As we first mentioned last week, Hermès Birkin namesake Jane Birkin is calling for a change in Hermès’ treatment of crocodiles after viewing a disturbing PETA video about the methods used to kill the animals that are made into the bags that bear her name. Do you think about that when you shop?

This topic is, admittedly, something I don’t think about all that often. I don’t buy fur because I’m an ardent dog-lover and some of the animals used for fur are a little too close to dogs for me, and I’m not particularly drawn to exotics, which are mostly outside of my budget in the first place. I wear leather, obviously, and perhaps because I’m a meat-eater, this seems like a bargain I settled with myself long ago. We feature bags of all kinds on PurseBlog because we feel as though you guys are well-informed enough to make these kinds of decisions for yourself.

I do care about where the meat I eat comes from, though, and I try to buy as much of it from responsible suppliers as I can, mostly through my local farmer’s market, which I’m lucky to have nearby. It’s more expensive, of course, but thankfully I can afford it, and I feel like the extra expense is worth it to both patronize local small farms and reward those who care for their animals.

Sustainability is something of a hot topic in fashion, too, and brands seem to know that some luxury customers have an interest in the topic. Kering, which owns brands like Gucci, Balenciaga and Saint Laurent, treats sustainability as an important component of its business, and Stella McCartney has built a whole bag business on vegan options, which many consider better for the environment, depending on fabrication.

Responsible use of animal products is a big part of a sustainable lifestyle, and it’s not hard to imagine a brand’s transparency about the proper treatment of its animals being finessed into an effective way to communicate to customers about just how seriously it takes the details of its business and the creation of its products. And, of course, luxury is all in the details.

Would transparency about leather processing make you more likely to consider buying from a brand, or is it a non-factor in your mind?

P.S. Please consider supporting our small, bag-loving team by clicking our links before shopping or checking out at your favorite online retailers like Amazon, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, or any of the listed partners on our shop page. We truly appreciate your support!

Share Your Thoughts With Us

  • TexasST

    I have been a bag addict for 30yrs and over the years I have struggled between my love for animals and my love for leather. I would definitely support, and pay a premium, for a brand that ensured their leather products came from humane sources. I would feel even better if the brand obtained their leathers as a by-product of a humane meat processing.

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  • Aliza Zibkoff

    Cow leather is a by product of the meat packing industry and is environmental sound when in a veg tan state (just make sure its really veg tanned mind you!) Thats enough environmentalism for me. I also used my bags until they fall apart. Not much for exotics but I do know that certain Colombian Caiman tanneries make sure to use the meat and bones so as to decrease waste (I work in handbag product development.) I guess if I was going to buy a real croco bag I’d look into it but the truth is I find the excessive price tag more off putting than anything else.

    • hippyhippychic

      Calf leather is not a by-product, its usually taken from the skin of newborn or even unborn calves, cut prematurely out of their mother’s wombs. Also sorry to disappoint but farmers don’t just sell cow skins from a desire to minimise waste. They are in a moneymaking business and leather can often by worth more than meat.

      • Lisa

        I don’t really have a problem at all with growing animals for their leather, any more than I would for their meat. Exotic farmed leathers create no moral dilemma for me either, whatsoever. Animals do have a right to be treated with respect, farmed humanely, and killed humanely though.

      • Aliza Zibkoff

        Hi hippy hippy,

        I work in product development precisely in handbags and I can tell you that cow skins for as expensive as they are do no exceed 900 bucks at most. A live cow costs on average about 1000 dollars so killing a cow just for its skin is a waste. Cows are not raised for their skin but for their meat but if the farmer wants to make a little extra cash selling the skin after he has sold the beef, who could blame him?

      • hippyhippychic

        Calf skin = calves killed for their skin. When in the womb the skin is super soft and subtle and that is what a lot of luxury bags are made from. If you would like to eat the unborn cow afterwards in some form of meat product your prerogative…

      • Aliza Zibkoff

        What you are referring to is called slink leather and it is a rare, rare commodity. It certainly does not represent the majority of bags on the market. I’ve worked in the industry over 15 years and I have yet to see a slink skin or even an item made out of slink. I had a colleague who claimed to have a pair of slink gloves and according to her she paid a fortune for them, but I have yet to see them.

      • Lynne

        Calf skin comes from calves taken from their mothers shortly after birth and raised (in small dark crates unable to move) for veal. The factory farming industry is not wasting perfectly good calves just for their skin.

    • Aforallie

      To me, the bargain we make when we domesticate an animal is that we give it a good life with plenty to eat, free from predators for a few years, and in return we get to use it for our own purpose. That makes cow leather OK, but calf leather not OK, because the calf didn’t get to have a life. I don’t have a problem with farming crocodiles or snakes for their skins, as long as they are not mistreated.

  • FashionableLena

    I’ll probably get slammed for this, but the thought doesn’t even cross my mind when I’m grocery shopping or perusing handbags. I would venture to say it’s because I grew up in the country around farm people. My great-grandfather was a chicken farmer (he died when I was 10). I see animals from a whole other vantage point. Some of the animals like goat, alligator, and rabbit, we used to eat fresh along with cows, et cetera.

    • Abbi

      I totally get where youre coming from, i try not to think about where the meat comes from because my mind usually wanders there but at the same time i know meat is good for us and i should eat it, but when it comes to handbags i watched the expose video and was completely horrified. I used to love exotics (use to feel like “ooooh a dinosaur bag”) but having watched that video i cant look at them the same way and i even feel quite turned off Hermes when as before you could consider me a die hard fan…now im not to sure…

  • Sandy

    This is definitely a subject that I choose to approach with a “head in the sand” manner. I know the scoop but try my hardest to ignore. (I know, this is no way to deal with something this unpleasant). I am a meat eater and a collector of leather bags and shoes. With that said I love animals! My cats and dogs are part of my family. I would definitely support a designer that obtained their leather by the most humane means possible. I would hope that designers would take a stand and make certain standards mandatory.

  • MM

    I would support a brand more if they were more honest about where they get the leather, and the way the animals are treated. I can’t seem to get behind ‘exotic’ leathers, because it feels like these animals are raised just to be slaughtered and become bags.

  • Giselle

    I’m confused, what exactly it means humane killing of animals. Is there such thing as “humane killing”? Btw, I’m a meat lover and handbag addict.

    • Abbi

      Theres been research and even experiments done on ways to make sure the animals dont suffer or endure long term pain

    • There are ways to minimize pain and act responsibly toward the animals you’re using. Instant death versus death over a period of hours are certainly distinct, in my mind. I know how I’d want to go, ya know?

    • Giselle

      I appreciate your explanation Amanda and Abbi and I sort of get it, but still find the phrase to be oxymoron.

    • Well said Giselle. When I got into the making of handbags, this part got very confusing and disheartening to me all at the same time. I thought the very same thing, humane…? how? and I didn’t want to just be another business adding to reckless killing of poor beings for selfish human desires. So I started reaching out to many leather distributors and tanneries and asking lots of questions. From what I learned, I decided that what was important to me was that the leather was definitely a by-product of the meat industry, which many distributors told me as well, that this was the case. The meat was first and foremost the important part, and cows being killed soley for skin wasn’t profitable. So my decision was to source my leather from distributors that cared about how their cows were treated up until the time they were killed. One of the big things that truly bothered me was places that let cows stand up to their knees in their own waste, or cage them for their ENTIRE lifetime, etc, the list could go on… I understand humans eat meat, the animals have to die for it, and we certainly aren’t out hunting our prey personally, so someone has to do it. But the heartlessness, rather than thankfulness for their meat (and skin) is what got to me. So I strive to support the distributors that care for their cows prior, feed them well, let them roam, and at least allow them a life before they are given to us. And for me, this makes me appreciate my bags so much more. To me they don’t just have a shell, they display the remains of a beautiful animal. As corny as it sounds, I actually thank each cow(hide) I come in contact with because I am truly grateful when I look at how stunning a leather can be.

  • Jp23

    Gosh this is something I think a lot of people struggle with, especially because it’s so easy to disconnect. I do eat meat but not really because of dietary requirements but it’s still hard to grasp especially after watching slaughtering footage. I love leather and really enjoy exotics even though I have yet to own one (because of the price tags that usually come along with them). What bothers me is when people criticize me for carrying a leather handbag but then they are quick to wear leather boots and shoes.

    I would consider these bags as life long investments probably better for the environment than owning a number of non leather bags and just throwing them away over time and creating waste (I can’t even remember the last time I threw a handbag away). I think that the source of the leather is important and I know there are some brands that don’t source their leather responsibly, but part of the premium price tag is for the premium leather and I know a lot of luxury brands keep this in mind when purchasing because they don’t want to deal with it. If you are buying cheap leather chances are the animals were living and died cheap too.

    When shopping for bags I guess I wouldn’t say it’s a non factor, but it’s not exactly front and center in my mind either. Its so easy to forget what your buying is actually skin, how is it any different then owning a responsibly sourced fur (since many of us refuse to wear it but will happily by leather or calf hair even ) ?

    This is a real struggle as I believe there is value to an animals life, but I also think this is something that is never going to go away but good to talk about.

  • Lisa

    Humane animal slaughter is a huge missing link in terms of our treatment of farmed animals, whether that be for food or leather. Although we do pay attention to animal cruelty issues in slaughter, there is so much more we could do. Standard best practice is still quite cruel because the animals often have an horrific journey to the abattoir in a cattle truck. When they arrive they can sense what is going on and so often refuse to move forward, leading to beatings, crushed animals etc There are a number of important innovations in abattoir design, but generally for most of the population it is ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

    Leather is an environmentally worthwhile material for shoes clothes and handbags. If brands see that increased awareness of animal treatment conditions helps grow their brand, more strength to them! But please, no lip service or misrepresentation. A cow fed on the very finest grass may still have a dreadful experience in her final hours, if the transportation and killing of the animal is not assessed with fresh eyes in terms of humane slaughter.

  • Sparkletastic

    Nope. It may be the PC thing to say that I would but I wouldn’t pay more.

    And it seems I’m not alone. Leather handbags are selling like hotcakes with exotic skins and fur trims selling at a premium. Vegan “leather” (the only truly humane way to deal with this issue) doesn’t sell at a premium.

    So, people can act like they’re concerned but, we vote with our actions and dollars when we purchase an item made from an animal when there are functional – and even attractive – alternative options every single time. There is a huge market for leather, exotic materials, fur, etc. and I doubt it will slow any time soon. I also doubt that anything but a very small amount of people will pay a premium to ensure that the animal that ultimately ends up dead was happy prior to its end.

  • Bruno Joanna

    Im a meat eater and i love leather, fur i don’t think its really necessary cause i live in brazil but i think it beautiful but i really don’t care too much about that, specially when it comes to snakes or crocodiles! i think it would be nice with they treat the animals with more respect. If the product is a real fur or leather and i like and can afford i will buy, i don’t care its fake or real, if its beautiful its what matters to me.

  • diego17

    YES!

  • Bir

    i think leather is a very noble material that Works and lends itself to human life. a bag or any other moving container made in leather, for me is a daily tool i wear a 35cm 40cm birkin almost everyday and because its very paractical and comfortable again to me(i have to carry a lot) not because its a “BIRKIN” honestly its a very useful ample carry all.i have with time proven that crocodile is not as durable as i need it to be, and so i cant justify the Price and now the treatment to animals. all this said if an Hermes or any Brand bag in crocodile is offered to me and, it Works for me again as daily tool, and both Price and process have proven to be a strong justifications i will purcahse the bag. again because i see it as something that will lend a service to my life and i NEED it for what ever reasion ! .
    this way i see it hope it makes sense to all of you again its a very personal matter.
    point is i dont buy croc because its croc it has to serve a good and true purpose !

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  • Pats

    REAL TRANSPARENCY in how the leather is sourced? Absolutely! I have gorgeous designer bags I won’t get rid of, however….after being closely involved with animal welfare the last few years,I won’t buy any more. When I became more involved with animal welfare I knew I needed to become more knowledgable how animals were taken care of, sourced for food, clothing, etc. so I read as much as I could, did as much research as I could. My next step took me to slaughterhouses. Of course, most bar one from coming inside but, just witnessing the cows, pigs etc jammed into the arriving trucks, many already dead from the hundreds of miles they’ve traveled without food or water sometimes in the most extreme weather was beyond heartbreaking. The majority of animals raised for food Etc are not humanely raised or slaughtered. They just aren’t. The abuse on factory farms is horrendous and cruel. Millions of cows killed for their skin endure the horrors of factory farming: crowded in pens too small for them to move, tail docking, castration, dehorning without painkillers. There simply aren’t enough inspectors to make sure these cruel practices don’t happen. Many animal skins used for leather also come from China or India where the animal welfare laws are practically nonexistent. I think there’s a real disconnect between the animal goods, even the meat our grocery stores and what we as consumers buy. My point with all of this is, just do some research about the reality of factory farming, the transporting and slaughter of animals. Look at the pictures, the videos and the documentaries, and then decide if that pretty purse you just bought was worth the suffering it caused the animal. I think if enough of us made our voices heard designers might be more responsible with the leathers etc they use. I applaud Jane Birkin for taking a stand.