cows, pigs, sheep, and goats are slaughtered for their skin every year. They
are castrated, branded, and dehorned and have their tails docked—all without
anesthetics. Then they are trucked to slaughter, bled to death, and skinned. Leather is not simply a slaughterhouse
byproduct—it's a booming industry. The meat industry relies on skin sales to
stay in business because the skin represents the most economically important
byproduct of the meat-packing industry, according to the U.S. Department of
Animal skin is turned into finished leather through the use of dangerous
mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, cyanide-based oils and dyes,
chrome, and other toxins.
People who have worked in and lived near tanneries are dying of cancer caused
by exposure to toxic chemicals used to process and dye the leather. A study
conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that a
solvent used in tanning leather appears to be associated with an increased risk
of testicular cancer.
When you buy leather products, you may be purchasing leather from Asian dog and
cat tanneries; because product labeling rarely indicates where the skins
originate, there's no way to know for sure.
Shearing sheep involves more than just a haircut.
Sheep need the wool that they naturally produce to protect themselves from
Because shearers are usually paid by volume rather than by the hour, they often
work too fast and disregard the animals' welfare. Sheep are routinely punched,
kicked, and cut during the shearing process.
Much of the world's wool comes from Australia, where tens of millions of sheep
each year undergo "mulesing," a gruesome procedure in which shears
are used to cut dinner-plate-sized chunks of skin and flesh from the backsides
of live animals—often without anesthetics.
Millions of sheep raised for wool in Australia are shipped to the Middle East
and North Africa for slaughter. These animals are placed on extremely crowded,
disease-ridden ships with little access to food or water for weeks. During
their grueling journeys, they suffer through weather extremes, and temperatures
on the ships can exceed 100°F. Many fall ill when they become stuck in feces
and are unable to move, and many others are smothered or trampled to death by
Intensive sheep farming, especially in Australia, is responsible for the
degradation of natural waterways and land habitats and for the emission of
greenhouse gasses, such as methane, into the atmosphere.
When you buy wool products, it is likely that you are buying wool from sheep
who were raised in Australia, and because most wool is routed through China for
processing, product labeling rarely indicates where the wool originated.
Silk is the
fiber that silkworms weave to make cocoons. To obtain silk, worms are steamed
or gassed alive in their cocoons by manufacturers.
Humane alternatives to silk include nylon, milkweed seed-pod fibers,
silk-cotton tree and ceiba tree filaments, and rayon.
is used to fill some comforters, pillows, parkas, and other products—is the soft layer of feathers closest to birds' skin.
Down is plucked from geese and ducks either while they are alive or after
slaughter. Many geese used for down are held down by workers who tear out the
birds' feathers while the animals shriek in pain and terror. This process is
repeated multiple times throughout the birds' lives. Birds are often plucked so
hard that their skin rips open, leaving gaping wounds that workers crudely
stitch back together in the same unsterile environment in which the birds were
plucked. All this is done without any anesthetics. "Live plucking of
geese or ducks can never be done humanely," writes bird welfare
expert Dr. Laurie Siperstein-Cook,
Many of the
birds who are used for down are also used for foie gras (French for "fatty
liver"). Foie gras is produced by cramming a tube down birds' throats and
force-feeding them until their livers become diseased and swell to up to 10
times their normal size.
Down is expensive and loses its insulating ability when wet. The
insulating capabilities of cruelty-free synthetic fillers such as PrimaLoft and Thinsulate persist in all weather conditions.
you're trying on pleather pumps at Payless or digging through Nordstrom's racks
for faux shearling, synthetic alternatives are easy to find and often clearly
labeled. Forget about out-of-the-way specialty shops. From discount department
stores such as Target and T.J. Maxx to hip boutiques such as Diesel and Paul
Frank and everything in between (think Linens 'n Things, JCPenney, and even
Victoria's Secret), mainstream stores have become a mecca for compassionate
Here are some general tips when shopping for
alternatives to the following:
shoe tongues, on tags, and on the insides of belts and bags for fake leather
buzzwords such as "manmade leather," "all-manmade
materials," "pleather," and "synthetic." No label or
unsure? Ask a salesperson if it is "real" leather. Finally, the price
may clue you in. Typically, synthetic leather sells at a fraction of the price
of real leather!
Hint: You'll find a continually changing stock of synthetic shoes if you drop
into shoe warehouses and designer discount stores such as Off Broadway Shoes,
DSW, and Marshalls. It is just as easy to steer clear of skins at upscale
department stores such as Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue, with most trendy and
high-end lines, including Chinese Laundry, Kenneth Cole, Nine West, and Kate
Spade, featuring pleather footwear and accessories.
for wool hiding in pants and suits (read labels!), and take a pass on pashmina,
angora, cashmere, shearling, camel hair, and mohair too—all made from animals.
Instead, look for snuggly warm synthetic fabrics such as polyester fleece,
acrylic, and cotton flannel—they wash easily, keep their bright colors, cost
less, and don't contribute to cruelty.
Heavy, bulky wool can't hold a candle to revolutionary new fabrics such as GORE-TEX, Polartec Wind Pro,
Thermolite, and Thinsulate. Polartec Wind Pro is made primarily from
recycled plastic soda bottles and has four times the wind resistance of wool.
It also wicks away moisture and is available at Patagonia and other outdoor
natural fabric made from wood pulp, is a breathable, durable, and biodegradable
alternative to wool for men's and women's dress suits. If you're looking for a
suit, start shopping in the spring, when summer suits made from cotton,
viscose, and other lighter materials are available from retailers such as 99X,
TravelSmith, Pangea, and others.
For nonwool tuxedos, try eTuxedo.com or CheapTux.com.
alternatives to silk ties and other silk items—including fabrics such as nylon,
polyester, rayon, Tencel, milkweed seed-pod fibers, and even silk-cotton tree
and ceiba tree filaments—online and in stores for a fraction of the price of
sleeping bags, comforters, pillows, and more can be found virtually anywhere,
including at Eddie Bauer, The Company Store, and Bed Bath & Beyond. Read
labels and look for the words "synthetic down," "down
alternative," or "polyester fill." Also look for items made from
high-tech fabrics such as PrimaLoft or
of which are soft, washable, downlike materials that are often used in coats,
gloves, and comforters and that stay warm even when wet (unlike down).
Forget about fur
accessories and coats with fur collars
and fur trim. Again, read labels to weed out cruelly produced products.
Cruelty-free faux furs made of plush, modern synthetics are becoming easier and
easier to find. Fabulous Furs sells elegant, stylish coats that are completely
faux. Many other designers and manufacturers—including Charly Calder, Faux,
Purrfect Fur, and Sweet Herb—specialize in fabulous faux furs as well.
Buying cruelty-free shoes, belts, wallets, bags, sweaters, and jackets has
never been easier. This guide is divided into the following sections:
• Vegan Companies • Leather and Fur Alternatives • Search by Product Type • Animal-Friendly Companies Wanted
Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights? Read more.