Leather is considered a high-quality natural material and a durable material for shoes, clothing and furniture. But the production of conventional leather is problematic – and the end products are often toxic. Vegetable tanned leather and organic leather are therefore the better choice. Leather has long ceased to be an innocent natural product – this fact has become increasingly popular in recent years thanks to various reports and tests. Today leather is largely made in low-wage Asian countries, raises animal welfare concerns and is all too often contaminated with toxic chemicals.
The ZDF report “Poison on our skin” impressively depicts shocking conditions and various problems in leather production. Anyone who has seen the documentary or has dealt with the topic in more detail will understand why we only use vegetable-tanned leather and organic leather (to a limited extent) can recommend.
Leather comes from dead animals
As is well known, real leather comes from animals – that is why it is not a harmless product per se. Leather is traditionally a waste product from the slaughter industry and can therefore be viewed as a sustainable use of an already existing raw material.
However, due to the high demand and low prices, not every processed animal hide is a by-product. And it is no secret that so-called farm animals are often kept under miserable conditions – and we are killed.
Conventional leather poisons the environment and workers inside
Leather production is now a toxic business: leather from industrial mass production is mostly tanned and treated with toxic chemicals. Most of the cheap leather comes from Asia – environmental and occupational safety standards are often weak in popular production countries such as Bangladesh or China or are hardly implemented effectively; the wages are mostly low. The tanning process alone can release enormous amounts of toxins: Today, so-called chromium III salts are usually used for tanning. As a result of chrome tanning, harmful salts and highly toxic dissolved heavy metals often find their way into the environment via the wastewater and also into the bodies of the poorly protected workers: inside.
Chromium III salts can also trigger allergies in the finished leather product in its wearer . Under certain conditions, the significantly more toxic chromium VI compounds can also form in leather; these have a high allergy potential and are considered carcinogenic.
Vegetable tanned leather is healthier
Actually, you don’t need any poison or chemicals to tan leather. However, vegetable tanning is a little more tedious and therefore more expensive than chemical tanning. Vegetable-tanned leather (also: vegetable-tanned leather) is treated with various tanning agents that are obtained from oak bark, rhubarb roots, mimosa bark, quebracho wood or tara pods, for example. This is significantly gentler on the environment and safer for consumers: inside, because the vegetable tanning does not leave any toxins in the finished leather product .
Real leather, organic leather: that’s behind it
Every leather product can be labeled with “Genuine Leather” – this term does not say anything about the type of production or quality. The term “organic leather” is not protected and is therefore not used uniformly. Some leather manufacturers simply refer to vegetable tanned leather as organic leather. Others go further in their production standards and design all the steps in leather production to be as environmentally friendly as possible.
The IVN (International Association of the Natural Textile Industry) has developed the strictest guidelines . For IVN-certified natural leather , for example, animal skins should only be processed as a by-product of meat production, the processing companies must thoroughly clean their waste water, chrome tanning is not permitted, dyes must be free of heavy metals and, if possible, vegetable. In addition, strict social standards must be adhered to in production. Only those who adhere to these guidelines in leather production are allowed to adorn themselves with IVN certification for natural leather. Raccoon is the only known organic leather dealer with an organic certificate: The leather of the own brand enna ** is certified according to Biokreis guidelines and comes from cattle from Mecklenburg Switzerland.
These manufacturers use vegetable tanned leather
Some companies only use vegetable-tanned leather for their leather products. These include shoe manufacturers such as Ekn Footwear and Veja . In our list of the best shoes you can find some other recommended shoe brands:
Also sustainable fashion manufacturers make sure to use as only vegetable tanned leather, organic leather or even regenerated leather for their clothing . Every now and then, waste from the leather industry is used, for example for the leather patches that are attached to many jeans. Recycled leather is even more environmentally friendly than vegetable tanned because no “new” leather has to be produced. You can find the corresponding fashion labels in many sustainable fashion shops – in your city or on the Internet.
If you are looking for a leather jacket or a leather couch, it is best to first take a look at flea markets, second-hand shops or used portals . Because when it comes to leather, buying second-hand is worthwhile : the material is extremely durable and robust and can therefore often be found used in good condition – for significantly less money. Anyone who buys second-hand leather products actively contributes to the fact that animals are protected and resources are conserved through fewer new production. Those who want to do without leather for ethical reasons can now find many alternatives. However, you should look carefully: artificial leather made from synthetic materials is not beneficial for the environment. More on this in the article: Vegan shoes: The most important tip, the best brands