10 Shocking Facts About Your Leather Bag


Shoppers Are Left In The Dark

child leather tannery worker skin in water

Leather is the most popular material in luxury bags, but most shoppers are left in the dark when it comes to the dark secrets of the industry. From environmental impact through to the cost to animals and human workers, there are many shocking truths.  Here are 10 of them:

1. Luxury means baby cows

chanel baby cow leather handbag

Baby calves, just like baby humans, have soft, supple skin. Luxury bag brands often see this as an opportunity to create soft bags. 

Bobby calves from the dairy industry, which is also the veal industry, are slaughtered and skinned for expensive bags. When there are not enough bobby calves, such as in the European market, some calves are raised specifically for their skins, indoors.


2. Leather is the least eco friendly

The Global Fashion Agenda found that leather is the most environmentally impactful material to produce from cradle to gate. 

Graph of environmental impact of fashion materials

This is because for cows to be farmed, land must be cleared for them to live on, as well as for their feed to grow on. In fact, the majority of the Amazon clearing is due to cattle farming. Cows produce an enormous amount of greenhouse gasses, too, at a time we can least afford it!


3. Leather doesn't biodegrade

a non biodegraded leather shoe from thousands of years ago

For skin to become leather, it goes through a tanning process which specifically makes sure that material will not easily degrade. In short, leather tanning makes an organic material inorganic. The oldest shoe in the world has been found, intact, from 5,500 years ago. The leather is still in intact, and has not biodegraded.


4. Cows are smarter than we knew

Cows are intelligent, feeling beings. They are curious and get excited when they learn something new, just like we do!

5. Tanning leather is often deadly

The vast majority of leather is chrome tanned, and almost all luxury leather bags are produced in this way.

cow skin leather tannery child labour

This sort of chemical heavy leather tanning means tannery workers are exposed to human carcinogens which have been linked to increased risks of different forms of cancer, and other health risks.

In Bangladesh, where the tanning of leather is a large industry for the country, 90% of tannery workers die before they turn 50 years old.

6. Most luxury bags aren't made ethically

If we are paying a high price for a luxury bag, it should only make sense that those who create it are paid well for their high standard of work. However, this is often not the case.

Many luxury brands that produce leather bags, including Versace, Dolce and Gabbana and Amarni, have been found to pay those people sewing and creating their products poorly

vegan fashion designer with luxury vegan handbags

Kinds of Grace bags are produced ethically near Hong Kong, where designer Grace was born, without sweatshops. 

7. Leather bags are thirsty!

leather unsustainable water scarcity graph

Producing bags made from leather is extremely water intensive. In the not so far future, half the world may not have access to clean drinking water, so we ought to be treating this resource more preciously. 

8. Synthetic is more eco-friendly

Polyurethane, the most common synthetic alternative material to leather, is far less environmentally impactful than leather - producing far less greenhouse gas emissions, less energy and pollutants, and requiring less water. 

orange colourful luxury vegan handbag

A Kind’s of Grace bag made with the more eco-friendly alternative to leather, polyurethane. Other bags from the collection are made from Piñatex, a sustainable pineapple leather.

9. Leather production is bad for mental health

Of course for us to buy leather goods, animals must be slaughtered. Our society generally enjoys pets and connecting with animals, so to slaughter animals is not a job people choose, but turn to when they have little other options. 

cuddling rescue cows vegan sanctuary

In the United States, the third largest producer of cow skins, studies have shown that slaughterhouse workers experience a higher prevalence of serious psychological distress than the rest of the population. Other studies have also linked working at a slaughterhouse to perpetration-induced traumatic stress and other mental health concerns. 

10. Vegan bags look identical

exotic faux crocodile skin luxury vegan handbags

An animal-free Kind’s of Grace bag, and an animal skin bag.

Knowing all of this, it seems like an animal free bag is the better option! But if you’re worried about compromising on quality, fear not. A luxury vegan bag is just as beautiful, if not more so, than a luxury leather bag – and there are plenty of options. 


Author credit - many thanks to vegan model and founder of Willow Creative Co, Emma Hakansson for authoring this piece.  Emma is on Instagram @hakamme