What "leather as a byproduct of the meat industry" means and why it's important
"Ethically-sourced," "responsibly-produced," "sustainable" – it can all get a little confusing, right? You want to purchase products that are good for the people creating them and good for the environment, but it can feel so intimidating when you don't have the information needed to make a decision. We're here to help bridge the gap and be as transparent as possible when it comes to our process and our products.
All ABLE leather is a byproduct of the meat industry – but what does that mean? How does it impact the makers, the environment, and your decision to purchase?
Let's talk about it.
Leather as a 'byproduct of the meat industry' means that the cattle was raised for meat, and the leather comes from the hides that would otherwise go to waste. Many cattle ranchers choose to sell their animal hides for an additional profit, rather than burning them or throwing them out.
While animal agriculture is an environmental issue, contributing 18% of worldwide emissions, it exists outside of leather consumption. As long as there is an industry for meat, there is an industry for leather. The hides must go somewhere.
When ABLE introduced leather goods in 2013, we saw the leather industry as an opportunity to provide jobs for women. Our manufacturers work with tanneries who use byproduct materials and have a closed-water recycling system to create an eco-friendly opportunity for women to create beautiful, quality products, work in a safe and dignified environment, and earn a living wage.
But what about vegan leather?
Vegan leather isn't necessarily more sustainable. First, as we've already mentioned, if animal hides aren't used for leather goods, they become an environmental liability. Second, vegan leather often uses synthetic materials (like polyurethane leather, made from petroleum) that are harmful to the planet.
While we are keeping an eye out for impressive advancements in the alternative leather industry, we remain confident that our leather production as a byproduct of the meat industry is the best opportunity for us to empower women, care for the environment, and move fashion forward.
Where your leather is made, and who makes it, matters.
The majority of ABLE leather is produced in Ethiopia. According to All Africa, 2.5% of the entire world’s livestock production is in Ethiopia. Every year, it produces 5 million tons (!!) of hides. The developing economy, accessibility to high-quality, raw materials, and employment opportunity for women make Ethiopia a prime spot for ABLE leather production. The fact that we were already working with women in Ethiopia made for an obvious and seamless transition into leather.
We choose to work with entrepreneurs already doing businesses in their local communities who understand and are deeply connected to their cultures. By choosing to use hides that exist as a result of Ethiopia’s meat industry, not only are we reducing waste and minimizing pollution, but we are creating jobs that help our partners’ local economy flourish.
So what does this all mean for you?
ABLE Leather Director, Krista Alexander, sums it up succinctly: “If you don’t think about where your things come from, you will never make a change.”
We're doing our part to empower women around the globe, create quality products, care for the environment, and move fashion forward – but we can't do it without you. In an industry that often cuts corners, wages, and dignity, consumer demand is truly what brings real change.
Ask the tough questions. Our favorite question to ask? What is the lowest wage your factory workers earn? (Did you know 98% of factory workers don't earn enough to meet their basic needs?)
Vote with your dollars. When you're able to make an informed decision, choose to shop and support brands who are doing work you're proud to partner with.
You have the power to create meaningful impact and cause a ripple-effect of change that effects generations. We know it can feel overwhelming, but start where you are. Start with leather.
*This post was edited on 11/02/2021 for updates and accuracy.