how is leather made in a leather workshop

How Is Leather Made? The Eye-Opening Process From an Animal to Your Wardrobe

Leather is a unique and versatile material that has been used for centuries in a variety of applications. It can be made from the skin of many different animals, but the most common type is cowhide. Ok, but how is leather made? Read on, because we will take a closer look at how leather is made, from start to finish. We will also discuss the different types of leather, how animals are affected in the process, and potential vegan leather alternatives.

History of leather

The first recorded use of leather shows that the material has been used for more than 7,000 years. The first known tanning process was also developed in Egypt around this time. Leather quickly became a popular material due to its durability and water-resistant properties.

Leather continued to be used by many cultures for a variety of purposes. In the Middle Ages, it was used to make armor and shields. It was also commonly used for bookbinding and as a covering for furniture. During the Renaissance, leather became a popular material for clothing once again.

Today, leather is still widely used in a variety of applications. It is commonly used in clothing, shoes, bags, and other accessories. It is also used in upholstery, automotive interiors, and a variety of other products. Thanks to modern tanning processes, leather is now available in a wide range of colors and finishes. This makes it a popular material for many different fashion styles.

Which animals are used for leather?

Leather is a material made from the skin of an animal, which is why it is also referred to as “animal skin”.

The most common animals used for leather are cows, pigs, sheep, and goats. These animals are slaughtered for their meat, and their skin is used to produce leather. Other animals that are sometimes used for leather include deer, elk, buffalo, and even ostriches.

How is leather made?

Leather is made by tanning animal skin, which preserves the skin and makes it more durable. The process of tanning leather was discovered by accident when people noticed that the skin of certain animals did not decompose when left in the sun.

Here are the steps of how leather is made.

  1. The first step in making leather is to remove the hair from the skin by a process called liming. The skin is soaked in a lime solution for several days, which loosens the hair so it can be scraped off. This can be done with a chemical bath, mechanical abrasion, or a combination of both. 
  2. The skin is then soaked in a solution that breaks down the proteins in the skin, making it more pliable. 
  3. Next, the skin is tanned using either vegetable or chemical agents. Vegetable tanning uses materials like tree bark and leaves to tan the leather, while chemical tanning uses synthetics like chromium sulfate. The tannins in the oak bark help preserve the skin and give it strength.
  4. After the leather has been dyed, it is time to apply a finish. This step is important to protect the leather and give it a shine. Leather can be finished in many different ways, but the most common method is called hot stamping.

Different types of leather

There are many different types of leather, each with its unique properties. 

  • Full-grain leather is the highest quality type of leather, as it has not been sanded or buffed to remove imperfections. 
  • Top-grain leather is a step down from full-grain, as it has been sanded to remove imperfections. 
  • Corrected grain leather has been buffed and dyed to cover up any imperfections. 
  • Bonded leather is made from scraps of leather that have been glued together and is the lowest quality type of leather.

Animals used in the leather industry

The most common type of animal skin used in the leather industry is cowhide, but other animals like pigs, sheep, goats, and deer are also used. Some exotic animals like alligators, ostriches, and snakes are also used to make luxury items like purses and belts. Leather made from these animals usually costs more than cowhide leather. Here are the types of leather sorted by the animals they are made of:

  • The most common type of leather is cowhide. Cowhide is strong and durable, making it ideal for products that see a lot of wear and tear. It is also relatively inexpensive, making it a common choice for shoppers.
  • Another popular type of leather is lambskin. Lambskin is softer and more flexible than cowhide, making it more comfortable to wear. It is also less likely to show scratches and other signs of wear. Lambskin is more expensive than cowhide.
  • Deerskin is another type of leather that is becoming increasingly popular. Deerskin is similar to lambskin in terms of its softness and flexibility. Deerskin is also more expensive than cowhide and lambskin.
  • Finally, there is buffalo hide. Buffalo hide is the strongest and most durable type of leather. It is often used to make products that will see a lot of wear and tear, such as belts and wallets. However, buffalo hide is also the most expensive type of leather.

Why is leather controversial?

Leather is a controversial material because it requires the death of an animal. It is also a byproduct of the meat industry, and many animals are slaughtered for their meat without their skin being used.

Is it ethical to wear leather?

The process of turning animal skin into leather requires a lot of chemicals and water. These chemicals can be harmful to the environment, and they can also harm the workers who are exposed to them daily. The leather industry is also responsible for the deaths of millions of animals each year. Leather is not ethical for a variety of reasons. 

  • Firstly, the leather industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. It’s responsible for large amounts of water and air pollution, as well as greenhouse gas emissions. 
  • Secondly, the majority of leather comes from factory-farmed cows, who are subject to horrific conditions. They’re crammed into crowded, filthy pens, and they’re routinely given antibiotics and hormones. 
  • Thirdly, even so-called “vegetarian leather” is often made from the skin of calves or lambs who were slaughtered for their meat. So even if you don’t eat meat, your leather goods may well be contributing to the suffering of animals. 
  • Finally, leather is an environmentally unsustainable material. It takes years to break down, and it’s often treated with harmful chemicals. 

For all these reasons, leather is not an ethical choice. There are plenty of vegan alternatives available, so there’s no need to support the cruel and polluting leather industry.

See also: Veganism and the Environment + 3 Easy Ways to Help Our Planet

Is wearing leather vegan?

One of the main reasons vegans don’t wear leather is that the production of leather is extremely cruel to animals. Leather is made from the skin of cows or other animals, and the process of obtaining it is very inhumane. 

Cows are often kept in cramped, dirty conditions and are given hormones to make them grow larger so their skin will be more valuable. They’re also frequently transported in overcrowded trucks where they sometimes go without food or water for days. 

Once they arrive at the slaughterhouse, they’re hung upside down and their throats are slit open. All of this suffering is simply so we can have a pair of shoes or a belt.

Why do some vegans wear leather?

We know the answer to “How is leather made?” question now. But why do some vegans still wear it? Leather is made from animal skin, so it’s not vegan. However, some vegans do wear leather. They may have inherited a leather item or bought it at a second-hand shop. They believe that the animals have already died, so there is no harm in using their skin. 

Of course, not all vegans will be comfortable with the idea of wearing second-hand leather. Some may feel that it goes against their ethical beliefs. Others may simply not like the idea of wearing something that was once part of an animal.

Vegan alternatives to leather

Fortunately, there are now many cruelty-free options available that look and feel just like leather but are made from synthetic materials. These options are much more humane and environmentally friendly. If you’re looking for a cruelty-free alternative to leather, be sure to check out some of the great options that are available now.

Some of these alternatives include PVC, PU, microfiber, and nylon. These materials are often cheaper than leather and they are not derived from animals. However, some of these synthetic materials may not be as durable as leather and they may not age as well. 

Vegan leather is a great alternative to regular leather because it is environmentally friendly and does not use any animal products. There are many different types of vegan leather, so you can find one that suits your needs. Here are some of the most popular vegan leathers on the market:

  • Faux Leather: This type of vegan leather is made from polyurethane, which is a synthetic material. It is very durable and has a similar appearance to real leather.
  • Pleather: Pleather is made from PVC, which stands for polyvinyl chloride. It is a plastic material that looks and feels like real leather. However, it is not as durable as faux leather and can be damaged by heat or sunlight.
  • Recycled Leather: Recycled leather is made from recycled materials, such as post-consumer plastics or rubber. It is a sustainable option because it uses less energy and resources to produce than other types of vegan leather.
  • Vegan suede: Vegan suede is made from microfibers, which are tiny fibers that are woven together. It has a soft, velvety texture and can be dyed any color. However, it is not as durable as other types of vegan leather.

Why is vegan leather better than animal leather?

The trend of vegan leather is on the rise as more and more people are becoming conscious of the ethical and environmental implications of animal leather. Here are two reasons why vegan leather is a better choice than animal leather:

  1. Vegan leather is more environmentally friendly. The process of making animal leather is extremely harmful to the environment. To begin with, the raising of livestock for leather requires a large amount of land, water, and food. The tanning process itself also pollutes waterways with toxic chemicals.
  2. Vegan leather is more ethical. There is no doubt that the leather industry is cruel. Animals raised for leather are often kept in cramped and filthy conditions, and the process of tanning their skin is extremely labor-intensive.

See also: The 5 Worst Kept SECRETS About Farm Animal Welfare

Key takeaways

Understanding how leather is made, from start to finish, can give you a better understanding of the product and where it comes from. Hopefully, this article has filled in any gaps you might have had in your knowledge about this ancient material.

Overall, it’s clear that although leather is a very useful material, it certainly isn’t the most humane way to make clothing. Thankfully, with the continued rise of technology and creativity, there are vegan leather alternatives that are just as appealing as leather but without the ethical concerns attached to animal slaughter.

By learning more about the manufacturing process of animal hides, you can make an informed decision on why or why not to wear leather. It is a controversial material, with the animal agriculture industry being at the center of the debate for its impact on animals – and other humans. It’s a lot to digest, but by taking it all in and keeping an open mind, you stand to gain more from your resources and products in the future.



Petra profile image

Hi, I’m Petra and for most of my life, I was an omnivore. A vegan couple made me curious about veganism, so I did some research. What I found out about the animals, our planet, and the health benefits of a vegan diet made me go vegan overnight. It’s been 5 years now and it’s been one of the best decisions of my life.

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