What Leather Really Looks Like

The gross and gruesome reality behind shiny new leather shoes...

Leather looks nothing like a cow does. So how does an animal like Storm’s skin become a boot? Here’s a look into just some of the processes.

A calf called Storm at Liberation Sanctuary and calf skin boot First photo: Georgi Giles / Liberation Sanctuary

1 Breeding

Cows are forcibly impregnated by having semen forced into their vagina. The semen is extracted from a restrained bull who has a probe forced into his anus during ‘electro-ejaculation’.

Agriculture Western Australia
Dairy Australia

2 Birth

A baby cow is born into the world. Completely innocent, he or she has no idea what lies ahead…

3 Painful Standard Practices

Sharp and painful tools used to mutilate cows.

Cows are regularly, legally and painfully mutilated on farms. Before horns which naturally grow out of many cows get too large, and risk damaging the quality of the skins for sale later on, they are removed.

Budding horns are removed with different sorts of knives, as well as with a heated cautery iron.

Future Beef 
Agriculture Victoria

3 Transport

Photo: Animal Liberation Victoria

When cows are the weight and age at which farmers choose to kill them, they are forced onto trucks where they are cramped together for hours until they arrive at an abattoir. Cows are denied food and water before their travel to make them easier to move.

4 Stunning

A cow looks in fear at a captive-bolt gun.Photo: Tras los Muros

Cows in Australia and many parts of the world must legally be shot in the head with a captive-bolt gun or another weapon before they are bled out.

5 Slaughter

Photo: L214

Cows are then bled out, their throats slit open.

6 Skinning

Photo: Ammit Jack

The dead bodies of cows are skinned before they are further processed and dismembered.

Their flesh is used for meat, their skin is used for leather. Their bones and other body parts will be used for other products and ingredients like gelatine and tallow. Each body part sells for a profit.

7 Skins are sent for processing

Dead cow skins at a tannery in Victoria, AustraliaPhoto: Animals Uncovered

8 Fleshing

Fat, flesh and grease are removed from the skin.

These fatty materials are sold to the cosmetics industry for use in make-up. 

9 Liming

This process is possibly the most important in allowing people to disconnect from the reality that leather is skin: the removal of a cow’s fur from their skin.

10 Tanning processes

There are many processes involved in tanning raw hides into leather. The most common way of tanning leather is with chromium, among with many other toxic chemicals. Chromium chemicals leave the skins blue.

Many of these chemicals have all been found to be human carcinogens. These chemicals combined have been linked to increased risks of lung, nasal, and sinus cancer, leukaemia, severe dermatitis, liver abnormalities, skin lesions, cardiovascular diseases and increased deaths in young adults.

US National Library of Medicine

Photo: Larry C. Price published by the Pulitzer Centre

When tanning leather, workers are exposed to these chemicals and their health suffers. Due to heavy water pollution, communities surrounding tanneries are put at risk, too.

In Bangladesh for example, where the tanning of leather is of great economic value, 90% of tannery workers die before the age of 50.

There is very little transparency regarding where leather is tanned.

Pulitzer Centre
The Guardian

11 Finishing and dying

Skins that are dyed to be brown and black can seem natural in their colour, but they are not.

Many processes are involved in finishing leather after the ‘wet blue’ post-tanning stage. These include sammying to remove water content, splitting and shaving the skins to the desired thickness and retannage, where skins are greased and dyed with more chemicals. Finally, the skins are pressed, ironed and treated with primers and colour settings.

When you see what it really is, leather doesn’t look so desirable.

Luckily, there are plenty of materials you can wear instead of an animal’s skin! 

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