Are jeans vegan? Well, yes and no. While the sturdy cotton twill we recognize as denim is animal-friendly enough, the derriere patch that proclaims a pant’s pedigree is, more often than not, a leather product—cow leather, specifically.
And that doesn’t sit well with People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals (PETA) at all.
The animal-rights group is calling on Levi Strauss to ditch animal-derived leather for a more ethical alternative that is also better for the planet.
“PETA is urging Levi’s to recognize that if the company is truly committed to sustainable and progressive practices, the most effective way to reduce its environmental impact is to use vegan materials,” it said in a statement. “A great first—and easy—step would be to replace its leather jean patches with vegan-leather ones.”
Animal leather, PETA claims, generates three times the environmental impact of its vegan counterpart, which is typically made from synthetic materials such as polyvinyl chloride or polyurethane (and therefore lugs around its own baggage). Other, bio-based versions are at varying stages of viability, including Piñatex, a hide-like textile made from the waste leaves of the pineapple plant, and Mylo, a faux leather cultured from mushroom roots. Modern Meadow in New Jersey “grows” Zoa, another vegan option based on collagen proteins made using yeast DNA.
Indeed the Higg Materials Sustainability Index, a cradle-to-gate material scoring tool from the Sustainable Apparel Coalition rates cow leather No. 1 among materials with the greatest upstream burdens. Stella McCartney, in its 2016 Global Environmental Profit and Loss report, likewise dubbed leather the “highest-impact material” it studied due to the swaths of land required for cattle grazing and growing feed, the levels of methane the animals release and the amounts of energy tanneries consume. (The social fallout from all that toxic chemical use is pretty harrowing, too.)
PETA also appealed to Levi’s empathy, which the denim giant lists as one of its core values. Animal leather, the organization said, often comes from cows who endure confinement, food and water deprivation, extreme crowding and disease.
“Branding, tail-docking, dehorning and castration are all commonly performed on them without painkillers, and they’re transported hundreds of miles to feed lots and slaughterhouses, where many are skinned while still conscious,” it added.
PETA lauded Jon Bon Jovi’s Hart N Dagger clothing line, which swapped out the leather patches on its jeans in 2017 for a touch of faux, for making a “business-savvy switch.” Now it says it hopes Levi’s will do the same.
“More and more consumers around the world are recognizing that it’s unacceptable to abuse and kill animals to make clothing and that leather isn’t a mere byproduct, or leftover, of the meat industry,” PETA said of the $100 billion industry. “Committing to using only vegan leather on its jean patches would be an easy first step toward legitimizing the company’s claims of being a sustainable and compassionate industry leader.”
Levi’s pointed out that leather plays a minimal role in its materials sourcing.
“Less than 10 percent of the raw materials in our supply chain are from sources other than cotton, and a small fraction of that percentage is leather,” a Levi’s spokesperson told Sourcing Journal. “Nevertheless, Levi Strauss & Co. strives to source all materials responsibly. Our goal is to ensure that wherever materials derived from animals are used in our products, their health and welfare are protected, in line with international animal welfare standards.”