Where does Leather come from?

Where does Leather come from? Newsletter 01/2019 from Cotance, The European Leather Association



NEWS 1/2019 - January 2019

Where does Leather come from?


‘Where does leather come from?’ is a great question to start 2019.

Over Christmas, my 16-year-old niece asked for a new jacket, to go to college. As you probably know that it is impossible to buy clothes for teenagers, so she was given the money to go and buy one. When I asked what kind of jacket, she said she would buy a synthetic one because, - and I quote - “poor animals” if she purchased a leather garment, referring to the animals which she thought were bred and killed for their skins or hides. The younger generation, who embrace the importance of recycling in their everyday life, somehow do not understand that leather is the oldest example of recycling on record.


So why does leather have such a negative image with the younger generation? What are we and our fashion partners not doing right? So, I opted to explain where leather comes from and to discuss with her the misconceptions or fallacies that I have heard so often. In short, I gave her a quick overview of how leather came to exist and why it remains relevant today.

  • It is one of the oldest crafts known to mankind. 170,000 years ago, our hominid ancestors used the skins of the animals they hunted to protect themselves from the weather, as totems or amulets, for rudimentary musical instruments and even to carry their belongings whilst they roamed the lands. They learned to prevent them from rotting by tanning them, and over the centuries, the use of tanned skins and hides has evolved into a well-respected industry. Tanneries are key in this recycling chain, converting a waste product of the meat industry into a valuable material that generates jobs and wealth, in particular for local economies.


  • Are furs also considered leather? No, but due to a lack of understanding, a lot of confusion arises.  Furs are not by-products of the food industry; fur animals are primarily farmed for their pelts.  Animal activist groups gain from this confusion and sometimes promote it. Sadly, misinformation is not something that we can control, and it is not unusual for consumers to believe that furs and leather are one and the same thing.

  • Are more animals bred and slaughtered due to the tanning industry? No. The tanning industry relies almost exclusively on the meat industry.. As a matter of fact, statistics show that as people in developing nations are becoming wealthier, they are eating more animal protein (meat) and thus there are more skins and hides produced.  With the exception of a small amount of exotic leather, all skins and hides processed in Europe come from the food industry.


  • Does the EU leather industry slaughter animals for their skin? No. Nearly 100 per cent of the skins and hides processed by European tanneries are by-products of the food industry.  If the tanning industry did not exist, the food industry would have to dispose of them. There are really just two alternatives for this, both highly polluting: landfill or incineration.  By making leather, these hides and skins are transformed into a highly versatile and natural product for fashion garments, footwear, upholstery and even safety garments for fire-fighters and race-drivers.



  • The tanning industry pollutes rivers, contaminates the atmosphere and is more dangerous to the environment than fossil fuel products, such as synthetic materials. Not true. In the past, as in most industries, concepts such as environmental protection or sustainability were not a business priority. Things have changed! Fortunately, greater awareness of the importance of environmental sustainability are now at the top of the agenda for most nations.  As for all industries, there is always room for improvement, but great steps in technology, knowledge-sharing, investment in R&D and strict environmental policies have aided tanneries in the EU to become world leaders in terms of eco-friendliness and sustainability.


  • There is a lot of media coverage regarding animal cruelty at abattoirs.  It is true that recently we have seen media coverage about animal abuse in different slaughterhouses throughout Europe. These unfortunate events are isolated incidents and strongly condemned by all the European Tanning associations, their members, COTANCE along with society at large. Throughout Europe, slaughterhouses are regulated and there are laws against cruelty to animals.  It is important to note that many tanneries put animal welfare at the forefront of their corporate sustainable philosophy.


Dear niece,

leather is a strong durable, versatile product which, thanks to sustainable tanning processes, can be transformed into jackets, bags and shoes…. Look around you.

After eating your roast beef for lunch, you are laying on a nice leather sofa that is 12 years old and still has a beautiful patina; the car you came in has leather upholstery…You recycle your soda cans, plastic bottles, paper, so why not take one step further and think also of making your contribution to the recycling of hides and skins? Why not get a leather jacket designed and made in Europe with European leather? If you look after it well, your jacket will last for many years to come and get better every time you wear it.

What do you think about leather now? 


edited by

in collaboration with


Copyright © 2019, COTANCE, All rights reserved.

Confederation of National Associations of Tanners and Dressers of the European Community

The European Leather Association

40, rue Washington, B-1050 Bruxelles, Belgium
Tel: 32 2 512 77 03

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