Demand for Cruelty-Free, Sustainable Materials Pushes Leather Industry to All-Time Low

The leather industry is experiencing an all-time low as more consumers than ever before are turning to animal-free leather alternatives, BloombergQuint reports.

More shoppers are actively avoiding purchasing products made with leather and fur due to concern for animal and environmental welfare. Jocelyn Thorton, senior vice president of creative services at the retail and fashion advisory firm Doneger Group, said younger consumers prefer sneakers and ethically made, environmentally-friendly vegan leather footwear to traditional leather dress shoes.

Historically, shoemakers account for 55 percent of leather buyers in the U.S. However, the industry has been suffering in recent years. A recent monthly report from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), even stated that hide prices have dropped as much as 24 percent from the previous year. The shoe industry is not buying as much leather as it once did, leading to what has been called a “glut of hides.”

“The industry has struggled to recover,” said Stephen Sothmann, president of the U.S. Hide, Skin & Leather Association.  “We haven’t regained market share.”

Leather Industry Struggles to Recover as Demand for Vegan Shoes Climbs

Brands that have traditionally depended on leather for their products are now debuting animal-free alternatives made from new materials. Earlier this year, luxury men’s fashion brand Hugo Boss launched “BOSS,” a vegan shoe line made from pineapple leather. Other unique, sustainable plant-based leather materials brands are experimenting with include mushroom leather, apple leather, and coconut water leather, created by Malai.

“Nobody thinks of the harm done to the environment and the number of animals that are slaughtered in the process. It’s high time that eco-friendly substitute for leather is introduced to the market,” said Malai product designer Susmith Suseelan.

After a well-received launch of its first, award-winning vegan shoe range, popular shoe brand Birkenstock announced that it would release more vegan leather sandals and shoes. Brands like Beyond Skin, NicoraNative Shoes, and others that make exclusively vegan shoes also cater to the rising demand.

In addition to the drop in demand for leather shoes, the article notes that both apparel and car companies are also looking to use less leather. Recently, Tesla CEO Elon Musk hinted that future Tesla model cars may be completely vegan.

Image Credit: Nicora