What is Sustainable Leather?

Want to consciously shop for a new leather bag without harming the planet? Consider sustainable leather, which combines ethically sourced raw materials and the talents of well-paid artisans. 

In this go-to guide, we’ll break down for you what sustainable leather is, how it compares to traditional and vegan alternatives, and just what goes into the process to make it more animal, people and planet-friendly. Let’s get started.


Sustainable leather is a byproduct of farms that use environmentally friendly practices, rather than a product of commercial factories that use unsafe chemicals and contribute to global waste problems. 

Manufacturers source sustainable leather locally from farms that produce fewer emissions and provide their animals with better living conditions. On these types of farms, consideration for the animals’ hides always comes secondary to their status as farm animals. 


The process of making sustainable leather prioritizes ethical and environmental considerations throughout the entire process: from sourcing to production to stitching. 

  • Manufacturers source sustainable materials. Instead of using hides from mass-farmed animals, producers source sustainable, full-grain leather from small, regenerative farms that value animal welfare and biodiversity. The leather is a byproduct of the meat industry already in place at the local level, and no part of the animal goes to waste.
  • Production utilizes non-toxic tanning. Sustainable leather handbags and other sustainable leather goods are free of the toxic chemicals that conventional tanning methods use, such as chromium salts, to stabilize the leather. These chemicals pose massive health and environmental risks to workers, consumers and the planet, with some even being carcinogens.
  • Artisans use the leather to craft goods. After the sustainable tanneries process the leather, skilled artisans stitch it into handbags and other goods, such as leather wallets, in a clean, safe environment in exchange for fair pay. This is in contrast to traditional sewing factories, where the workers must often endure unsafe conditions, low ages and long hours.


Sustainable leather looks beautiful and ages gracefully, but its benefits don’t stop there. Compared to traditional leather, it offers advantages for society and the planet at large.

  • Animal welfare: Sustainable leather producers ethically source their materials from local farmers who treat their animals with care and respect. These farms produce high-quality leather while simultaneously ensuring that the farmers themselves are running clean and safe farm facilities. Brands that sell attractive weekenders, functional totes and other goods made from sustainable leather support this type of fair farming.
  • Environmental responsibility: Sustainable leather products use less energy to produce and result in less waste, making for a smaller carbon footprint. Raw materials come from pre-existing farms in rural areas, meaning deforestation isn’t necessary. And the eco-friendly tanning methods, which utilize organic compounds and recycled water, are much safer for workers and consumers.
  • Superb quality: The sustainable leather industry values quality craftsmanship over mass production. As a result, sustainable leather purses and handbags are often the work of talented artisans, who handcraft the items with care and great attention to detail. If you take the time to store your leather handbag appropriately, it could last you decades.
  • Social equity: Every worker in a sustainable leather supply chain receives fair pay and treatment. This includes living wages, safe working conditions and the promotion of their long-term growth and well-being. Prime fair-trade prices ensure that the farmers and craftspeople can provide for their families and continue doing what they love to do.


The global impact of traditional leather production is huge and presents some serious problems for society.

  • Excessive water usage: The production of traditional leather is water-intensive, especially during the soaking, fleshing and tanning stages. Traditional processes use thousands of gallons of water to produce just a single pound of raw hide.
  • Deforestation: The raw material for traditional leather comes from cattle, sheep, lambs, goats and pigs. Raising livestock requires substantial space for grazing, growing and breeding, so farmers clear trees for their agricultural activities. The resulting loss in biodiversity and carbon poses a significant environmental threat.
  • Excessive greenhouse gas emissions: Livestock farming accounts for nearly 15 percent of all global emissions, with commercial, profit-first farms contributing the most. Factors include the methane that results from the animals’ burps and manure, the farms’ energy use, and the fertilization of crops that will later become feed for the animals.
  • Poor labor conditions: The fashion industry has a bad track record when it comes to working conditions, especially in developing countries where authorities enforce regulations weakly or not at all. Workers often face health risks from exposure to harmful chemicals and are usually subject to unfair wages and labor practices.


Compared to traditional leather, sustainable leather is better for people, animals and the planet, but many animal activists are still critical. Many assume that "vegan leather" and "eco-leather" products are safe, ethical options. However, that's rarely the case.

While there are some plant-based leathers, vegan leather usually contains two different plastic polymers: polyurethane (PU) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Manufacturers make these “faux leathers” using plastic, an oil product, and treat them with harmful chemicals. The oil industry accounts for 30% of all global emissions (nearly twice that of farming) and indirectly damages animal habitats.

Additionally, plastic can’t break down naturally. Instead, the leather products end up in a landfill, where they release harmful toxins. So while vegan leathers don’t directly harm animals, there are other factors at play. A much more environmentally friendly solution might be to restore a leather handbag to its former quality, eliminating the need to contribute further to consumerism.


If you’re planning to purchase a leather crossbody or backpack, you’re better off purchasing a sustainably made bag that will last for generations as opposed to a pleather or faux leather version you’ll have to replace every other year. Vegan leather goods may only last up to five years given their plastic composition.

On the other hand, real animal leather can last you a lifetime of wear. You can carry your real leather backpack on every trip and pass it down through generations for years to come, making new memories with it every time. Ultimately, choosing a real leather product will be more sustainable for both you and the environment in the long run.




Each Latico bag is handmade with love by talented artisans throughout South America and India. We're passionate about environmental sustainability and giving back — our leathers are byproducts of the meat and dairy industry that would otherwise go to waste.

Additionally, we donate 10 meals to Feeding America for every purchase made on our website. Thanks to our loyal customers, we've been able to donate 100,000 meals and counting to this incredible organization.

At Latico, we're transforming the perception of leather with our focus on sustainable, ethically-sourced products. By prioritizing local farms and fair-trade practices, we've created a method that reduces waste and promotes animal & worker welfare. Our commitment extends through every step of the process: ethical sourcing, non-toxic tanning, and fair treatment of our artisans. As consumers increasingly place more value on responsibly-produced goods, sustainable leather stands as a durable, high-quality, and truly planet-friendly choice. Explore our collections and join us on this journey to redefine leather, fostering a more sustainable fashion industry.

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