Exotics    PurseBlog Asks

Where Do You Draw the Line On Exotic Leathers?

As another brand bans the use of exotic animal skins, I’m left wondering how other fashion enthusiasts really feel about it all.

Last week Burberry announced its decision to ban the use of exotic leathers.

This decision puts it on a growing list of brands that have halted the practice altogether and instead opted to take a more environmentally-sensitive approach to business.

While conservationists welcomed the news, others who either work in the exotic leather trade or who simply enjoy the option to own the materials are facing a future where there might not be much of it.

After reading a few different features around the web, I wondered where we all really draw the line when it comes to the use of exotic leathers.

The use of exotic leather will always be a hot topic amongst fashion enthusiasts, but it’s clear that the conversation isn’t strictly a black and white one.

When deciding where to stand on the exotic leather debate, we must keep in mind that there’s a spectrum of what we’re all comfortable with and what we are willing to accept. I also think there are tons of factors that purse lovers other than ourselves might take into consideration when deciding if they’re pro or anti-exotics (or animal skin in general.)

Funnily enough, I like to compare it to how not all vegetarians are vegans, and pescetarians can make an exception for fish. We still lump them all together as alternative diets, but the intent behind why someone adheres to one or the other may be for an entirely different reason than the next. Let’s think for a moment about a few common factors that may influence one’s comfortability (or lack thereof) with buying exotic leathers:

1. Conservation Efforts

Many who disagree with the use of exotic skins cite untraceable sourcing and biodiversity concerns as their reason for disapproval.

I think we can all agree that cruelty and endangerment of animals and their habitats are a total no-go; however, the argument could be made that some of our favorite fashion houses do work with leather producers whose products are traceable, ethically sourced, and come as a result of successful conservation efforts.

Louis Vuitton actually sources its crocodile skin from crocodile farms in Kenya. They were created to lessen the occurrences of man vs. croc conflict over fresh water and to help residents create a croc population that is both sustainable and more manageable. And I guess we can’t blame them for that.

2. Cultural Factors

I’ve found that cultural attitudes towards some or certain animals play a big role in whether someone is for or against exotics. Human-animal relationships are complex and often vary widely around the globe.

In some places, the utility of animals is deemed to be more important than their cuddliness or coolness. In others, the belief that humans have a divine dominion over animals makes us responsible for their well-being, and it’s our job to minimize harm to them.

In the western world, it seems we reserve most of our concerns for animals that are cute, endangered, or what we see as sentient beings that are capable of expressing feelings. Anything outside of those categories is often seen as fair game.

3. Circumstances

Circumstances are different for everyone, so sometimes exotic animal textiles simply might be the best option.

The now mostly forbidden use of fur is typically considered a good thing, but it might still be necessary for some.

I may not be too excited about Finland’s ongoing fur production, but I also can’t imagine needing to stay warm while living near the arctic circle.

4. Wastefulness

Whether or not the livestock is consumed in its entirety is also a factor for some. Using animals purely for their skin whilst disregarding the rest of it is seen as rather careless.

My personal rule is that I wouldn’t wear anything I wouldn’t also eat the meat of, but then again…I’ve got a very diverse palette.

But what about you all? Where do you draw the line on the use of exotic skins? Are you ok with some but not others? What factors led you to be either for or against their use?


Leave a Comment

  1. lalarey Avatar

    I am just going to completely broadcast my ignorance here, but what is the reason for the decision to stop using exotics when you’re still using leather? I don’t understand the nuances enough to get the difference. Full disclosure, I am neither a vegetarian nor do I forego the occasional fur item in my wardrobe, but I understand people who don’t want to wear or eat animal products, and I also understand people who only want to consume animal products when they feel assured that the producers treat the animals “reasonably” well. So, my question is, are reptiles treated any worse than cows? Also, it is my understanding that alligators and crocodiles are not endangered. Am I wrong about this?

    1. Stewart Avatar

      Cos brain washed people who support “Green” party, and they believe their own con philosophy which will make our life poor and difficult.

    2. Lynn Avatar

      I agree, I don’t see much of a difference between people considering it as okay to kill animals for non-exotic leather versus exotic materials. Sometimes people say that a lot of the cow’s leather that is sold is a “byproduct” of the meat industry (as I justified it to myself after I stopped eating meat or dairy but continued to buy leather), but even as a “byproduct”, I learned that the animal skin increases the value of the killed animal overall. So even buying non-exotic leather items is supporting the animal agriculture industry.
      If we consumers refuse to buy animal products, then the industry will accommodate and make more ethical products for us.

  2. Klara Avatar

    If it is the artistic quality that draws people to exotic materials, I can understand, because it is intrinsic and subjective – something we may disagree but not to deny. If it is the financial value driving the demand, I don’t participate. Simply because I don’t see purses as investment.

  3. psny15 Avatar

    If we use leather especially calf skin why can’t we use exotics? Excuse my ignorance

    1. Zoe Avatar

      cowhide leather is a byproduct. exotic leather comes from animals that are raised only for their skin 🙂

      1. psny15 Avatar

        That’s untrue – luxury houses don’t wait for cows to grow old and use their bad skin – calf leather is the same as crocodile 😉

      2. Lynn Avatar

        Cowhide leather is often described as a “byproduct” (perhaps to justify its use), but the skin increases the overall value of the animal, so you’re still supporting animal agriculture & are complicit in killing of these animals when you buy it. As a culture let’s please move away from animal use & abuse.

  4. Sally Avatar

    I feel that crocodiles and alligators are treated better after it came to light the inhumane way they were killed. Furthermore, Jane Birkin was going to withdraw her name being used until changes were made, which apparently they were.

    With all that being said I draw the line at purchasing either exotic skin, not because of the price, since I had the opportunity to purchase, but for other personal reasons.

  5. C L Avatar
    C L

    IMO the true value of phasing out exotic skin usage is to incrementally shift cultural norms towards a more humane and sustainable direction. Can we lay eyes on a beautiful animal with pretty plumage, soft hides, or thick fur, and collectively agree that the highest form of appreciation would be to support their being alive and well in their home environment — instead of, say, “I want to make a purse out of it”? 

    We’re not far removed from when leopard skin rugs and elephant leg umbrella stands were acceptable status symbols and souvenirs for upper crust explorers. But we’d be disgusted by newly hunted trophies in that vein because norms around natural conversation have changed greatly.

    I eat meat, I drive my SUV to places reachable by public transit, I adore overpriced leather bags. I love the look of exotic leather products, particularly alligator and lizard. If I’m being honest, my barrier to acquiring exotic bags is that they’re prohibitively expensive, not that it’s “wrong” per se. I would never buy a mink coat; I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a calfskin bag; exotics fall somewhere in between those two extremes for me. But trends and attitudes change quickly and I wouldn’t be surprised if the it-girls of 2050 are eschewing croc Birkins and joining wait lists for Mars rocks minaudieres and seaweed fiber fanny packs or something. 

    1. C L Avatar
      C L

      *natural conservation, whoops. All that is my long winded way of saying that while I love the look of certain exotic skins, I would think twice about dropping a ton of money on an alligator bag that I’d feel iffy owning and carrying in public, particularly in eco-conscious communities like the SF Bay Area and elsewhere. That’s the power of incremental norm evolution for ya!

      1. Laura S Avatar
        Laura S

        If you like alligator leather, and enjoy challenging social norms, then carrying a bag made of American alligator in the SF Bay Area is a great idea. Unfortunately, California is under the sway of PETA who, though admirable in their goal of being completely nondependent on animals, is unrealistic and not entirely ethical in their communication methods.

        If you like, you can check out my other, longer post about this above, but suffice to say making alligator skins a well-regulated source of profit has not only brought them back to thriving from near extinction 50 years ago, but also protects their natural wetlands environment. This in turn helps protect everything else that lives in these environments, and also helps protect the Earth at large, because wetlands are, like, 30x better at sequestering carbon than rainforests.

        The story’s not as simple as PETA would like to have you believe. And California, by not doing its homework on this one, could do some far bigger, long-lasting damage than just killing a few animals.

        Cheers! And carry your alligator bags with pride.

      2. C L Avatar
        C L

        Very interesting, thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge! It definitely sounds like there is more nuance to the exotic skin industry than I initially thought 🙂

      3. Laura S Avatar
        Laura S

        You’re welcome! I was surprised by all of this, as well.

        Also, I would love a Mars rock minaudiere!

    2. denton Avatar

      If you are worried about the price but love exotic skins, there are so many great alligator and croc bags from the 1950s and 1960s around for a song. And then there’s Nancy Gonzales 🙂

  6. Carrie K Avatar
    Carrie K

    Here’s my 2 cents. Other than Hermes, exotic skin is just not a huge money maker for luxury brands. Most people just simply wouldn’t spend that much money on a bag from Gucci. If you look at the resell market you can easily find an exotic leather bag from Gucci or Prada for a fraction of the original price. Hermes is the exception, their exotic bags sell for at least double if not tripled the retail price.

  7. Laura S

    I have very strong opinions about this as I make art using exotic skins and have spent a lot of time researching the ethics of using them.

    I use American alligator, Burmese python from the Florida Everglades, and stingray (also known as shagreen). Stingray (dasyatis bleekeri) is a non-endangered fish native to Asia. I imagine it’s killed primarily for its skin, but from what I could find, is also used for food. Not much story there.

    However, the alligator story is amazing. American alligator (alligator mississippiensis) was an endangered species around 1970. However, thanks to creative use and conservation programs and intense international trade regulation, it has completely recovered and is common in many areas of the American South. Using alligator leather is an investment in the environment. Alligators live in swamps, which are up to 50 times more effective in sequestering carbon and battling climate change than rainforests. But swamps are fragile and expensive to maintain. Typically an owner can only profit from their swampland by turning it into farmland or drilling it for oil – both of which are dreadful for the environment. However, by making raising alligators a lucrative business, owners have a financial incentive to maintain their land in its natural state. This not only protects the alligators, but all of the other flora and fauna that also thrive in swamps and which would otherwise disappear. Also, the entire alligator is used for food, medical research, etc.

    Burmese pythons (Python bivittatus) are a non native species that was introduced to the Florida Everglades through the exotic pet trade. The environment is similar to their natural habitat of Southeast Asia, but they have no natural predators in Florida and have now become the apex predator. They’ve eliminated around 90% of the mammals in the area, including ones that are already endangered, and they’re starting to expand their territory further. Florida is trying to completely eradicate these snakes, and pays people to hunt them. Unfortunately, these animals are full of mercury and can’t be eaten. Their beautiful skins are the only resource we can salvage from this awful situation. But Burmese pythons are endangered elsewhere, so it’s illegal to export their skins out of the USA under CITES rules, and, sadly, not many of the hunters preserve the skins for use. Which means only a tiny number of independent manufacturers make anything with them. Some are really beautiful, though.

    So, that’s the three I’ve learned about so far. Personally, I think you can feel perfectly fine, if not straight up heroic, about using these.

    1. Guest Avatar

      Very informative. Thank you!

      1. Laura S Avatar
        Laura S

        You’re welcome! Thanks for taking the time to read my post. 🙂

    2. Lyndon Avatar

      wow, this is fascinating!

      1. Laura S Avatar
        Laura S

        Thanks! I thought so, too. When conservationist scientists and PETA disagree, there’s bound to be a good story.

    3. Vlad Dusil Avatar
      Vlad Dusil

      Excellent insights into this world, Laura. Thank you for sharing, I’ve stuck your comment.

      1. Laura S Avatar
        Laura S

        Thanks so much, Vlad! I’m glad it was helpful. I mistyped a number in there, for the record. I accidentally said swamps are up to 50x more effective at sequestering carbon than rainforests. That number should actually be 30x. Still a whole lot!

    4. Fran Avatar

      Hi Laura. This very logical and intelligent. I love exotic skins. Why are exotic skins used mostly to make accessories such as bags and shoes? Why don’t designers use exotic skins to make coats, jackets, skirts, pants, etc?

      1. Laura S Avatar
        Laura S

        Hi Fran. Great question! My guess is mostly because these skins are smaller and awkwardly shaped for clothes, and a lot of them don’t drape well. The tannery I get my alligator skins from has a garment finish. The leather has been pared down very thin, and it’s soft and drapes nicely. I’ve seen a few designers make jackets with it. It’s the only exotic skin I’ve seen treated this way, though. I’d like to experiment with making bustiers out of the exotics I work with. I think a hand dyed alligator bustier could be gorgeous!
        I currently make leather sculpture with them. If you’d like, you can check them out at LauraShape.com

  8. Lori Avatar

    I have a very simple rule that works well for me, don’t buy any leather or exotic that is not being used for other purposes, such as food (not sure what there is other than food, but you get what I mean). As a vegetarian/vegan (like 95% vegan), I am really bothered by exotics and have been for some time. I am glad they are being phased out. Actually, I can barely buy cow leather at this point, but I do on occasion (hence my 95% vegan thing). My new found love is buying preloved (never exotics) as it is really a great option for so many environmental and ethical reasons and you can get beautiful pieces.

    1. Laura S Avatar
      Laura S

      Well, as far as alligators go, though the skins are the primary driver, the entire animal is used. People eat alligator meat, and their blood is used for medical research. (Scientists are trying to figure out why, even though alligators live in swamps full of bacteria, and they gouge big holes in each other when they fight, they don’t get infections. So interesting!)

    2. Laura S Avatar
      Laura S

      Also, if you use cow products in any way (cheese, butter, ice cream, etc), please use goods made of cow leather. I read a few years ago that an entire cow used to be able to be used, and even low quality hides could be used for various industries that use leather. However, with the trend towards “vegan leathers”, there’s less demand for the real thing. Now beef and dairy farmers have to figure out what to do with the skins, they need to discard. The beef industry isn’t on the decline, and now it’s generating a new big waste product that it didn’t before.

    3. Tom Avatar

      I love real meats and real foods!
      I respect your opinion but do respect people like me “ love” any kind of leather!
      As long as there are consumers who want to buy the brand will meet their demand! Btw can insects make good quality products?
      The vegan materials are real sucks as it won’t last long!

  9. FashionableLena Avatar

    I don’t like the look of exotics (real or fake) on handbags so I guess that I don’t see the big deal. With that being said, if I see something I like that’s made from an exotic or fur, I’m not going to not buy it.
    To each their own. There’s bigger fish to fry.

  10. Ollie Ollie Avatar
    Ollie Ollie

    Diverse….palate, maybe?

  11. Max Brownawell Avatar
    Max Brownawell

    I think this is a fascinating topic. The local cultural differences are vast like people mention in the comments, I read that Muslim buyers sometimes stay away from pigskin items. So often when discussing exotics, people where I live in New England will say ‘No one eats alligators,’ clearly they’ve never been to Louisiana! As a vintage collector, old illegal skins like Elephant and Beluga and Anteater absolutely intoxicate me!

  12. Fran Avatar

    I have nothing against exotic skins if they come from Florida pythons. Pythons have invaded Florida and have corrupted the ecosystem. The government has paid money to hunt them to preserve the ecosystem. I have no problem with python skins that come from Florida to make bags. But why stop there? Why not make pants, skirts, coats, jackets, tops, and dresses of python skin? It would be so fabulous.