Animal skin has been an essential resource for humanity throughout history not as an aesthetic choice. Animal skin was used for many purposes from clothing to shelter and tools, and the skin was harvested as a part of the long and natural process of finding and making food. The use of animal skin was a nose-to-tail process as we know it today, and was stewarded by our Earth’s ancestors.
The Indigenous, nose-to-tail perspective Indigenous cultures across the globe have a rich history of harvesting animal skin in a respectful and sustainable manner. In Australia, Aboriginal Australians would skin kangaroos from their hunt to use in their daily life and cultural practices. The products left over after removing the kangaroo meat (for eating) are used with care. According to some sources, the teeth were used to make needles, the sinew from the tail used as thread and of course the skins used to make cloaks for wearing. The cloaks included design or decorative incisions on the inside to represent the wearer and protected them from the cold, rain, wind and potentially predators who would hunt them in the bush. These cloaks were so important that people were buried in their cloaks at the end of their life. These practices are deeply rooted in tradition, reflecting a profound reverence for the animals and the land. Indigenous culture is famous for its ability to use every part of the animal they hunted, minimizing waste and emphasizing the spiritual and practical importance of the animals to their communities. Never taking more than they need and never leaving anything to waste was the best way to meet their needs, protect country and honour the animal’s life.
More than Kangaroo hide, different agricultural animals provide diverse types of skin, each with unique qualities and applications:
The skin of cattle is one of the most commonly used types of animal skin. It is thick, durable, and suitable for a wide range of products, including leather jackets, belts, and upholstery. Pigskin is known for its flexibility and suppleness. It is often used in making gloves, footballs, and fine leather accessories. Goatskin is prized for its softness and strength. It's used in crafting high-quality gloves, bags, and musical instrument covers. Sheepskin is another widely known skin, prized for its natural insulation and softness. It is commonly used for making cozy slippers, rugs, and car seat covers. Some animals, like alligators and snakes, provide exotic skins that are used in the luxury fashion industry for high-end accessories and apparel, too.
Unfortunately, as the demand for animal skin has risen, so has agricultural production, and for all the wrong reasons. The more popular animal skins including furs like mink, coyote (in America), leather like reptile skin, pig skin and hide like sheep hide, the more animals are bred to meet the demand. As Animals Australia says, the leather industry is not a by-product. Skin harvesting can have devastating consequences on the environment and the animal, where profit matters over keeping animals and the planet safe and happy. Animals are overbred, suffer terrible conditions and illness and injury. There’s even been incidents of diseases and sicknesses being transmitted to humans wearing suffering animal skins. Bad conditions are bad for the animal, planet and humans.
Does this mean you have to give up your favourite leather or fur products? Not if you don’t want to. If you’re willing to, looking for sustainable brands who care for their animals and consider the ethical implications of their business. To look out for an ethical brand, consider:
Check for Certifications
Look for certifications and labels that indicate ethical sourcing and animal welfare. Examples include "Cruelty-Free," "Sustainable Leather," or certifications from reputable organisations such as the Leather Working Group (LWG).
Research the Brand
Investigate the brand or company that sells the product. Ethical companies often provide information on their website about their commitment to animal welfare and sustainable practices. They may also disclose their sources and production methods.
Don't hesitate to reach out to the retailer or manufacturer to ask questions about their sourcing and production methods. Ethical companies are generally open to answering inquiries and providing details.
Ethical practices sometimes involve sourcing animal skin locally, reducing the carbon footprint associated with transportation and supporting local communities.
Review Independent Assessments
Read reviews and reports from third-party organisations, consumer groups, or ethical fashion advocates. These sources may provide insights into a company's ethical practices.