Leather: Tanned animal hide or rawhide.
Hide or Rawhide: Animal skin, not tanned.
Pelt: Entire hide of an animal as it is, with or without the fur/hair/wool on.
Skin: Hide without, removed or not having, fur/hair/wool.
Fur: Hide of an animal having short, fine and soft hair.
Wool: Fibre obtained from the hair of sheep, goat and other animal pelts.

A dead creature’s skin after being treated for human use is commonly called leather, hide or fur as defined above. Leather is the skin of an animal (99% certain it was a slaughtered animal) that has been preserved.

Leather can be broadly grouped under three main categories as follows:

• Finished leather
• Footwear (manufactured into shoes, slippers and sandals, and footwear components like uppers and soles)
• Leather garments (readymade garments and leather goods)

Commercially available Leather is always from Animals that are Killed

People who use leather are well aware that it is the skin of animals, but they do not ask themselves if the animal died a natural death or was slaughtered. This includes the Kora Kendra so-called ahinsak leather goods which claim to have been made from only non-slaughtered animals (yes, non-slaughtered, but killed in some other way). The fact is that their leather is obtained from animals killed in research laboratories, put to sleep by veterinarians, fatal road accident cases or starved to death as in the case of male dairy calves.

Even knowing this, people tend to consider leather as a by-product of the killing, thus absolving themselves of the blame for the act of killing. According to them, it is the persons who buy the meat that are responsible for the killing, not the wearers of the skin. The skin is just thrown away, they claim, to be picked up by the leather manufacturer, who thereby does a great service by not “wasting” any part of the animal, which is dead “anyway”. They again are unaware, or more likely choose to disregard the fact, that the skin is not just “picked up”, it is bought against cash as much as the meat is. When cattle is sold to the butcher the value of leather is considered, when sheep is sold the fleece is paid for, and so on. Moreover, no leather-goods’ manufacturer waits for raw materials (animal skins) because purchases that are a result of slaughter are constantly made and there is no break in production.

Skin derived from animals slaughtered in abattoirs or slaughter-houses is obviously known, but few know that the animals’ skins could even be those of animals sacrificed for Bakri Idd. It is customary for the skins of all sacrificed animals like goats, sheep, calves, etc. to be donated to madrassas which sell them to leather traders in order to generate money for running their institutions. It has been estimated that 3 crore sheep and goats are sacrificed across India so a very big percentage of leather is from animals thus slaughtered. (Interestingly, just before Bakri Idd 2019, certain prominent Muslim scholars and leaders of some Jamaats appealed to the community to destroy the skins of sacrificed animals and not give them to the madrassas. It was in order to protest against the deliberate move by leather traders to artificially suppress the price of hide a fortnight before the festival. Since 2014 every year the price paid to the madrassas for the skins had been consistently brought down having by then fallen to 10% of the true value.)

The only difference, and probably the one that enables the leather-user to distance him or her from the guilt of the crime, is the long chain of workers that come between the slaughterer and the shoe-seller. This chain not only hides the source of the leather from the user, it actually provides the leather-user a justification for using leather, such as the employment it generates. If people had to buy the skin directly from the butcher to make their own shoes, they would realise while standing next to the meat-buyer, just how identically culpable to the meat eaters they are for the killing.

It is unfortunate that the strictest advocates of vegetarianism in the world’s history have seen nothing worthy of comment, criticism, or condemnation in the use of leather. The Government of India is no different because as part of the Independence Day 2008 gift package the Government Okayed Rs 912 crores for development of leather industry infrastructure in the 11th Plan. Furthermore, the Central Leather Research Institute and Shivaji University, Kolhapur have undertaken a scheme worth Rs 2 crores to revive the Kolhapur leather chappal industry. Kolhapuri chappals are hand-crafted using hides of cattle (bulls, cows) and goats, and are typically in natural tan or dyed deep brown or black-maroon colours. The cords used to stitch the chappals are also made of leather and no nails are utilised in the footwear. However, by 2016 this cottage industry that had been worth around Rs 9 crore had declined by more than a third. People imagined it was due to the previous year’s ban on slaughter of bulls in Maharashtra, but the artisans themselves said this was not even one of the reasons. They put it down to the next generation not wanting to make chappals and finding more lucrative work, added to which local tanneries had closed and 85% of the leather was from Chennai, and neighbouring Karnataka that manufactured chappals was far ahead of them. Eventually in 2019 the Kolhapuri chappal was granted the GI (Geographical Indicator) tag thus placing it on the global map. Artisans of Kolhapur, Sangli, Satara and Solapur districts of Maharashtra and Dharwad, Belgaum, Bagalkot and Bijapur of Karnataka are the only ones who have been granted rights to use the Kolhapuri name.

However, in 2000 thanks to the efforts of animal activists, leather originating in India was struck off the import list of three major retailers, Gap Inc, Banana Republic and Old Navy of the US because they were informed of the cruelty involved to the animals in the process.

By 2006 the major leather domestic footwear manufacturers were Bata, CSC, Aero, Liberty, Mesco, Wasan and Phoenix. (Incidentally, Bata is a Czechoslovakian brand which began Manufacturing footwear in the 1930s at Batanagar near Kolkata – and with a canteen for vegetarian workers! Bataganj is near Patna. They have over 1000 stores in 500 cities that sell around 45 million pairs of footwear annually.) Corporate houses like Hindustan Lever, L&T, Ponds, Tata Exports, etc. were also marketing and exporting of leather products. In 2010 the top formal shoe brands in India were Red Tape, Florsheim, Gabor, Salamander, Clarks and St Michael’s, and sport shoe brands Reebok, Nike and Adidas.

India’s exports of leather and leather products increased to $ 2.8 billion in 2012-13, a year-on-year growth of 15%. The major markets were Germany, UK, US, Hong Kong, Italy, France, Spain, Netherlands, UAE, China, Belgium and Denmark. Despite this in December 2013, the Council for Leather Exports requested Government of India to consider formulating a specific package for brand promotion to the extent of about 2% of their export turnover, enhancement of duty free limit from 3% to 5% and other outrageous and needless funding benefits. BWC strongly feels it is unethical for GOI to give subsidies and benefits from vegetarian tax payers’ money to leather exporters who are aiming to export $14 billion by 2016-17 because it means thousands of more animals will be killed. In 2015 ASSOCHAM (The Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India) stated that Tamil Nadu had emerged as the top leather exporter with a 35% share because 42% of leather product factories were concentrated in Tamil Nadu; however it was ranked third after Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal in terms of per-capita labour productivity.

Uttar Pradesh holds a sizeable livestock population in India: 22%. For buffaloes it ranks first, second for cattle (12%), and goat and sheep fourth and fifth positions. This is what makes UP’s leather industry
flourish – abundant raw material coupled with cheap labour. There are 11,500 major leather production centres and industries in UP situated mainly in and around Kanpur and Agra. Kanpur has 200 tanneries processing hides into heavy leather for soles, bridles, harnesses, saddles, (according to the Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics, India exported harnesses and saddles worth Rs 3,925.11 crore between April 2010 and March 2011 to equestrian markets in Europe and USA) and industrial leather goods; whereas Agra is the place where the most shoe manufacturers are located. In 2010, it was reported that 1736 million pairs of shoes were manufactured annually thus making India the second largest manufacturer in the world – the first being China. NOIDA has emerged as another centre for leather footwear and garments. And then there is Meerut which specialises in the production of leather sports goods like cricket balls.

However, in November 2015 UP’s largest animal hide market was on the verge of closure. With trade in animal skin becoming increasingly hazardous, most of the firms doing business in Pech Bagh, located in Kanpur’s Nadi Sadak were shutting down. In 2014-15 200 members of the Hide Merchants Association had quit and started other businesses. In short, the tannery trade was down to 40%. The two reasons cited were the Namami Ganga Rejuvenation Project that targeted tanneries for pollution, and the other Govansh (cow protection).


In 2017 the rawhide supply crunch was the direct result of stringent action taken against illegal abattoirs in UP after the BJP came to power in the state. The 45 legal slaughterhouses which exported meat were unable to cater to the demand for raw hide. It was estimated that Rs 20,000 crore was the total leather trade of which Rs 8,000 to 10,000 crore was leather exports. Although leather exports from Kanpur were mostly down, non-leather footwear exports have been significantly rising: in 2014-15 they were worth Rs 18.98 crore whereas in 2015-16 they rose to Rs 27.12 crore.

Soon after, in the backdrop of cow slaughter bans, the Chennai based Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI) began searching for other sources of leather like that of ostrich, ray fish and chicken legs (they estimated that 200 million square feet of chicken legs skin could be made available in India annually). In fact, the CLRI were responsible for getting the Director of Foreign Trade reverse the existing Import Policy prohibiting reptile skins, and mink, fox and chinchilla fur from “Prohibited” (3 January 2017) to “Free” (7 January 2021).

By May 2022 Kanpur tanneries saw input costs rise by 50% because of frequent power cuts. Small tanneries in particular found it expensive to run diesel generators.

It would not be wrong to say that the entire leather industry survives on the demand for leather footwear as it is the most common application for leather. The overall footwear market grows fast. By 2015 India was the second largest producer of footwear and leather garments in the world – India’s annual production of leather was 2 billion sq ft. In 2017 the domestic footwear market was estimated at Rs 30,000 crore a year, but the good news was that only 20% footwear was made from animal leather. Despite this high quantity, there was no import duty on leather and in fact the industry claimed that better quality leather could be imported from Bosnia, Italy, Taiwan – and Bangladesh (ironically leather of cattle smuggled from India). Although the Union Budget 2015-16 announced a cut in excise duty on leather footwear, the restrictions around that time by the European Commission on leather products with higher than permissible levels of Hexavalent Chromium (Cr(VI)) affected the largely unorganised leather businesses. Footwear is the only use of leather that is defined by everyone, even vegetarians, as a need. The average leather footwear utilises several animals’ skins: tough cattle hide for the sole (although 90% soles of footwear made in India are of non-leather materials), thinner and differently tanned and processed calf leather (could be substituted with other skins like that of reptiles or even dogs) for the upper, still thinner goat skin for the inside lining and if a moulded rubber or polymer sole with heel has not been utilised, machine pressed leather fining made into a regenerated leather board for giving appropriate strength and flexibility could be placed in-between the outer and inner soles.

Animal activists have begun moving in the right direction by bringing down leather consumption considerably. During 2010 and 2011 they were responsible for convincing the government to ban the use of leather shoes for school children and even Jawans.  The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) also decided in 2011 to phase out the use of leather footwear and belts.

Click here to read advisory issued in 2014 by the Central Board of Secondary Education against the use of leather. BWC is pleased that the implementation although slow is happening.

Shoes: People who consider canvas inadequate for “formal” occasions like interviews, marketing and sales, presentations, etc., but don’t want to wear real leather will be glad to know that there are always non-leather alternatives available in the market. Ask at any shoe store for non-leather footwear — the attendant will be very likely to know what you mean, and will more than likely pull out a couple of varieties for you possibly from their monsoon range. Years ago these were made only from a Rexene-type of material called leather cloth, but now made of much better quality materials indistinguishable from leather in looks, unless very closely inspected; the soles of such footwear are very likely moulded hard polymer. Their disadvantage is that they don’t “breathe” as well as natural leather, so “synthetic” leather shoes may prove uncomfortable for some. But at such times, think of the discomfort a cow must feel at having her throat slit open. Shouldn’t she be allowed to breathe as well? Therefore, let us stick with the “synthetic” leather, making sure that both the sole and upper are non-leather. The labels “Made from Man-made Materials” or “Man-made Upper” and “Man-made Sole” on many shoes could indicate that the material is “synthetic”.

More and more good quality, non-leather, alternatives are being used in the making of footwear for both men and women, but an important caution regarding “man-made materials” needs to be kept in mind: Bicast/Bi-cast/Bycast leather /Pleather/PU leather is “man-made” and it consists of a thick layer of polyurethane applied to low-grade or bonded/reconstituted leather (90% to 100% leather scrap fibres bonded together with latex binders) developed by Bayer and widely used by automotive, electrical and electronics, construction, sports and leisure industries. In Foot-Works2008 at Chennai, BMS (Bayer Material Science) offered tailor-made solutions to the footwear industry by introducing their high-tech products like thermo-plastic & thermoset poly-urethanes, coatings and adhesives. Most of the Bicast leather that has been created by others utilises inferior materials and so it turns out stiff and delamintes resulting in bubbles and cracking. This is important to remember when choosing “man-made” footwear. In short, if the material is very stiff, bubbles are visible, or looks like it will crack, it is leather.


Bio-fabrication is a process that produces a material that has the same flexibility, smooth texture and elasticity of leather through a tissue engineering technique but it is not “completely animal-free” as claimed by the inventors of Modern Meadow, a Brooklyn-based start up. The lab grows leather in two weeks from skin cells that produce collagen. It is falsely claimed that “no animals are harmed” because via a biopsy on a living animal, skin cells are taken from which leather is grown in the lab. Leather/hide of cows, crocodiles and ostriches has been thus produced. The February 2023 issue of the National Geographic carried an article entitled “These Boots Were Made of What?” in which an American company was selling boots claiming to be made from Indian elephant leather. It is possible it was bio-fabricated leather or else embossed calfskin.

Canvas is a very good material for shoes — it breathes, is light in weight, comfortable to wear, washes in plain soap and water just like clothes, is inexpensive, and is not a petroleum-based product like “synthetic” leathers are. The humble canvas must be given the same importance as was given to khadi by Gandhiji, on the grounds of its simplicity, its inexpensiveness, its comfort, the fact that it is not a petroleum product. How can a piece of cloth be considered good, he asked, if it creates unemployment, impoverishment, enslavement to Manchester, however good it may look, however polished its appearance? Similarly, shouldn’t we also ask ourselves how a leather shoe can look good if great brutality has gone into its production? Shouldn’t we remind people who point out that canvas shoes look sloppy for formal occasions, that looks, which are subjective anyway, hide a lot of deeds, and that we consciously avoid leather and see nothing wrong in canvas. Sloppiness in looks lies in the eyes of the beholder. The leather wearer must be reminded that s/he should look beyond the appearance of the shoe and into the conscious decision that has motivated the canvas-shoe wearer. Such a rebuttal usually draws a very respectful response.

Chappals and slippers can be deceptive in their non-leather content. It is usually easy to make out if the sole is made of leather and to a fairly good extent a person can also distinguish on close inspection whether the upper and inner sole lining is made of leather or not. But, what is difficult to know is the material used in between the outer sole and inner sole which is not visible. This very often is a regenerated leather board or salpa which looks similar to and is stiff like cardboard but is actually machine pressed leather fining. Polypropylene resin coated cellulose boards sold under brand names of Texon and Bontex are some times used in place of leather boards by shoemakers. As it is impractical to cut open chappals to check if they contain leather boards, one has to rely on the word of the shopkeeper. However, if the sole is of a moulded variety (usually with heels) it would not necessitate the use of a stiff material in between the inner and outer sole. Jute/Osho slippers are made entirely of jute or of jute-cum-rubber are usually available at jute products exhibitions, outside the Osho Ashram (Pune), and at Khadi outlets like the Khadi Gramodyog Bhavan, Mumbai. They are very comfortable to wear but cannot be worn in wet conditions. (When in 2022 Prime Minister Narendra Modi was informed that the workers at Kashi Vishwanath Dham in Varanasi worked barefoot because it was forbidden to wear leather or rubber footwear in the temple premises, he sent 100 pairs of jute footwear for them.) Rubber or plastic slippers, like the humble “Hawaiichappal is still a very good thing to wear, especially in wet conditions. It may not be considered suitable for formal occasions, but if worn clean and carried properly, should be worn with as much pride as leather footwear users possess for the reasons discussed above. In celebration of International Earth Day 2011, “Soles with Souls” footwear was launched in Delhi – made by recycling old tyres, JK Tyre and the Footwear Design and Development Institute created the eco-friendly footwear. Rexene/Rexine/Leather-cloth/Vinyl/PVC/Poly-Vinyl-Chloride (“synthetic” leather), footwear is commonly available at the regular shoe shops. (However, Bis(2-ethylthexyl)phalate/DEHP used as a softener in PVC plastic is considered a reproductive carcinogen for footwear although it is mainly used for medical devices.) Special care needs to be taken to find out if they are totally free from leather. (Vinyl and Linoleum flooring do not contain any animal substances. In fact, Linoleum is a generic term for a floor covering made from solidified linseed oil in combination with wood flour/cork dust over burlap/canvas backing.) Naoran is a chemical-free leather alternative derived from wood pulp and recycled polyester and is soft, flexible and water-resistant.

Pseudo-leather footwear: Now commonly seen in shoe shops, in different styles for men and women, it is necessary to carefully examine the footwear to make sure it contains no animal leather. Being cheap doesn’t mean it is not animal leather; moreover, the word of the shop assistant should not be accepted because s/he probably doesn’t even know that pleather and bicast leathers are a mixture of plastic and leather.

Leather of different animals and their typical uses

Overall leather for world consumption comes from a variety of animals such as cattle (buffalo included) and sheep being the most common; also from goats, hogs/boars, alligators, crocodiles, ostriches, emus, kangaroos and yaks. Bison leather which has a waxy feel, is used for jackets and baseball gloves; deer and elk skins for tent-coverings, blankets, belts, work gloves and shoes; deer and lamb skins for some expensive apparels; ostrich leather for upholstery, automotive products, footwear, accessories and clothing; emu hide is used by the fashion industry to make jackets, coats, handbags, belts, and wallets, for book-binding and as lining for boots and luggage; kangaroo skin for bullwhips and some motorcycles (the Predator PowerSwerve football boots by Adidas have kangaroo skin uppers so the skin was specially replaced by a lightweight microfibre for the internationally famous footballer David Beckham who heeded objections from UK’s animal rights activists); pig skin for apparel, accessories and seats of saddles; snake and crocodile/alligator skins for exotic items. Exotic leathers/skins/hides such as expensive shark, ostrich, and pigs’ skins are obtained by specially breeding these creatures for slaughter. Fish skin (soaked in chemicals for 40 days in order to get rid of scales and oil prior to tanning) especially leather processed from salmon, shark, catfish, and tuna, is used as a substitute for snake and lizard skins. “Rain forest leather” is actually leather from cows that were grazed on once-dense jungle in South American countries.  

Exotic leathers are usually from rare animal species (even those protected by CITES) of from animals and animal-parts that are rarely processed into leather like chicken legs, bull testicles and stomachs of ruminants. Below is a list of most exotic leathers (hides, skins and furs included) that are available worldwide:
Alpaca fur
Bull testicles
Cat fur
Chicken legs
Fish (Eel, Shark, Salmon, Moray-eel, Stingray, etc.) 
Horse hide
Llama fur
Seal skin
Snake skin
Turtle skin
Zebra hide

India’s 20th Livestock Census released in 2019 stated that there was a sharp decline in the country’s donkey population. Between 2007 and 2012 the population fell by 23%; and from 2012 to 2019 it further dropped by 61.23%; thus leaving just 1,20,000 donkeys in India. A big and fast fall in donkey populations is occurring worldwide and is because of China’s demand for donkey skins from which they produce medicinal gelatine called Ejiao.

A number of famous rock groups and celebrities wear leather clothing. Some readymade clothes like jeans come with leather patches, e.g. Levi Strauss, Pepe Jeans, Numero Uno, Lee Jeans, and Skykar Jeans. Jeans with non-leather patches are also available, e.g. Cotton King and some from Mexx. Ostrich leather with its characteristic “goose-bump” (large follicles from which the feathers grew) is used by major fashion houses such as Hermès, Parda, Gucci and Louis Vuitton who popularised trimming of Vachetta leather on luggage. Louis Vuitton also markets products of Taiga leather derived from animals that live in the sub-artic, evergreen coniferous forests. Leather cords/strings/ropes, usually in brown, olive green or black are some times used in place of metal chains for pendants and bracelets. In Thailand leather of sting ray (marine creature) is commonly used in wallets and belts. Ironically, India has not stopped the sale of imported crocodile skin products, e.g. an office bag made of alligator skin from the Ermenegildo Zegna’s collection sells for over Rupees seven lakhs. Some products of companies like Da Milano and Fiorelli look like reptile skin and could be labelled as “croc leather” but are animal leather, made to look like, but not actually crocodile skin.

Leather, Hide and Skin are used for apparel, garments, jackets, skirts, saree blouses, belts, gloves, footwear, handbags, wallets, purses, watch and other straps, jewellery, covers (for mobile phones, spectacles, menus, passports, cheque books, visiting and credit cards), hotel room folders, coasters, pen-stands, dustbins, linings, trimmings (stitched on fabrics and sarees in the form of appliqué, sequins and embellishments), accessories, upholstery, tapestry, wall-hangings, table-tops, picture frames, luggage (trunks, suitcases, vanity cases, business/executive-cases, briefcases, computer bags, laptop sleeves, school satchels, travelling bags) book-binding, book and diary covers, sports, musical instruments, decorations, artefacts, curios, knickknacks, toys, puppets, ornamental, fancy and utility items. Most of it is from slaughtered cows and bulls although 20% of the world’s goat skin is from India. About eighteen square feet (roughly only a quarter of a saree) of leather is obtained from an average sized cow or bull in India. For example, a leather jacket would be made from approximately ten square feet (55% hide of a single cow or bull and if also lined with leather, the skin of two medium-sized goats); and a leather briefcase from five and a half square feet representing 30% hide of a single cow or bull together with the entire skin of approximately three small goats used for the inside lining and the compartments.

Leather and hide is used for making high-end luggage (briefcases and suitcases) and some bags/cases used to carry sports equipment. They can be full-leather or some non-leather ones could have leather handles or leather belting similar to pulley belts used for machinery.

Leather upholstery (sofa and chair covers, also seats in vehicles) create heavy demands for the skin of large animals since large single pieces of leather are called for which can not be obtained from smaller animals. On an average as little as eighteen square feet of leather obtained is in two pieces and since the animal’s hide is, naturally, shaped like the animal’s body to a large extent, a considerable quantity of the hide cannot be utilised for upholstery, the manufacture of which therefore entails the use of hide from many more animals. And as explained earlier, cow hide is not a by-product of the meat industry.

Depending on the size of the cow or bull whether it is a small, medium or large animal, 15, 20 or 25 square feet of hide is obtained. In the case of a calf it would be 12 square feet. Therefore at least 4 animal hides or skins would be utilised for the upholstery of one passenger car. For example, Audi only uses drum-dyed real leather from cows and Renault Fluence advertises “plush leather upholstery”. Connolly leather produced by a British company is used for the interior of cars such as Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Aston Martin, Jaguar, TVR, MG-Rover, Lexus, Ferrari and Lincoln. Some vehicles use part leather part vinyl or fabric and usually describe them as “leather seat inserts” and “leather-trimmed seats”.

Camel hide is not only commonly used in Rajasthan for slippers/mojadis but entire pieces of furniture,
bags, doors and artefacts like lampshades, vases and bowls are covered with camel leather, some of which is Cordwain/Cordovan work (decorating leather for walls by embossing/painting in gold and other colours) for which the “shell” sections of hides are utilised.

Interestingly, the youngsters of the marginalised communities that made a living by hand-stitching leather mojadis in Rajasthan have switched to weaving carpets and rugs. Wool is less hinsak than leather, but hinsak nevertheless.


Local styles of Punjabi jutti are similar to mojadi/khussa usually made of goat leather. Unfortunately NABARD (National Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development) funds artisans to make Muktsar jutti or touri which are handmade using “hard, pure leather” with extensive embroidery.

Golf shoes are made from multi-seasonal yak leather combined with non-leather materials like light weight EVA or PEVA (poly ethylene vinyl acetate) for soles.

Balls used for sports like cricket, hockey, football and volleyball are made of leather, although some volleyballs are made from non-animal materials. Cricket balls mainly manufactured in Meerut and Sialkot are made of cow/bull hide (buffalo leather was tried but found unsuitable). It is interesting that non-leather cricket balls have a higher sale than those made from leather, mainly because they are cheaper and slower in wearing out as compared to the leather ones. They may not be perfect performance-wise, but they suffice for amateur level at which most cricket matches are played.

Batting gloves for cricket also contain sheep or calf skin. Boxing and golf gloves could be of leather. Leather tips of varying degrees, shapes and hardness are glued to the ferrule of snooker/billiard/pool cue sticks. And, hockey sticks may also have leather.

The good news is that in response to Beauty Without Cruelty’s campaign, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India via a Notification declared that after 1 August 2016 silver leaf or chandi-ka-varkh "shall not be manufactured using any material of animal origin at any stage". For decades BWC investigated, created a public awareness, and approached the Government of India to declare that Varkh must be machine-made, without using animal skin. Sheep/goat epidermises/jhilli or ox-gut/goldbeater’s skin was used in the production of edible metal foil called chandi-ka-varkh/silver leaf and also gold leaf. The demand in India was for 2.5 crores of booklets per year which equaled 37.5 crores of animals. 12,500 animal epidermises of sheep/goat were used for producing 1 kg of varkh. Similarly a pack of 1,000 pieces of silver/goldbeater’s skin required the gut of about 400 oxen. Varkh is used as decoration on mithai, paan, supari, chyavanprash, mukhwaas, fruit, in syrups, Ayurvedic formulations, liquors, sweets, and ironically to decorate idols of Jain Tirthankars.

Believe it or not, leather is used for polishing pulses and grains. Some dals and grains are processed using marble powder, oil, water and leather – the buffing/polishing machines have rotating paddles with leather straps which get rid of the remaining husk and polish. In reply to BWC queries, the Scientist-SG(ASPE), Indian Instit
ute of Pulses Research, Kanpur, wrote “that first grade dal (dehusked splits) is never polished. Polishing, though not recommended, is done for second and third grade dal. Edible oil, colour and powder are used to improve appearance of the product. Commonly leather belts are used for rubbing dal against screen to give shine and uniform look. Polishing is avoidable as thorough washing before cooking is required for polished dal. However, it is claimed that polishing improves storability of dal. Polishing is not an essential operation for any pulse.”

Used for pages of a book or manuscripts, and for crafts, parchment is made from sheep/goat/calf skin and vellum is finer quality parchment of calf skin. Plant based Vegetable Parchment paper is made by treating high density paper with silicone.

Drum, tabla, dukra, duggi, dholak, pakhavaj, mardal, khol, mridangam, and other percussion instruments use the skin of various animals, e.g., iguana, buffalo, goat, deer, cat, sheep, elks, cattle, etc. Ghumot, an earthenware pot covered with the skin of the monitor lizard is used as a drum in Goa. However, most modern foreign percussion instruments are made with non-animal “skin”. Expensive cat skin is used to cover the sound box of a musical instrument called shamisen (it resembles a violin played with a bow) used in Japan. Cat skin has to be well pounded, stretched, dried and while processing stretched without tearing so that it is of uniform thickness to produce a good melodious sound. Hide glue is used for repairing musical instruments such as those of the violin family.

Certain puppets contain leather similar to that used in gloves and toys. Some leather puppets are 3 to 5 feet huge, made of deer, goat and buffalo hide and utilised for shadow theatre shows called Tolu Bommalatam in Andhra Pradesh. The Government of India has granted the Andhra Pradesh Leather Puppetry and Leather Toys of Indore the Geographical Indication or GI tag. The latter consist of rice-straw stuffed leather animal toys and decorative items like replicas of bears, panthers, camels, cheetahs, crocodiles, deer, elephants, lions, tigers and horses, which are marketed from the Mrignayani showrooms but mainly exported.

Other leathers: Around 1975 an Animal By-products Utilisation Centre was started by the Municipal Corporation at Chennai for processing and manufacturing exportable items from stray dogs’ skins followed by skins of cats, porcine and rats. The market for dog leather is not good if the purchasers are told that the leather is from a dog, it was therefore passed off as just leather. Around 1980, following considerable anti-publicity generated by BWC widely, the project was abandoned. However, leather made from rat skin is used to manufacture fine leather goods in Tamil Nadu.

The National Research Centre on Mithun at Jharnapani, Nagaland, under Indian Council of Agricultural Research, has undertaken a “Study of growth performance and leather quality in mithun (Bos frontalis) and its comparison with local cattle (Bos indicus) fed on tree leaves based ration”. Mithun is the domesticated gaur.

Cheap and cute Chinese knickknacks available in India are bought by people little realising that they are made from dog and cat pelts. Why can’t India, like the EU ban trade in cat and dog fur? BWC has approached the government about this but not met with success.

The Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI) try their best to promote the use of leather. In 1998 they organised a fashion show in which leather skirts, blouses, shirts, vests, blazers, trousers, Bermudas, shawls, scarves, bikinis, etc. were displayed. This in spite of the All India Survey of Raw Hides made by the CLRI which had stated way back in 1982 that the population of cattle in relation to human population was decreasing fast having come down from 44% to 27% from 1951 to 1982.

The leather industry, represented by the Council for Leather Exports (CLE) citing eventual closure frequently seeks various concessions from the Centre. Set up in 1984 as an autonomous non-profit company, the CLE that functions under the aegis of the Ministry of Commerce & Industry is entrusted with export promotion and development of the Indian leather industry. Besides organising group participation abroad like in Las Vegas, USA, and Milan, Italy, the CLE organises fairs in India – international at Delhi in October 2009 and the annual national fairs at Chennai and Kolkata in January-February. In January 2016 the CLE was the largest representative organisation of the Indian leather industry with over 3,500 leather, leather products, footwear manufacturing and exporting firms as its members.

Similarly the Indian Leather Portal promotes the leather industry providing information and contacts at
different levels and under different product categories such as Finished Leather, Leather Garments, Men, Women & Kids Footwear, Leather Goods & Accessories, Equestrian Products, Leather Craft Supplies, Leather Bags & Handbags, Executive Bags, Wallets & Purses, Fashion Belts, Leather Stationery Items, Apparel & Textile Accessories, Sewing Accessories and Leather Chemicals.

In 2009 the global leather market was valued at $ 116 billion with India’s share as 3%. Within India, the production of leather goods has been growing at 8% per annum. In 2012 the CLE said that the government had announced setting up leather clusters in 7 cities. The cluster in TN was a one stop shop not only for suppliers and manufacturers, but also for finance and insurance coverage. It is most unfortunate that the government by encouraging leather indirectly encourages killing of animals. Despite cow slaughter being sensitive issue Indian leather producers openly state that they deal in manufacture and export of different varieties of cow and calf leathers like glazed, soft, wrinkled, crunch, oily, coloured, etc. In fact, cow leather/hide is both imported and exported in misleading ways.

In 2010 the CLE began identifying new markets for leather products export such as Turkey, Jordan, Latin America, Africa, East Asia and Middle East because they realised that India had the raw material in the form of 21% of the world’s cattle and 11% of the world’s goat and sheep population. Simultaneously, the CLE begun importing nearly 10% of hides and skins of particular thicknesses and quality required for supply of goods abroad since the demand for “raw material” (read skins and hides of animal) could not be met by domestic supply.

In January 2011 the CLE declared that it had set a target of $ 8.25 billion by 2014-15, as against 2009-10 level of $ 3.4 billion with a compounded annual growth rate of 15%. Exactly a year later (January 2012) with an export growth of over 27%, the CLE said that the industry was confident that it would achieve its expected export target of $ 14 billion by financial year 2016-17, to be fixed by the Union government in the 12th Five Year Plan. This of course could only have been achieved through slaughtering thousands of more animals. It was therefore good to know that there was a dip of 8% in leather exports during August 2016 to $ 451 million. In fact, the chairman of the CLE felt that the trend would continue and exports would reach little over $ 6 billion, no more by the end of the financial year.

A week earlier to declaring the initial target, during the 2011 Animal Welfare Fortnight, the CLE supported a nation-wide Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) advertisement in newspapers. It was disgraceful on the part of the AWBI, and in an excess of hypocrisy the CLE’s website URL was even placed right next to the AWBI’s website URL. BWC wrote to the Union Minister of Environment & Forests pointing out that meat and leather are two sides of the same coin, and leather cannot be obtained without killing animals. Also that if the AWBI does not show reverence for life, it ought to close down. We asked for no explanation because it would have obviously been a cover up. Instead, we requested that rules should be put in place to ensure such grave, illogical mistakes never re-occur. Ironically, the Board’s explanation (as projected by the Chairman in a discussion with some one) was that the AWBI saw nothing wrong in CLE’s money being put to good use! In other words, murder and then pay with blood money earned to create public awareness not to murder.

Some Leather varieties: Aniline leather is not coloured, but treated with aniline dye to produce a delicate, soft, supple “naked” leather; Pleather is a synthetic/man-made leather made from plastic and leather as the name denotes as is Bicast leather which consists of a thick layer of polyurethane applied to a substrate of low-grade or bonded/reconstituted leather developed by Bayer and used in many segments like the footwear industries, whereas Bonded/Reconstituted leather is 90% to 100% leather scrap fibres bonded together with latex binders to create a “true” leather look; Box calf is calf skin treated with chromium salts and having square markings on the grain; Bridle leather refers to the way cow-hide is tanned and is from a cow less than 3 years old; Cabretta leather is hair-sheep skins much used in footwear and gloves for sports like golf; Caiman is inferior quality crocodile skin; California Banknotes are hides; Camel hide/skin/leather is considered five times stronger than bovine hide/leather, is tanned as “fur on” and “fur off”, is commonly used in Rajasthan for slippers, is available as matte (flat and dull) finish in a variety of colours or in wet-blue, crust or finished leather made into hats, boots and fashion garments in Australia; Carding leather is a special type of side leather; Chamois leather is skin of a small mountain antelope or young sheep/goat/kid/pig (could also be of dog skin), used for making expensive gloves and cycling shorts, and used for cleaning, rubbing and polishing items made of brass, silverware, jewellery, fine instruments such as cameras, painted surfaces such as that of vehicles, spectacles, and to filter aviation petrol (the usually yellow coloured soft cotton cloth, commonly available for cleaning cars is the non-leather alternative); Corinthian is a brand name given by Chrysler for the leather used in their luxury cars; Clemence leather is the hide of a young bull; Croupon/Crupp leather is a semicircular portion of leather taken from the butt of tanned horse or some other animal’s hide; Crust leather is tanned and dried out, not finished; Cuir bouilli/Boiled leather is thick and hard due to being boiled, was used for armour but now to bind books; Deer skin is the toughest of leathers; Italian leather is high quality leather (animal hides can be from any part of the world, but if tanned in Italy get distinguished as Italian leather) used for a multitude of products ranging from shoes to car upholstery (it is used in some cars like the Mitsubishi Outlander made in India); Premium leather is expensive, high quality, genuine animal skin – usually cow hide (advertised for car upholstery by Renault); Jewel Calf leather is calfskin which is derived by killing a calf that is few days to a few weeks old; Morocco leather is sheep skin dyed red and has a bird’s eye pattern grain; Nubuck is cattle hide with velvet-like surface (Birkibuc made from acrylic and polyamide felt fibres replicate Nubuck leather); Napa/Nappa is known for its softness, is chrome tanned and used for high quality goods; Patent leather is very shiny/glossy, smooth, and some times coated with plastic (acrylic and polyamide felt fibres of Birko-Flor replicates patent leather); Raw-hide is obtained by scraping the skin thin, soaking in lime and stretching while it dries; Safari Croc Calf leather is calfskin embossed to look like crocodile skin (or other reptile skins); Shagreen/Stingray skin is rough leather, usually coloured green and commonly confused with Shark skin; Slink is the soft hide of an unborn-calf/fetus used for gloves; Suede is leather with a dense, soft and fuzzy surface usually produced by rubbing the flesh side and looks similar to velvet and felt (NuSuede is a man-made material similar to suede); Togo leather is the hide of an adult bull; Vachetta is typically used as a trim on handbags and luggage; Wet-blue leather (full grain/split) of cow, buffalo, sheep, goat and camel hides, sold wet and blue – the blue colour is derived from the chromium used for tanning.

Leather finishes: Full-Grain/Top-Grain are hides that have not been sanded, buffed or snuffed/corrected, only hair from the epidermis removed and available in two finish types Aniline and Semi-Aniline; Corrected-Grain is altered leather that has been sanded, buffed or snuffed/corrected, also available in two finish types Semi-Aniline and Pigmented; Fat Wrinkle is leather having wrinkles – the animal killed for this leather was fat; Split leather is created from the fibrous part of the hide left once the top-grain of the raw hide has been separated from the hide which is then used to create Suede, and if desired it can be further processed to give a full-grain appearance the trade name of which is Latigo. Chrome is a process relating to the use of chromium salts used for tanning leathers like Napa/Nappa known for its softness and is found in luxury cars like Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi. Bark (like bark from the flame-of-the forest/palash tree) or vegetable tanned (instead of chromium tanned) leather is in no way vegetarian because the leather itself is that of a (slaughtered) animal. East India Leather or E I Leather is an Indian vegetable-tanned leather produced by the tanneries in Tiruchi and Dindigul in Tamil Nadu and has been granted the Geographical Indication or GI tag by the government.  Shantiniketan leather goods also have this tag.

Leather alternatives: Research is on-going to create leather using leaves like those of kombucha tea and teak, and plants such as soy, fruits, as well as from coffee grounds. Many pseudo-leather materials are produced from petrochemicals have been developed, e.g. Vegan Microfiber which is stronger than animal leather. Some others are artificial leather, Birko-Flor and Birkibuc from Birkenstock (acrylic and polyamide felt fibres which replicate patent and nubuck leathers); Ban-o-Fi Leather (banana fibres and waste); Cork Leather (bark of cork oak trees); Desserto/Nopal Leather (cactus developed for the luxury segment); Durabuck (by Nike used for athletic and hiking shoes, same as Chlorenol); FineWoven (textile twill made from 68% recycled content, having a soft, suede like feel, used to replace leather by Apple with the aim of making carbon neutral watches and other items); Gore-Tex (water-proof breathable fabric manufactured from PTFE/polythetrafluoroethylene considered the best material for all-weather footwear); Hydrolite and Hydrotuff (by Staftex, nylon/polyester base fabrics coated with PU/Poly-Urethane and PVC/Poly-Vinyl-Chloride and therefore water-proof, used for heavy duty bags, folding chairs, awnings, safety gear); Kydex (by Kleerdex are tough and durable acrylic/PMMA+PVC/Poly-Vinyl-Chloride thermoplastic sheets which can be used as protective wall covering); Rexene/Rexine/Leather-cloth/Vinyl/PVC/Poly-Vinyl-Chloride supported cloth (“synthetic leather” manufactured by companies such as Bhor Industries and used in ladies’ chappals, footwear, handbags, wallets, etc.); Lorica (gloss-faced Japanese microfibres, dyed and softened in Italy); NuSuede (man-made material similar to suede); Malai (man-made material from coconut produced and sold in India since 2018, being further researched with Cochin University of Science and Technology and IIT Hyderabad);  Mulbtex (used by the apparel industry, it is made from the leaves of mulberry trees and mixed with silicone which is essentially made from sand. Although the leather in itself is vegan, being a by-product of the silk industry it’s use becomes questionable); Muskin (by Italian Grado Zero Space, made from mushroom spores, tanned without toxic chemicals, looks like hide, is ultra absorbent, breathable, soft & malleable. Rivals suede, especially since it looks natural and stays that way.) Mylo (a new mushroom leather); Piñatex is made from cellulose fibres of pineapple leaves (it takes 400 leaves to produce just 1 square metre) is utilised for high-end branded vegan sneakers and jackets. Poromeric (these imitation leathers are a group of “breathable” leather substitutes made from plastic coating, usually a poly-urethane on a fibrous base such as polyester, e.g. Corfam by DuPont and Clarino by Kuraray Co. of Japan); Vegea is made from wine industry leftovers like the stalks, skins and pips of grapes; and Vegetan (shop-owned brand name for a particular grade of microfibre). Newly developed Artificial Leather Photo Paper is made on a paper-cum-fabric base and comes in different textures, surface designs and colours. Actual Bullet-proof Jackets are not made of leather, but “bullet-proof styled jackets” can be of leather. Till the 1970s the bullet-proof jackets were made with ballistic nylon material. In 1965 a liquid polymer compound which can be spun into fibre and woven into cloth called poly-parphenyleneterephthalamide was invented under the brand name of Kevlar; Spectra was developed as its competitor in 1989. The latest alternative to leather called Fleather was developed by Phool.co an Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur backed start-up and was selected by the UN for its Sustainable Development Goals initiative in 2018 because the leather is made from floral waste.

In May 2023 the Central Leather Research Institute announced that they had developed vegan leather made from mangos mixed with natural polymers and baked. BWC seriously wondered why CLRI would want to come out with a vegan substitute to animal leather and tout the use of less water... Moreover, it would be interesting to know which natural polymers are utilised – examples of naturally occurring polymers are silk, wool, DNA, cellulose and proteins – and would this mango based leather be truly vegan as claimed?

Leather is not ahinsak: Up until the time of Mahatma Gandhi, the concept of ahinsak leather was absent. He was the first one to discriminate between types of leather depending upon the circumstances of their origin. Indeed, he also introduced the idea of ahinsak honey on the same lines. Both these so-called ahinsak products are characterised by the absence of the wilful and conscious intent of predation when obtaining the substances. Therefore, people of Gandhian persuasion or those who are aware of the actual source of leather strive to buy only so-called ahinsak leather from stores like the Khadi Bhandar. This option is chosen on the basis of the claims of the manufacturers (Kora Kendra) and marketers of ahinsak leather, that such leather is obtained only from non-slaughtered animals, implying that the animals have died a natural death. While the intentions and sincerity of such consumers are truly laudable, facts reveal that their faith in the manufacturers’ claims is being repaid by deceit.

It is quite obvious that it is a perversion of truth to call the death of the ahinsak-leather animals “natural”. Beauty Without Cruelty’s investigations prove that a very common source of the hide for ahinsak footwear is dairies! This fact incriminates both the leather and the dairy industries. Aren’t dairies supposed to be places where the only activity is to milk animals? Those animals obviously have to be kept alive to be milked. Then why are dairies a common source of hide, which is a product of dead animals? How does an industry that relies on live animals become a supplier of dead ones? Let us think about it. And let us stay safe and avoid so-called ahinsak leather too unless we wish to use the hide of uneconomical male calves intentionally starved to death. Or may be the skins of animals put to death in vivisection laboratories, or the skins of animals, including dogs “mercy killed” in veterinary hospitals. Municipalities make contracts with Kora Kendras to lift all dead animals which include very few natural deaths and hardly any road accident victims. Over and above which when they run out of leather they have no qualms of purchasing it from the open market, the source of which is no other than the slaughter house.

In 2005, animal activists found out that Mahim creek (Mumbai) had been turned into a graveyard for newly born male calves. It was extremely painful for them to see bodies of so many calves stripped of their skins and legs tied with string and wire. The modus operandi according to residents of the area was that men from Dharavi wait to pick up and ruthlessly skin alive, the unwanted male calves which have been stuffed into gunny bags and thrown out of moving trains in the early hours of the morning, having been bought from cattle sheds of Goregaon, Jogeshwari and Malad for amounts ranging from Rs 5000 to 7000 by leather traders.

Bhaam no Ijaaro means contract for collect of dead animals and this is exactly what most panjrapoles (goshalas) of Gujarat believe in undertaking. One of the biggest panjrapoles has an annual tender of Rs 20 lakhs, so figure out how many animals must be disposed off every day at Rs 150 each. This income from carcasses makes panjrapoles reluctant to want to, leave alone try hard to save cattle (usually in their last stages) they receive because they have to spend to keep them alive whereas if they die they get money. As good as abandoned, animals are left in mud and muck outside while the sheds are empty. Moreover, they refuse to accept sheep, goats or any animals that are a result of a Police complaint. In view of this, leather obtained from such cattle can not be considered ahinsak either.

Leather tanning is an environmentalist’s nightmare. In 2011 the Minister for Environment & Forests said that close to 50% of the leather processing units in the Ganga river basin were located in Uttar Pradesh (Jajmau, Unnao and Banthar) and West Bengal. Together they used 3,000 tonnes of tanning salts daily to preserve (process) 5,000 tonnes of raw hides, and close to 90% lands up in the Ganga and groundwater leading to pollution and contamination. The most heavily polluted stretch of 500 kms was between Kanauj and Varanasi. In fact, 30 units were issued directions, of which 6 were for closure. (These units weren’t all tanneries – some were distilleries, paper mills and chemical factories.) In July 2017 the National Green Tribunal warned that if these tanneries did not strictly follow their orders, they would face closure. In 2018 UP ordered tanneries in Kanpur to observe a shutdown from December 15, 2018 till March 15, 2019 in order to arrest the flow of effluents into the Ganga during the Kumbh Mela at Allahabad starting January 2019. However, after the tannery labour unions petitioned the Allahabad High Court, the UP Pollution Control Board relaxed its order and said that all the 249 units in question at the Jajmau area would be allowed to operate at no more than 50% capacity.

Tamil Nadu exports 80% of leather, of which as much as 65% originates from Vellore district. It is among the 20 highly critically polluted places in India due to effluents being discharged by the tanneries of the area. In fact, the Supreme Court had asked the government (both state and centre) not to after April 1996 issue any new licences for tanneries and that the existing ones should follow environmental rules. Despite this, the TN Agricultural University, Coimbatore’s study stated that the tannery workers continued to suffer from skin and respiratory problems. By 2017-18, 50,000 hectares of fertile land had been polluted by tanneries. Rivers Palar and Cauvery were no better because they were heavily polluted by discharge from tanneries.

Yet in 2019, the Union Minister for Skill Development & Entrepreneurship distributed certificates to graduating trainees under the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana conducted along with the Leather Sector Skill Council, and declared that the Government of India had allowed 100% direct foreign investment in the leather sector and rationalised export duty on raw and semi-finished leather.

Animal hide is not wearable unless “cured”. “Curing” is the process of cleaning the hide of the flesh, blood, hair, etc. sticking to it, then softening the hide, and treating it to last permanently without decomposing. The process of giving the hide a cure, however, ends up making everyone working on it need cures themselves, because “curing” or “tanning” requires the use of highly corrosive chemicals like chromium salts. Workers in tanneries contract life-long diseases from exposure to such chemicals and working conditions, which are known to be among the worst in the unorganised sector. A study on Kanpur’s tannery workers’ health declared that “leather production includes many operations with different exposures, which can be harmful for the health of the workers, and particularly be carcinogenic”. Moreover, bright and shiny red, green, yellow, orange coloured leather products contain high levels of lead. The permissible limit set is 300 ppm.

Quite often leather goods are assembled by sticking pieces together with the help of glue also of animal origin. In addition, tanning of leather could further entail the use of animal origin substances, e.g. neat’s foot oil derived from cattle feet and shinbones; palmitic acid/palmitin which could be derived from spermaceti or mink oil (or palm oil) which is imported.

Interestingly, the Chairman of the Central Pollution Control Board sold the apex authority a private patent called technology called lyophilliser (which dry freezes and preserves skins and hides without the use of salts) on a revenue sharing basis, and then in 2011 passed a directive in his official capacity placing a ban on any use or even transport of skins and hides where salts had been used for treating the leather. Thus, the leather industry was indirectly forced into buying expensive Rs 1 crore per unit, untested and not cost effective lyophilliser. The objection from them was that the unit processed only 5-10 hides at a time and needs 10-12 hours of constant high power and so increasing the cost of leather production by 60%.

This was complained about while effluent plants under the 11th Plan were set up – five in the south and one in Kolkata. 60% of the cost was given by the centre, 15% by the state, and only 25% was contributed for by stakeholders. The industry is in this way striving to look eco-friendly (and rural-friendly and women-friendly in providing employment). However, there is no doubt that the leather tanning continues to pollute so how can the Federation of Indian Export Organisation claim that Indian leather is a lifestyle choice for the world’s leading brands who are so particular on this aspect?

Soon after, Woodland (who likes to call itself a global adventure wear brand instead of a leather goods’ manufacturer) came out with a series of “Proplanet” advertisements “inspired by nature” because their billboards used real green plants/creepers and they covered (unrelated) topics such as planting and protecting trees and clean drinking water! One such ad disgustingly went to the extent of stating that their products were manufactured from biodegradable materials – animal leather is biodegradable! Their processes of manufacturing leather (“into natural fibres” what ever that means) may be technically environmentally friendly, but the manner of portraying, definitely misleads the public into believing that by using Woodland “Proplanet” range of leather products they’ll be “contributing towards saving the planet”. They even held a “Love for Nature Context” for which the winners were given Woodland gear. Looks like their competitors have a problem with them because in 2014 Hidesign (a Puducherry leather goods manufacturer) sent them a legal notice for copying their sling bag.

In June 2012 at the UN-Rio+20 Earth Summit, the sportswear company Puma announced that because
leather is such an environmentally damaging product and because leather and beef are among the biggest contributors to carbon emissions, they would follow up their “Meat-free Mondays” in office canteens, by stopping the use of leather in their famous football boots and trainers.

In contrast to this, in April 2013 the Council for Leather Exports shockingly planned to get into organised cattle farming to bridge the shortage of raw leather, the demand for which had resulted in imports doubling in the five years to Rs 2153.3 crore in 2010-11. They blamed it on illegal movement of live cattle and unfinished leather from India to Bangladesh. (Some estimates have put the annual turnover from leather and meat of cattle smuggled at over Rs 25 billion.) The CLE strategy was to get meat and dairy producers on board and then get the support from the Ministry of Agriculture so that they get good quality leather – in other words, cattle will be bred only to be killed basically for their skin when young and healthy. BWC wrote to the Minister of Commerce appealing that the scheme be abandoned immediately. Two months later a non-committal and unsatisfactory reply was received from the Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion (Leather Section) which can be read here. Therefore, BWC again wrote to the Minister and asked if the organized cattle farming concept was to merely encourage implementation of better animal welfare measures and not for killing of animals for leather, why was it taken up by the Council of Leather Exports? The CLE needed to totally and immediately abandon the concept of undertaking organised cattle farming and we requested assurance to this effect.


Under India’s Import Policy 2012 hides and skins of bovine (including buffalo) or equine animals can be imported “free” (allowed). Cow, including cow calf, buffalo, including buffalo calf, and others have been specifically stated as allowed. Similarly, skins of sheep and lambs, baby lambs, kids, swine and reptiles are also allowed but import is subject to Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972 and CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). In fact the policy allows “free” import of many articles made of leather ranging from saddles and harnesses to handbags and accessories.

On 3 January 2017 the Directorate of Foreign Trade issued an amendment (DGFT Notification No 33/2015-2020) to the import policy prohibiting reptile skins, mink, fox, and chinchilla fur. Moreover, on 28 March 2018 DGFT Public Notice 59 stated “Policy Condition: Import of seal skin, in any form, is prohibited” under Chapter 41, 42 and 43 of ITC (HS), 2017. Unfortunately the 3 January 2017 Policy was reversed from “Prohibited” to “Free” vide Notification No 55/2015-2020 dated 7 January 2021. On getting to know in April 2021 BWC approached the Prime Minister and the Union Minister for Commerce & Industry, as well as the Union Minister of Health & Family Welfare, to again reverse and place reptile skins, mink, fox, chinchilla and add all animal furs in the Prohibited category of the Import Policy particularly in view of foreign fur farms having closed down due to Covid-19. BWC got to later know that the removal of the import prohibition had been taken up by the Council For Leather Exports and their request was granted.

Beauty Without Cruelty has written more than once to the Government of India about the import of leathers derived from the cow family because such use was contrary to the beliefs of those who worshiped cows. Leathers, hides and skins that are a result of cow slaughter were being imported as part of finished goods or for assembly here, e.g. handbags, footwear, upholstery for vehicles and furniture. People were unknowingly purchasing and unsuspectingly using them. The products were sold in shops and online. We pointed out that unless the words cow, calf, ox and bull are a part of the name of the leather and it is labelled so, people do not realise that the leather is from the cow family. Some names that mislead are bovine hides, parchment, vellum, rainforest leather, nubuck, Clemence leather, Togo leather, Italian leather and slink leather which is the leather from unborn calves for which pregnant cows are killed. BWC therefore continues to hope that the Directorate General of Foreign Trade puts an immediate ban on leathers derived from the cow family as well as import of cheese containing calf/animal rennet.

In January 2016 as India’s leather industry’s turnover was around $12 billion, it was identified as a focus sector under the Make in India scheme. The leather industry had been exploring way to firm up exports to the US and other countries in the wake of Chinese exports to these countries getting more expensive due to escalating production costs in China. That’s when the 19th International Technical Footwear Congress at Chennai in collaboration with the International Union of Shoe Industry Technicians was for the first time organised in India.

In 2017 sops to promote the leather sector were given by the Government of India. Certain duty benefits were extended and a new scheme (similar package to textile sector) announced to the labour intensive leather and footwear sector with a view to boost domestic manufacture and exports and of course jobs. After the Indian Leather Development Programme ended with the 12 Five Year Plan (2012-2017), the DIPP (Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion) sought Rs 4,000 crore from the Union Budget for an incentive scheme for the leather and footwear segment designed to boost manufacturing, exports and job creation till FY 2020.

Promoting leather is not only done by Indian companies such as Hidesign (they even market sunglasses “handcrafted from natural acetate and leather”) in 2011 November, the international fashion house Hermes held a demonstration by their craftsmen at their Mumbai outlet. They boasted on their long-standing tradition of hand-stitching individual pieces like their Bearn wallet which they assembled using filet and perloir tools, dye and a lump of beeswax. BWC wonders why they called the material “exotic leather” not ostrich leather. A gimmick used to market a Withings smart-watch claimed it had a soft tan leather strap which was shipped from an ‘ancestral’ French tannery! That’s not all, the latest gimmick discovered by the CLRI is the use of solid leather waste (745 kgs is generated during processing of 1,000 kgs of raw hide) to create nano-composite material to make items like aircraft, cars, bikes, light-weight construction material, electrical switches, and computer cabinets, and of course soles of shoes! The material is created by combining the dust from buffing with a polymer which could be epoxy or synthetic rubber and certain nano-particles of titanium dioxide and silicon dioxide, and cured through heat additives to toughen it.


In 2016 Hermes came out with another gimmick by comparing buying gold and a Birkin handbag claiming it to be a better investment since it had risen by 500% in 35 years. The bag’s retail price ranges between Rs 7,00,000 to 96,000 but can go upto Rs 1,54,00,000 in an auction since there is a 6-year waiting list. That the bag is made of calf leather was not mentioned even though calf slaughter is banned in almost the whole of India.

Pros and Cons

Child labour: Few are aware that in India children are made to illegally work in tanneries and leather goods workshops. This happens despite the existence of the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.

Quite often the origin of particular leather, skin or hide is not indicated in the name it is known by.
At other times, the name of the leather is misleading, like “Croc leather” which is actually calf leather made to look like crocodile skin. The table below gives some clarifications and also lists a few non-animal materials:

 What it is
 Alligator Skin  Alligators and crocodiles are specially bred, raised and killed for their skin.
 Aniline Leather  Leather that is treated with dye to produce a "naked" leather look.
 Astrakhan / Haircalf /
 Skin of Karakul lamb killed within 48 hours of birth.
 Ayers Snakeskin  Snakeskin printed with python markings.
 Belting / Strap Leather  Leather used for strength related requirements like furniture.
 Bicast / Bi-cast /
 Bycast Leather
 Thick layer of polyurethane applied to a substrate of low-grade or
 bonded/reconstituted leather. Pleather and PU Leather is another name for  Bicast Leather.
 Biofabricated Leather  Following a biopsy on a living animal, skin cells are taken from which leather
 is grown in the lab.
 Birkibuc  Made from acrylic and polyamide felt fibres to replicate Nubuck leather.
 Birko-Flor  Made from acrylic and polyamide felt fibres to replicate Patent leather.
 Bison Leather  Waxy feel. Used for jackets and baseball gloves.
 Bonded / Blended  Leather  90-100% leather scrap fibres bonded together with latex binders to create a
 "true" leather look.
 Bovine / Cattle Hides  Ox leather and considered one of the strongest. (Hide is the whole pelt from
 large animals such as cattle and horses.)
 Box Calfskin / Leather  Having square markings on the grain and treated with chromium salts.
 Similar to Veu Tadelakt Leather. Veau Sikkim Leather resembles Box Calf
 Leather but is soft and has little to no grain.
 Buck Skin  Deer and elk skins having their outer grain removed.
 Buffalo  Variations include Grainy, Soft, Glossy, Polished and Buffalo Shine Leathers.
 Bull Hide  Hide from a male bovine, capable of reproduction.
 Cabretta Leather  Hair-sheep skins much used in footwear and gloves for sports like golf.
 Caiman Leather  Inferior quality crocodile skin.
 Calf Hides  The hide of a male or female calf from birth until a yearling. 
 Calf Leather  The leather of a male or female calf from birth until a yearling.
 Calf Skin  Same as Calf Hide and Calf Leather, some have a metallic finish.
 Some called  Shrunken, Micrograin, Grainy, Sleek, Flat, Crossboarded and
 Box Calf Leathers.
 California Banknotes  Hides.
 Cambridge  Blend of cotton and canvas with a polyurethane coating.
 Camel Hide  Considered five times stronger than bovine leather.
 Camel Leather  Is tanned "fur on" and "fur off".
 Camel Skin  Soft if vegetable tanned.
 Canvas  100% Cotton material but could be sometimes trimmed with leather such as
 Cape Skin  Skin from sheep raised in South America.
 Carding Leather  Special type of side (half a hide cut along the backbone) leather.
 Carp Leather  Carp fish leather is soft with scaly skin.
 Carpincho Leather  Leather is like that of pig skin but it is from a water rodent of South America.
 Cat Pelt  Skin of cat. (Pelt is an untanned skin with hair on.)
 Catfish Leather  Catfish is the biggest freshwatqer fish of Europe and has a smooth skin with  an unmistakeable grain.
 Chameleon Ostrich  Not ostrich, but animal leather made to appear as ostrich.
 Chamois / Flesher  Leather  Skin of a small mountain antelope or young sheep/goat/kid/pig/puppy used
 for making expensive gloves and for cleaning fine surfaces.
 Chevre Mysore Leather  Goatskin with refined grain.
 Chrome Leather  Chrome is a process relating to the use of chromium salts used for tanning
 leather like Nappa known for their softness. Used in luxury cars.
 Clarino  Man-made suede and top-grain and patent leathers consisting of a superfine
 fibre construction and tiny cavities.
 Clemence Leather  Hide of young bull.
 Cod Leather  Leather has both fine (shut scaling finish) and coarse completion
 (open scaling finish).
 Cognac Leather  Refers to colour of leather: brown with hint of red.
 Composite Leather  Made using leftover leather shavings and dust as binder and PU as the filler. It  is coated with an acrylic layer and heat embossed with leather markings.
 Corinthian Leather  Chrysler's brand name for the leather used in their cars.
 Cork Leather  Made from the bark of cork oak trees.
 Cow Hide  Hide of cow, bull, bullock, ox, steer or heifer.
 Cow Leather  Leather of cow, bull, bullock, ox, steer or heifer.
 Crackle / Cracked  Metallic Leather  Foil finished overlay on suede based animal leather.
 Croc Leather  Calf leather made to look like crocodile skin.
 Crocodylus Leather  Leather of Crocodile from Africa's Nile River. Crocodylus variations are used
 for Hermes' bags.
 Croupon / Crupp  Leather  A semicircular portion of leather taken from the butt of tanned horse or
 some other animal's hide.
 Crust Leather  Tanned and dried out, but not finished leather.
 Cuir Bouilli (Boiled  Leather)  Thick and hard leather as a result of boiling it and used to bind books.
 Darwin Leather  A type of Natural Leather from animals.
 Deer Skin  Toughest of leathers. Used for drums.
 Desserto / Nopal  Leather  Cactus-based vegan leather.
 Doe Skin  Sheep or lambskins, usually with the grain removed.
 Dog Leather  Skin of dog.
 Drummed Patent  Leather  Similar to Patent Leather and Naplak Leather.
 Eel Skin  Similar to snake skin since eels are also legless. Big sized eels are found in  coral reefs.
 EI / East India Leather  Vegetable tanned leather produced in tanneries of Tiruchi and Dindigul,
 Tamil Nadu.
 Elephant Leather  Elephant leather has a rippled texture. Leather from ears is consider exotic.
 Embossed Leather  Immitation by pressing of another full grain pattern on leather like that of
 python onto cowhide.
 Emu Hide  Similar to Ostrich Leather. 
 Epi Leather  Animal leather that is dyed all the way through. Created by Louis Vuitton. 
 Epsom Leather  Grain embossed compressed type of animal leather that is laminated.
 Etoile / Toile Leather  Made of linen it is used along with leather in Hermes handbags. 
 EVA / Ethylene Vinyl  Acetate  Polyethylene with rubber like properties, softer, flexible and waterproof, mainly  used for footwear in sole moulding. 
 Evergrain / Evercalf  Leather  Calf Leather. 
 Fabrikoid  Immitation leather by DuPont consisting of cotton cloth coated with
 nitrocellulose. Used in both automobile seat covbers and tops of convertible
 FineWoven  Textile twill made from 68% recycled content, having a soft, suede like feel,  used to replace leather by Apple with the aim of making carbon neutral  watches and other items.
 Fish Skin  Leather processed from salmon, shark, catfish and tuna and used as
 substitutes for Lizard Skins.
 Fjord Leather  A vache or adult cow leather.
 Ghol Skin  A black spotted croaker fish considered good source of high-quality collagen.
 Glove Leather  Italian leather, soft, pliable and in pastel shades. Metallic glove leather is
 also animal leather.
 Goat Skin / Leather  Skin of goat. Also, printed goat and textured goat leathers.
 Gulliver / Swift Leather  Processed animal leather that enhances luminosity.
 Hampstead  Similar to Nappa Leather, soft and washed.
 Harness Leather  Rigid animal leather used for piping to trim bags.
 Havana Leather  Light, smooth and very supple animal leather.
 Heifer Leather  Leather of an under 3 years old cow that hasn't produced a calf.
 Horse Hide  Hide from horse or colt.

 Imperial / Elliot /

 Amazon / Karung /

 Gecko / Nile / Tiber

 Reptile Skins.
 Italian Leather  High quality leather tanned in Italy. Used for items ranging from shoes to
 luxury cars.
 Jewel Calf Leather  Calf skin derived by killing a calf that is few days to few weeks old.
 Kangaroo Skin  Skin of kangaroo. Used for bull whips and footboll boots.
 Kenya  Often called printed vegetable tanned leather. Mock croc/lizard print in matt
 shine, nevertheless animal leather.
 Kip Skin  Skin of a male/female bovine aged between a calf and adult animal.
 Koskin  Poromeric imitation leather, not to be confused with Swedish Koskin and
 Danish Koskind which are cowhide.
 Kydex  Thermoplastic acrylic-polyvinyl chloride material used for items such as
 firearm holsters and sheaths for knives.
 Lagoon Leather  Hardwearing reptile leather with a varied scales pattern.
 Lamb / Kid Skin  Skin of a young sheep, yean or kid.
 Latigo  Created from the fibrous part of the hide left once the top-grain of the raw
 hide has been separated from the hide which is then used to create Suede,
 and if desired it can be further processed to give afull grain appearance the
 trade name of which is Latigo.
 Leatherette  Artificial leather, usually made by covering a fabric base with plastic.
 Ligator Croc Skin   Crocodile skin produced from real reptile fibres and covered with a special
 paint making it glossy and waterproof.
 Lightweight Antiqued  Leather   Distinctive Italian leather with light wax applied.
 Lizard Skin  Skin of reptiles, killed for skin. May be bred for skin too.
 Mississippi Leather  Mock Croc animal leather in matt and shiny finishes.
 Mocha Leather  Middle-East hairy sheep with usually grain removed from the skin.
 Morocco Leather  Sheep skin dyed red and has a bird's eye pattern grain.
 Mulberry Coloured  Leather  Coloured Vegetable Tanned (CVT) but nevertheless animal leather.
 Also Printed, Smooth and Soft Mulberry Leathers.
 Mulberry Congo Leather  Mock Croc finish animal leather.
 Mulbtex  Mulberry tree-leaf pulp mixed with silicone (sand). However, it is a by-product  of the silk industry.
 Naplak Leather  A highly textured Patent Leather. Similar to Drummed Patent Leather.
 Nappa  Soft, is chrome tanned and used for high quality goods. Can be Lamb Nappa.
 Also Quilted, Croc, Silky and Large Grain Nappa are full and fine grain calf
 Natural Leather  May be natural vegetable tanned (NVT) but nevertheless animal leather.
 Naugahyde  Pleather consisting of a composite knit fabric backing and expanded polyvinyl
 chloride (PVC) plastic coating used as a substitute for leather in upholstery.
 Nubuck  Cattle hide with velvet-like surface.
 NuSuede  Man-made material, a substitute to Suede.
 Ocean Leather  Made from kelp (seaweed).
 Ostrich Leather  Characteristic "goose-bumps" (large follicles from which the feather grew) is
 often termed "exotic" leather.
 Ostrich Print Velvet  A high sheen, luxe velvet fabric embossed with ostrich print.
 Ox Hides  Skin of bulls.
 Pacu Leather  Pacu is the piranha of South America and is covered with numerous little  scopes.
 Panama  Drummed natural animal leather used for travel pieces.
 Parchment  Made from sheep/goat/calf skin.
 Parrotfish Leather  Very thick, hefty and having huge scopes.
 Patent Leather  Very shinny/glossy, smooth and some times coated with plastic.
 Peccary Leather  Wild boar leather, like pig skin.
 Pittards Leather  Brand name of high quality leather goods particularly batting gloves for
 Pleather  Man-made material consisting of plastic and leather/fibrous base as the name
 denotes. Another name for Bicast and PU Leathers.
 Plonge  Soft Lambskin leather.
 Porcine / Pig Skin  Skin of hogs, boars and domestic pigs.
 Poromeric  Term coined by DuPont for their Corfam material with the words microporous
 and polymeric. Synthetic breathable leather made from coating a fibrous base
 layer like polyester with polyurethane.
 Premium Leather  Expensive, high quality, genuine animal skin – usually cow hide used for car
 Presstoff / Preßstoff /  Pressstoff  Made of specially layered and treated paper pulp, it means replacement
 leather in German. Can be used for applications such as horse tack, binocular
 cases, equipment belts, but not for items such as footwear that are
 repeatedly subjected to flex wear and moisture.
 PU / Polyurethane  Leather  Split/bonded/blended/reconstituted leather consisting of the fibrous, lower
 grade of leather than remains when the high grade grain layer is split off the
 hide, covered with an embossed layer of PU or polyurethane (or vinyl).
 Another name for Bicast Leather and Pleather.
 PVC (Polyvinyl chloride)  A leather-like material.
 Python  Skin of python. Illegally obtained and traded.
 Rainforest Leather  Leather from cows that were grazed on once-dense jungle in South American
 Rat Skin  Skin of rodents.
 Raw Hide  Obtained by scraping the skin thin, soaking in lime and stretching while it
 Ray Fish  There are about 600 species of rays and leather from them all can probably be  utilised.
 Reconstituted Leather  90-100% leather scrap fibres bonded together with latex binders to create a
 "true" leather look.
 Rexine  Hyde's brand name for artificial leather cloth. Made from a mixture of cellulose
 nitrate, camphor oil, pigment and alcohol, embossed to look like leather.
 Rhino Leather  Similar to elephant leather.
 Rio Leather  Natural animal leather with individual grain pattern visible.
 Saddle Leather  Cattle hide for saddles and harnesses. Also called Barenia Natural Leather.
 Safari Croc Calf Leather  Calf skin embossed to look like crocodile skin (or other reptile skins).
 Saffiano Leather  Calf leather textured by a stamping process which gives diagonal lines and a
 cross-hatch finish; it is then waxed. Created by Prada.
 Salmon Leather  Skin is tanned, is dainty and light, but has higher strength than sheep or pig  leather.
 Scotchgrain  Poly Vinyl coated canvas.
 Seal / Walrus Skin  Seal and walrus skins.
 Shark Skin  Not to be confused with Stingray Skin.
 Shearling Skin  Sheep and lamb skins tanned with wool intact. Corduroy and Tartan shearling
 are backed with shearling lining.
 Sheepskin / Womble  Skin of sheep often used as coat.
 Silky Snake  Cow/calf leather with distinctive look due to finishing processes.
 Skate Skin  There are over 150 species of skate fish - for example, stake skin pearlfish  leather.
 Skiver Leather  The thin grain layer split from sheep skin.
 Slink Hide  Soft hide of an unborn calf/fetus used for gloves.
 Slink Leather  Soft leather of an unborn calf/fetus used for gloves.
 Snake Skin  Snakes are usually skinned alive.
 Sparkle Tweed Leather  Metalic finish animal leather.
 Spazzalato  Demi-sheen animal leather.
 Spiber  Made via microbial fermentation and can contain animal derived substances as  for spider silk of same brand.
 Split Leather  Created from the fibrous part of the hide left once the top-grain of the raw
 hide has been separated from the hide which is then used to create Suede.
 Steer Hide  Hide from a mature male bovine killed for beef.
 Stingray Leather /  Shargreen  Rough leather, usually coloured green. Atlantic Stingray Leather does not  have a pearl structure and therefore leather objects made from it are  uncommon.
 Sturgeon Leather  Durable and waterproof.
 Suede  Leather with a dense, soft and fuzzy surface produced by rubbing the flesh
 side. Looks similar to velvet and felt.
 Sullivan Leather  Vegetable tanned, nevertheless animal leather.
 Textured / Tumbled /
 Pebbled / Dimpled
 All animal leathers.
 Togo Leather  Hide of an adult bull.
 Ultrasuede  Feels like natural suede, but made from polymer microfibre. Almost the same
 as Alcantara.
 Vachetta Leather  Untreated leather. Used as trim on handbags and luggage.
 Veal Calfskin  An upholstery leather skin averaging 30 square feet of premier quality.
 Vellum  Finer quality Parchment made of calf skin.
 Velvet Leather  Animal leather with an almost suede like finish.
 Vinyl  Man-made material similar to patent leather.
 Wang Dumbo  A deeply textured and pebbled animal hide similar to lambskin but thicker
 and slightly grainier.
 Wet-blue Leather  Full grain/split leather of cow, buffalo, sheep, goat and camel sold wet and
 blue, the blue colour being derived from the chromium used for tanning the
 Wexford  Thick and supple deer leather.
 Wolffish / Ocean /
 Sea Wolf
 Smooth and spotted hides without scales. Not to be confused with Ocean
 Leather made from kelp/seaweed.
 Yak Leather  Similar to Ox and Cow Hides.

Meat and Leather are two sides of the same Coin

Leather or Faux Leather?: First, read the label. A reliable way to check if the material in question is animal leather or not is to smell it – if animal leather, it will have a typical odour reminiscent of a dead animal. If still in doubt, if possible try to inspect its edges and under-surface by prying it open slightly: if it is not leather, threads or a texture like woven material will be visible, otherwise it will be very smooth. Or else, burn a corner: leather will burn without a flame and give off an odour of burning flesh, whereas all synthetic leathers will quickly catch fire because they are polymer based. Another way to check is by applying a bit of saliva: animal leather absorbs moisture, but on faux leather it will not “disappear”. Furthermore, synthetic leathers have an unbroken, uniform pattern over their entire surface, whereas the pores or grains of animal leather varies in patches and looks similar to human skin. If the texture is very stiff, bubbles are visible, or looks like it may crack, it is Pleather (plastic on leather) or Bicast/Bi-cast/Bycast leather or PU leather which consists of a thick layer of plastic or PU (Poly-Urethane) applied to bonded/reconstituted leather. Nevertheless it is important to remember the names Pleather, Bicast and PU leather because just being three times cheaper than genuine leather, or if a better quality of Bicast in which bubbles etc are not visible, or if the words synthetic or artificial are used to describe the products, they can still contain real animal leather.

Page last updated on 29/01/24