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March 05, 2020


Human beings have been using leather since Palaeolithic times. Skins that protected animals have been used down through the centuries to provide humans with protection from the weather in the form of a second skin. It is hard to imagine how we could have survived freezing winter conditions without the protection of animal hides. As human civilization became more sophisticated so did the techniques for the preparation of leather and more and more uses were found for this incredibly versatile material. The characteristics of leather make it particularly suitable for the construction of footwear. It can be cut and shaped with comparative ease, it is light, strong and supple and most importantly, it breathes. Despite developments in synthetic materials and the subsequent popularity of sports shoes, leather shoes remain popular because of their comfort and durability. Shoe production accounts for 52% of the world’s leather goods market, which produces an enormous variety of footwear ranging from the flimsiest of sandals through to the most substantial of boots. Cheaper products are made from ‘bonded leather’ whilst more expensive items use Full Grain or Top Grain leather. 

Leather gloves were worn as sign of social standing, a signal that the person wearing them was too sophisticated to risk contamination from the world of ordinary people served both functions. Poor people used the skins of rabbits or deer to create warm winter gloves, leaving the skin on the inside for additional warmth, whilst the rich demonstrated their wealth and taste by wearing finely made gloves of the softest and thinnest leather. Those two functions of the glove, utility, and fashion, remain with us today. In order to reduce costs, post-war car manufacturers used vinyl for car interiors. It had the superficial appearance of leather and was easy to maintain. Vinyl, however, does not breathe, it sticks to bare skin and in hot conditions it causes the person in contact with it to perspire. Leather is much more comfortable and much more durable material to use for car seating. Recent years have seen an increase in the demand for the type of leather car seats which were once only found in the top end of the luxury car market. As leather is a natural product, it is important to preserve and condition it. 

However, vegans and vegetarians may wish to avoid leather products and opt for a “vegan” leather instead. Although the term “vegan leather” implies an eco-friendly alternative, it should be noted that some vegan leathers can cause more danger to the environment than real leather. Vegan leather sure is kinder to animals, it can still be dangerous to humans. Some types of faux leather make use of petroleum-derived materials. These can include polyvinyl chloride (PVC) that are harmful since it contains chlorine that also is bad for the planet as it causes pollution. Besides chlorine, PVC also contains toxic additives such as lead. When choosing vegan leather always make sure it’s good for the environment, and will degrade into soil easily.