means that farmers can sell hides, not as a way of reusing the waste but as a subsidy for their meat production so that they can keep having more animals on their farm – an activity that requires a huge amount of resources (land, water, and fossil fuels). 

Here are a few snapshots of the environmental impacts of animal farming: 

Consequently, sourcing cowhide for leather has a large share in the total environmental impacts of cowhide leather.

For example, Higg Material Sustainability Index shows very high percentages of cow leather’s sourcing stage (or country of origin and process) in various environmental impact categories, as follows: 

  • 99% of the Water Scarcity Impact 
  • 92% of the Eutrophication Impact 
  • 82% of the Global Warming Impact
  • 51% of the Resource Depletion/ Fossil Fuels Impact 

There are two important notes here:

  1. Sourcing other animals’ skin has lower impacts than sourcing cowhide. For example, the carbon emissions for sourcing goat hide or pig skin hide are about 12% of the carbon emissions for sourcing cowhide. Carbon emissions for sourcing reptiles or kangaroo hides are even lower.
  2. The elevated carbon footprint of sourcing rawhides contributes to leather fabrics being one of the materials with the highest global warming effects, according to the Higg Material Sustainability Index. Cowhide leather’s carbon footprint is lower than some animal-based fabrics but much higher (by a factor of two to three) than plant-based fabrics. 

Where Are the Raw Materials for Leather Fabrics Usually Sourced From

Leather’s raw materials come from slaughterhouses, often nearby cattle farms and fields. The upstream of this sourcing stage (cattle farms and fields) could have significant environmental impacts that are worth noting here. 

Raising cattle is the main driver of deforestation. And the ecological impacts are immense when this happens in bio-diverse tropical forests, such as the Amazon rainforest

Also, runoffs from farms and feeding fields could contain excess fertilizers and pesticides, contaminating the water systems. It could cause the overgrowth of plant life in rivers, canals, or ponds, which suffocates aquatic animals by depleting oxygen levels in the water. This is the leading cause of hypoxic zones, also known as “dead zones.”

We must note that there are more sustainable ways of keeping (or hunting) animals, which don’t involve deforestation, chemical runoffs, or killing young animals. For example, cattle farms can invest in improving soil health, leading to biodiverse grasslands that store more carbon and provide better feed for the cows while looking after the cow’s other well-being aspects. Sourcing animal skins from systems like those could be sustainable.

How Sustainable Is the Manufacturing of Leather Fabrics

Manufacturing leather is generally unsustainable. Chemical tanning in leather production is energy and chemical-intensive. Manufacturing waste contaminates water and airways. Vegetable tanning doesn’t use toxic synthetic chemicals but takes a lot longer and generally produces more sturdy leather. 

How Sustainably Is Leather Fabrics Generally Manufactured

Here are the standard steps in manufacturing animal leather fabrics

  1. Tanning preparation: Get the animal skin ready for tanning – a process that prevents the skin from decomposing. The preparation involves:
    • Soaking and liming to loosen hair and other undesired tissue.
    • Removing hair and other undesired tissue
    • Fleshing (removing flesh and film from the back of the skin) 
    • Washing to remove lime 
    • Stretching the skin 
    • Dehydrating the skin through air drying, salting or pickling. 
  2. Tanning: A process to stop the decomposing process of the skin. There are two methods of tanning:
    • Vegetable tanning: This is the original tanning method for making leather, using plant parts (roots, bark, seeds) that contain tannic acid (hence the term tanning). Vegetable tanning can take weeks or months to complete. 
    • Chemical tanning or mineral tanning: This is the more common practice in today’s leather manufacturing because it is much faster. Mineral tanning usually takes less than a day. With this method, the skin is soaked in a tanning solution containing chromium and many other chemicals. The amount of chemicals (and their level of toxicity and health risks) depend significantly on the factories and the regulations they are under. 
  3. Post-tanning: Skins are dried and dyed before being treated with oils and greases to improve the texture and water resistance. 
  4. Finishing: drying, raising, stretching and applying the finishing coating onto the leather fabrics. 

Let’s now deep-dive into a few sustainability issues with leather production. 

Leather Manufacturing Fabrics Uses A Lot of Chemicals

Turning raw animal skin into usable leather happens in tanneries and is referred to as leather tanning

The list of chemicals used in leather tanning is often a long one. Tanneries might use different chemicals, largely depending on the regulations at the locations. 

Here are some examples: 

Additionally, dyeing leather fabrics could be chemical-intensive

Many chemicals used during tanning preparation, tanning, and finishing are hazardous if they get into their airways and waterways when proper waste treatment is not in place. We will discuss this in more detail later on. 

The heavy usage of synthetic chemicals contributes to elevated energy consumption

  • Though the actual number varies depending on location, the energy needed to produce 1 kg of leather is comparable to the amount a 2-person household consumes in 5 days
  • CO2 emissions of 1kg of leather are equivalent to a 68 km ride by car.

And a large percentage of this energy consumption comes from using synthetic chemicals. For example, a life-cycle assessment of the tanning process in Spain and Italy shows that chemical supply accounts for 68% and 72% of the total energy consumption in the tanning process in Spain and Italy, respectively. 

Additionally, according to the same life-cycle assessment, chemical usage accounts for the lion’s share of many other environmental impact categories. Specifically, in a Spanish tannery system, chemical supply takes up: 

  • 95% of the total Terrestrial Ecotoxicity Potential (TETP)
  • 91% of the total Human Toxicity Potential (HTP)
  • 88% of the total Acidification Potential (AP)
  • 81% of the total Abiotic Depletion Potential (ADP) 
  • 80% of the total Global Warming Impact (GWP) 

Leather Manufacturing Creates A Lot Of Waste Polluting the Environment and Posing Health Risks 

Leather manufacturing leaves behind a lot of waste, both in solid and liquid form. Much of the tannery waste could contaminate the environment and harm human health. 

For example, in an Italian tanning system, from 1,000 kg of raw hides (as well as 483.2 kg of chemicals and a lot of water and energy), there would come only 200 g of finished leather. The rest is dumped into the environment, including the trimmings of finished material, leftover chemicals, and used solutions.

Improper treatment of such waste could cause serious health and environmental problems.

For example, direct exposure to chromium in the tanning solution poses many health risks, including:

  • irritating respiratory tract 
  • obstructing airway 
  • lung, nasal, or sinus cancer

Here is a case quoted by the Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry about leather tanning factory workers: 

“A woman ingested 400 ml of leather tanning solution containing 48 grams of basic chromium sulfate (CrOHSO4). The patient died of cardiogenic shock, complicated by pancreatitis and gut mucosal necrosis and hemorrhage”. 

In addition to chromium, tannery effluent contains large amounts of many other pollutants, including salt, lime sludge, sulfides, and acids. 

Leather Manufacturing Has A High Water Footprint 

Research shows that every ton of chrome-tanned leather made in Mexico has a footprint of blue water (fresh water) as much as 11.29 m3.

The soaking step requires the most water, accounting for more than half of the total water consumption. 

Where Are Leather Fabrics Usually Manufactured

From slaughterhouses, rawhides are sent for processing in rawhide and leather factories. While slaughterhouses can be located anywhere, the majority of these processing factories (around 70%) are concentrated in developing countries where labor is cheap, and regulations are lax. China, India, and Brazil are the top three countries producing raw hides and leather.

Leather fabrics from developing countries tend to have lower quality or need final finishing in European countries like Italy or Spain. While China produces the most leather by sheer volume, Italy is the largest exporter of leather goods by value

The industry is associated with many environmental and social problems in leather-manufacturing countries because of its high toxicity level. 

Many Health Risks Are Associated With Tannery Operations 

Evidence shows workers of tanneries and residents of the surrounding areas suffer various health problems. Here are some studied cases worldwide

Many Environmental Issues Are Associated With Tannery Operations 

Runoffs from tanneries are a major source of pollution to the land, air, and water in the surrounding areas of leather factories. 

Tanning effluent could contain leftover chemicals (including chromium sulfate, sulfuric acid, salts, lime, surfactants, degreasers, ammonium sulfate, and many more). Together with rotting animal hides and clipping of discarded leather pieces, these chemicals contaminate the water and river bed and kill aquatic life

For example, in 2003, it was reported that 22 tonnes of chromium waste were being dumped per day in Kanpur, India. In Hazaribagh – a region of Bangladesh with over 200 separate tanneries, in another example, it is estimated that 7.7 million liters of wastewater and 88 million tons of solid waste are disposed of annually. 

When liquid and solid waste is dumped into the environment without proper (or any treatment), it contaminates soil and water. 

For example, soil samples from an Indian town with 400 small operating tanneries showed large amounts of hexavalent chromium: 6,227.8 parts per million of hexavalent chromium in the soil. Such contamination poses a serious health risk if dust from dry areas is inhaled. 

In many cases, the pollution caused by tanneries to their surrounding environment was so severe that they were forced to close their doors. For example, in 2017, the Bangladeshi government moved to shut down over 100 chromium-using tanneries because they failed to treat the waste and dumped it instead directly into Dhaka’s main waterways. 

In brief, liquid and solid waste from leather tanneries contain toxic elements that could contaminate the environment and cause serious illnesses to workers and nearby residents. Improper handling of such effluent, which often happens in places lacking stringent regulations, leads to serious damage to local communities. 

How Sustainable Is the Transportation of Leather Fabrics

Transporting can be a carbon-intensive stage in the life-cycle of clothing items made with leather fabrics due to the distances covered and emissions associated with transporting vehicles. Leather fabrics typically travel from slaughterhouses, where animal skins are obtained, to processing and finishing factories, sorting centers, shops, and consumer’s houses before going to recycling centers or landfills. 

In the life-cycle of leather clothing items, transportation typically occurs as below: 

  • From slaughterhouses, where animal skins are obtained, to rawhide processing factories 
  • From rawhide processing factories to leather tanneries, where the tanning process happens 
  • From leather tanneries to leather finishing factories 
  • From leather finishing to sorting centers/physical shops 
  • From sorting centers/physical shops to the consumer’s house 
  • From the consumer’s house to the centers for recycling/ disposing of

Traveling Distances of Leather Fabrics Vary Depending on the Supply Chain

It is not uncommon for leather fabrics to have their supply chain spreading globally, meaning that animal slaughtering and skinning, rawhide processing, tanning, and finishing might happen in various towns, countries, or even continents. 

Here are some scenarios of transporting leather fabrics: 

  • Leather manufacturers can source raw hides from various countries, process them in a factory in China, tan the hides in Bangladesh, finish the leather fabrics in Spain, and sell leather products to US consumers.
  • Brazilian leather markers buy rawhides from cattle farmers in Brazil, process them in local tanneries and sell leather products to consumers in America. 
  • Italian leather makers source rawhides and turn them into leather locally before selling them to European shoe makers. Leather shoes are sold mostly to the European market. 
  • Manufacturers source rawhides from South Asia countries, process them in tanneries around India and sell the final leather products worldwide. 

You can reduce the transporting carbon footprint by choosing leather fabrics that travel shorter distances.

The Carbon Footprint of Transporting Leather Fabrics Depends Largely on the Vehicle of Transportation 

During its life-cycle, a piece of leather clothing can be transported using various types of vehicles, including: 

  • Large container ships 
  • Planes 
  • Freight trains 
  • Long-distance trucks 
  • Short-distance delivering vans 

And these various types of transportation vehicles have different carbon footprint impacts: 

For example, as a consumer, you can choose not to pick the fast delivery option when ordering leather clothing items and accessories to reduce the carbon footprint of your order. 

How Sustainable Is the Usage of Leather Fabrics

The usage of leather is generally sustainable because of its durability. Quality leather products can last a lifetime if they are taken care of. Cowhide leather’s durability is down to its strength, which is superior to that of leather alternatives (artificial, plant-based leather, or plant-plastic hybrid leather fabrics). 

Cowhide leather fabrics are generally durable. The lifespan of a leather product depends on several factors, including treatments of the hides, thickness of the hides, and the positions of the hides used. The most obvious indicator of leather’s durability is the so-called “grain.” 

Leather fabrics can be divided into four categories “grain-wise”

  • Full-grain leather is the strongest and most durable type of leather, coming from the hide’s top layer. This type of leather can last a lifetime (over 100 years in some cases). As a bonus, it ages very well. 
  • Top-grain leather is the second strongest type of leather, coming from the top layer of the hide with some imperfections that need sanding or hiding. Top grain is often used to make suede and nubuck, which could last decades. 
  • Corrected-grain leather is also called genuine, bottom-cut, or split-grain. As the names imply, this leather comes from the bottom layer of a hide. You can expect a genuine leather bag to last up to 10 years. 
  • Bonded leather is made by binding pieces of the hide left after making the other three types of leather using polyurethane or latex. Thus, bonded leather is referred to as recycled leather. It is less durable than full-grain or top-grain leather but could last 5 to 10 years. 

Because of the environmental impacts and animal cruelty in leather production, many leather alternatives have been made. However, the other options have yet to match the strength properties of cowhide leather. 

According to a review comparing cowhide leather with leather alternatives, full-grain and top-grain cowhide leather outperformed leather alternatives in all strength properties (tensile strength, tongue tear strength, and flex resistance). This indicates that cowhide leather would be more durable than leather alternatives surveyed in the study. 

Using long-lasting clothing items is generally more sustainable because you don’t need to replace them too frequently (thus, no need for more resources to make the new one). 

How Sustainable Is the End-of-Life of Leather Fabrics

The end-of-life stage for leather is generally not very sustainable because heavy use of chemicals in manufacturing hinder the biodegradability of this material. 

Many argue that leather is biodegradable because it is made of natural materials, which are animal skins. However, this statement is up for argument. 

While animal skins can definitely break down naturally in the process of decomposing, the tanning process is designed to stop this very nature. Thus, the biodegradability of leather depends on the tannins and other chemicals used in the production processes

Also, during the (very slow) process in which leather fabrics decompose in the landfills, all the many chemicals used to turn the rawhides into the finished leather fabrics also leach out into the environment. 

How Circular Are Products Made of Leather Fabrics

In the textile industry, a circular economy is designed to keep products and materials in use for as long as possible, especially through reusing and recycling. It also covers regenerating natural systems that support the industry and reducing polluted waste released into such systems.

“The circular economy is a systems solution framework that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution.”

Ellen MacArthur Foundation

As a whole, the textile industry is almost linear: 97% of the input is new resource.

There have been innovations moving towards circulation in the textile industry based on the “Closed-Loop Supply Chain.” This is a social system in which products and their components are designed, manufactured, used, and managed to circulate for as long as possible. 

How Can You Buy Leather Fabrics More Sustainably

Neither the USDA nor the European Commission’s organic certification agency certifies leather garments. However, there are some relevant environmental and original certificates available for this material and companies that sell leather products: 

  • OEKO-TEX® STANDARD 100: A label for textiles tested for harmful substances. 
  • Recycled Claim Standard (RCS): The Textile Exchange RCS was originally developed as an international, voluntary standard that sets requirements for third-party certification of Recycled input and chain of custody. (For bonded leather) 
  • The Global Recycled Standard (GRS): The Global Recycled Standard (GRS) is an international, voluntary, full product standard that sets requirements for third-party certification of Recycled Content, chain of custody, social and environmental practices, and chemical restrictions. It can be used for any product with more than 20% recycled material.(For bonded leather) 
  • Leather Working Group: This group assesses the environmental compliance of leather manufacturers, giving gold medal to tanneries. It is important to note that even then the welfare or traceability of the animals is not guaranteed. 
  • Rainforest Alliance: the frog logo indicates the production meets specific ethical and environmental criteria (Apply for the cattle farming that provide rawhides) 
  • Trase: This is an online tool developed by the Stockholm Environment Institute and Global Canopy that tracks supply chains against deforestation (Apply for the cattle farming that provide rawhides)
  • B Corp Certification: The label B Corp is a certification reserved for for-profit companies. Certified holders are assessed on their social and environmental impacts.
  • Cradle2Cradle certification: Cradle2Cradle provides a standardized approach to material circularity. It assesses whether products have been suitably designed and made with the circular economy in mind covering five critical categories: material health, material reuse, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness.

Where to Buy Sustainable Leather Fabrics 

We have established throughout the life-cycle assessment that leather fabrics are generally unsustainable, though not all leather fabrics are created equally and some processes in the industry are more sustainable than others. 

To help you navigate this water, for that reason, we compile for you a list of some of the most sustainable brands selling recycled leather fabrics (in alphabetic order)

Why Is It Important to Buy Products Made of More Sustainable Fabrics

It is important to buy products made of more sustainable fabrics because a sustainable textile industry has a lower carbon footprint, helps save natural resources, and is better for forests, animals, and humans. 

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Reduces Your Carbon Footprint 

The production of clothing and footwear is estimated to contribute 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than all international flights and shipping combined. If the fashion industry were a country, it would be the fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide

One way to reduce the carbon footprint of the clothes you buy is to opt for sustainable fabrics. Sustainable fabrics, which are often made with natural or recycled fibers, have relatively low carbon footprints compared to petroleum-based fabrics. For example, organic cotton made in the US has a carbon footprint of 2.35 kg CO2 (per ton of spun fiber) – a quarter of polyester’s carbon footprint. 

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Reduces Demand For Natural Resources and Waste Management

The textile industry uses water and land to grow cotton and other fibers. It is estimated that 79 billion cubic meters of water were used for the sector worldwide in 2015. For example, producing a single cotton t-shirt requires as much water as one person drinks for 2.5 years (2,700 liters of fresh water).

Worse yet, the textile economy is vastly more linear than circular: the largest amount of resources used in clothes ended up in landfill (instead of being recycled to remake clothes). According to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation,

  • Less than 3% of materials used in the textile economy in 2015 came from recycled sources.
  • In other words, more than 97% of resources used in making clothes are newly extracted. 

When clothing items are disposed of within a short period of time – under a year in the case of half of the fast fashion clothes – the natural systems that provide raw materials for fabrics don’t have enough time to recover and regenerate, which could lead to ecological breakdown. 

Sustainable fabrics are made with less water and emissions while lasting longer:

  • Because they are durable, you don’t need to buy new clothes too often. 
  • Thus, you help reduce the pressure to extract more resources for making new items. 

Similarly, making and consuming sustainable fabrics made with recycled materials reduces the demand for virgin materials while helping tackle waste management. 

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Sustainable Management of Forests

Sustainable plant-based fabrics are made with raw materials from forests and plantations that are sustainably managed, such as complying with FSC standards

When you buy sustainable plant-based fabrics, you discourage unsustainable forestry practices like illegal logging. You can help reduce deforestation, biodiversity loss, and the effect of climate change. 

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Fairer Treatment of Animals 

The fashion industry is rife with animal mistreatment when it comes to making animal-based fabrics like cashmere or leather. Every year, billions of animals suffer and die for clothing and accessories.

Buying sustainable vegan alternatives can help to reduce the pressure on raising more and more animals to meet the demand for animal-based fabrics while sacrificing their well-being and lives. 

Suppose you have to buy fabrics made with, for example, leather or wool; make sure you only choose brands committed to cruelty-free products. In that case, you help advocate better treatments for animals raised within the textile industry. 

Using Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Fairer Treatment of Textile Workers 

Recent statistics from UNICEF estimated as many as 170 million child labors worldwide, many of whom were engaged in some form of work in the textile industry. They don’t get paid minimum wages and often work long hours. 

When you buy sustainable fabrics from brands transparent about the working conditions at their factories, you discourage the use of child labor and help promote better working conditions for textile workers.

Final Thoughts

Leather fabrics are generally not sustainable. Manufacturing leather is energy and chemical-intensive and creates a lot of (toxic) waste. Also, animal skins, which are prized by the leather industry, could help subsidy high-impact animal farming activities. 

To make it sustainable, buy second-hand, recycled, or upcycled leather clothing items and accessories, use leather products for as long as possible, upcycle the material to extend its usage, and arrange for it to be recycled or properly disposed of.

Stay impactful,



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Quynh Nguyen

Quynh loves to research and write about how we can live more sustainably. Before joining Impactful Ninja, she managed communications at the social enterprise Fargreen. And when she's not writing, she likes to run in the woods, dig in the garden, or knit the next jumper.

Did you know that the internet is a huge polluter of the environment? But fortunately not this site. This site is powered by renewable energy and all hosting-related CO2 emissions are offset by three times as many renewable energy certificates. Find out all about it here.

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