Leather Jacket: The Rebel Icon That Lost Its Gall

July 30, 2009

by Joshua Katcher


Since the first Harley Davidson Motorcycle Jacket appeared in the United States in 1919, there might not be a symbol that resonates more clearly in almost every subculture than the leather jacket. From rock stars, punks, bikers, to hipsters, fashionistas, greasers, goths, metal-heads, and even the not-so-subcultured like military aviators and the police – the leather jacket has largely defined ‘cool’ since the word cool was made to mean something new by jazz legend, Lester Young, in 1933.  In addition, many fashion experts regard leather as having unsurpassed sex-appeal – so much that it has one of the most https://i0.wp.com/www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/brainiac/ramones.jpgpopular fetish followings. Originally made for its functionality of durability and protective properties, it has come to suggest masculinity, and strength – and more recently as high-end designers cash in our desires to look cool and strong, wealth.

Sid Vicious’ suicide note instructed: “Bury me in my leather jacket…” Images of James Dean, Elvis, Marlon Brando, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, Michael Jackson, The Fonz, Cathy Gale, Indiana Jones, and even the Black Panthers and the Russian Bolsheviks come to mind when we think of leather jackets.  Hollywood helped launch the leather jacket as a symbol of intimidation and rebelliousness early on with Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne in Leather Bomber Jackets, and films like The Wild One, Easy Rider, Grease and Mad Max .

What is a leather jacket? Well, to be simple, it’s the preserved skin-organ of an animal, torn from its body, treated with chemicals, dyed, and cut up into pieces to be used as a “fabric”.  Like all flesh, without the toxic tanning process, leather would rot and decompose. Horses, goats, cows, calves, lamb, sheep, pigs and “exotic” animals like crocodiles, ostrich, and many kinds of snakes are all used for their skins. Other species are hunted and killed specifically for their skins, including zebras, bison, water buffaloes, boars, kangaroos, elephants, eels, sharks, dolphins, seals, walruses, frogs, turtles, and lizards. Dairy cows are also turned into leather once they are “spent” and their calves become expensive calfskin once slaughtered for veal. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the global leather industry slaughters more that a billion animals and tans their skins each year, globally.

tannery pollution in Bangladesh

The tanning is especially problematic. If a billion animals are killed for their skins per year, you do the math on how many gallons of toxic chemicals are used to turn that into leather jackets. Communities surrounding tanneries in India, Kentucky, and Sweden report high instances of leukemia and cancer, and the chemicals used to tan leather, including heavy metals like chromium, find their way into water supplies and river systems. Animals on factory farms in the U.S. produce 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population, without the benefit of waste treatment plants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has even acknowledged that livestock pollution is the greatest threat to our waterways. Turning skin into leather also requires mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, and various oils, dyes, and finishes, some of them cyanide-based.

Eco-friendly leather is a myth and a travesty. Based simply on the amount of resources it takes to raise animals – from feed crops, pastureland, water, and fossil fuels, to the record-breaking amounts of greenhouse gasses emitted by cattle (livestock production is the #1 cause of greenouse gas emissions), even if, at the very final stage of this environmentally devastating process, a “vegetable-based” tanning process is used, it does not erase the colossal leather boot-print that raising livestock has on ecosystems . What also becomes clear is the myth that synthetics are environmentally inferior to so-called “natural” materials like leather.

Many people see leather as by-product of the meat and dairy industry, and justify wearing it with the rationalization “ The animal is dead already, so we may as well make use of the skin”. But would the animal be dead if there weren’t a demand for it’s flesh and skin in the first place? According to the USDA,  the skin of the animal represents “the most economically important byproduct of the meat packing industry.” So it isn’t just someone making use of scraps – it is a profitable industry in itself.


It’s clear that the leather jacket is a force to be reckoned with, but as our relationships to animals and ecosystems evolve, what does the leather jacket really mean, now? It all boils down to power – like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix, the leather trench represents his potentially intimidating and powerful appearance. Much like the meaning of fur, which has come to represent arrogant indifference towards animals, leather is headed down that same path, towards being a symbol of ignorance and indifference.

“The image of leather no longer defines outcasts, rebels, and counter-culture; instead, it is the epitome of mainstream, problematic relationships with ecosystems and violent and exploitative relationships with animals.”

The gorgeous illusions spun by the Goliath fashion industry are, indeed, spellbinding. And it’s no wonder the leather industry, with its orthodox relationship to the oldest, largest and most powerful https://i2.wp.com/www.truelegends.com/images/pce15.jpgfashion houses, has seen such consistent success. We hear writers, journalists and experts avow the nature of leather – how this “material” molds to our shape, breathes, and can withstand extreme punishment. But, it is not a “material” per se (any more than the Jewish hair used to stuff mattresses and pillows from the Nazi death-camps was a “material”). It was someone’s very skin. How can anyone be taken seriously as a compassionate, conscientious, and ecologically responsible individual, while boasting such a powerful symbol of both ecological devastation and animal suffering?

We know better. This isn’t a leap of faith – the evidence is right there in front of us. Not only are there countless documented cases of animals being boiled and dismembered alive, but in India, one of the largest leather exporters, the cows have their tails broken and chili-peppers rubbed in their eyes to keep them moving on their exhaustive journey outside the boarders of India where they can legally be killed specifically for their skins. Snakes and lizards may be skinned alive because of the belief that live flaying makes leather more supple. Kangaroos are slaughtered by the millions every year; their skins are considered prime material for soccer shoes. The conditions and treatment these animals face are horrifying.

Losing its gall. The image of leather no longer defines outcasts, rebels, and counter-culture; instead, it is the epitome of mainstream, problematic realtionships with ecosystems and violent and exploitative relationships with animals. It is woefully ordinary, and painfully tired. When you wear leather, you are no longer saying “I am powerful, individual, and cool“, you are saying “I am environmentally irresponsible and I hate animals“.

JUNE CONTEST! Win a pair of Bourgeois Bohéme brogues! (US size 10)

June 1, 2009


Win a pair of Bourgeois Bohéme brogues! (US size 10)

Bourgeois Boheme makes amazing, vegan shoes and boots for men and women. These Simpatias have been featured on the blog before, and I am sure someone who is a size 10 will have some happy, handsome feet! These are some of my favorites!

You can win these Bourgeois Bohéme $125 shoes in a few simple steps:

  1. Write a “letter to the editor” of any major fashion magazine you choose: Vogue, GQ, Elle, Cosmo, etc… explaining why leather is disgusting, toxic, unethical and outdated! Here are some facts & tips to help you write! Remember: the goal is to enlighten, not incite! Be respectful, and do not make threats.
  2. Forward that letter to TheDiscerningbrute@gmail.com. The Subject line must read: JUNE CONTEST: Bourgeois Boheme (otherwise it may get trashed)
  3. The best, most moving and creative letter wins!
  4. Deadline is June 31st.
  5. The winner will be announced July 1st.

* DISCLAIMER: The Discerning Brute takes no responsibility for the content of any letter written in association with this contest.

Fresh Friday Finds

March 13, 2009

Fact! There are 700,000 homeless people in the U.S., and 18 million vacant houses and apartments…

1. Turk + Taylor, Spring 09 is looking good! T+T is one of our favorite designers, who we’ve been following for a few seasons now. The collection is almost 100% organic cotton. Check them out! Also check out their new organic tees.

2. These shoes are golden! Cool, Vegan, fair-trade, and eco-friendly, does it get any better than that ? Jinga was started 3 years ago by two gals who give back at least 5% of sales to a social project in a Rio de Janeiro favela (shantytown) which provides activities and education to children to keep them away from gangs! (Thanks to reader Michael B. for this info!)

Bronze Classic Black

3. Undercover Animal Lover. This guy is an ethical vegan who risks his safety killing animals all day and shooting undercover footage so we can get a glimpse into the heavily-shrouded meat and dairy industries. Can you imagine? Read this rare interview with TIME magazine, and check his HBO documentary Death on a Factory Farm airing March 16.

4. This Sunday, March 15th, eat good vegan food and help farm animals!

Farm Sanctuary’s Dinner Night Broadway East
171 East Broadway, New York, NY 10002
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Reservations for your party are available between 7:30 and 10 p.m.
Reserve your table online at
www.opentable.com or by calling Laurie at 212-228-3100.
Be sure to mention Farm Sanctuary when making your reservation.

5. One of our favorite organic companies, Loomstate, is having a party at one of our favorite eco-boutiques, Kaight, on Friday March 20th. Get a free Loomstate organic tee with any purchase of Loomstate S/S ’09!loomstatess091

https://i1.wp.com/origin.ih.constantcontact.com/fs015/1101388046492/img/141.jpg Loomstate Tosh S/S Button Down

6.  Person to know: Historian and Activist GEORGE DRAFFAN

” ‘Development’ is a euphemism, much like the word ‘efficiency.’ Efficiency within the current system is really about how fast you can turn forests and mountains into wastepaper and soda pop cans. Is that good? If the purpose of life is to consume and destroy, then international trade and industrial civilization are definitely proven ways to speed that up .”

The Elite Consensus: When Corporations Wield the Constitution

Welcome to the Machine: Science, Surveillance, and the Culture of Control

Strangely Like War: The Global Assault on ForestsRailroads and Clearcuts: Legacy of Congress's 1864 Northern Pacific Railroad Land Grant

gg125x125.jpg7. Chloé Jo and the GGA weigh in on the myth that leather can be ‘eco-friendly‘ , on the best Vegan Cheeses, and on the controversy surrounding veganizing your companion animal. Watch out for those crazy cat people! They get their claws out!

Inside a typical tannery

Parma, you so fine.  I wanna make you mine!

8. You might need a french terrycloth motorcycle jacket. I’m just saying….

9. From the folks who brought you EcoRazzi, Veg Daily is Born!veg daily logo, vegetarian, vegan, veggies, eating healthy

10. Veteran vegan rockers Propagandhi talk to VegNews about their forthcoming album, Supporting Caste.

Naked Nudies, SDN Eco-Bandit, Waxed Spring Peacoat & Rachel Comey Spills Out Some Vegan Shoes

March 9, 2009

There’s nothing we like better than slim organic jeans, eco-bandits, waxed-cotton spring peacoats, and vegan, canvas oxfords! Well, maybe total animal liberation. In the meantime, get the organic Nudie ‘Long John’ at OAK NYC, the Rachel Comey ‘Spiller’ shoe at Gimme Shoes, the organic SDN collection at sarahdixonsnova.com or if you’re in NYC, Treehouse, and the Spiewak bad-ass waxed peacoat at Alter. (Thanks to reader, Troy (A Kindness of Ravens) for the shoe tip!)

NOTE: I do believe there may be a leather belt-loop-label on the Nudie’s. Find out why you won’t like leather here.



DBTV: Project Runway’s TIM GUNN

February 18, 2009

Fashion Week is upon us in New York City! I had a few moments to catch up with Tim Gunn at the Bryant Park Hotel for his conference with PETA on the fur industry.  Tim is an outspoken advocate for animals used in the fashion industry, and calls for responsibility and accountability from every single person using or wearing the skin of an animal – whether it is fur, leather, or wool. In the sea of indifference to animals that is Fashion Week, it is amazing to have someone with such clout eloquently speaking the simple truth that fur no longer represents luxury – instead it is an outdated and egregious symbol of ignorance.

Watch Tim’s Video for PETA:

Coats for Blokes

November 20, 2008

Jack Frost would have bit my big Jew-nose really hard this morning had I not had a cozy winter coat. It’s not so easy to find really warm, well-built winter coats that aren’t filled with feathers, lined with leather, made of wool, or trimmed with fur. My first recommendation is to check out your local thrift store. My second recommendation are this organic, fair-trade, and vegan coat:

style #300474601 roman surplus cotton winter army jacket

If those don’t work out, here are some awesome, animal-friendly coats to keep the chill out! I have these broken into three categories: Money to Burn, Big Spender, & Average Joe.


Dsc_1019_detail Dsc_3758_detail Dsc_3694_detail




And lastly, don’t forget to stand around on the porch in your organic thermal undies!

organic cotton fleece thermal underwear long johns

Fresh Friday Finds

October 24, 2008

1. Mrs. Palin is not the only one going on a shopping spree.
According to the Caucus (NYT Blog), in addition to Sarah Palin’s $150,000 shopping spree, “Consider also the $4,902.45 charge at Atelier New York, a high-end men’s store, presumably for Ms. Palin’s husband, Todd, the famous First Dude.”


2. Rickshaw ZERO

This ‘Zero Waste Messenger Bag‘ is manufactured to produce absolutely no waste. It’s nylon design also makes it 100% recyclable. For a mere $50, if you need a good bag, this one’s got your name on it. Mark Dwight, Rickshaw founder and CEO, explains “We took a three-pronged approach to this design – eliminate manufacturing waste, minimize the supply chain footprint, and make the bag from a single material.” Dwight is a student of William McDonough’s Cradle-To-Cradle sustainable manufacturing philosophy, and wanted to create a mono-polymer product – in this case a “pure-play in nylon”. “This entire bag can go right into the shredder for recycling into carpet or some other nylon regrind product,” explained Dwight.

3. Timberland’s “Earthkeepers” Shoeline Still Stuck in the Leather-Trap.

Is it possible to have ‘eco-leather’? Not so much. It is possible for leather to be made with less toxic chemicals, but that does absolutely nothing to counter what the top United Nations climatologists have deemed the #1 cause of global warming: animal agriculture AKA meat & dairy production. Combine that with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity from raising cattle. With leather being “the most economically important byproduct” of the meatpacking industry, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report, you can’t have leather without the rest of the whole mess. Timberland’s use of recycled materials, and organic canvass is a big boot-step in the right direction, but they’ve got to lose the leather! Check out their uber greenwashed site here: Earthkeepers. For more on leather check out THIS.

4. Vegan DHA

Finally! A completely vegetarian softgel, fish-free source of DHA! DHA is an important brain nutrient and, with diet and exercise, has been found to support a healthy heart. Low levels of DHA result in reduction of brain serotonin levels and have been associated with ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression, among other diseases, and there is mounting evidence that DHA supplementation may be effective in combating such diseases. Get it at your local health food store!

5. Suki Toner!

There’s no shame in a man getting that supple glow. Suki’s concentrated balancing toner is made with white willow salicins, vitamin C, and polypeptides, and it’s my new favorite product.  It’s great for after shaving, or for sensitive, dry, or acne-prone skin. 100% vegan, not tested on animals, and organic.



6. Juicy Couture Pledges to go Fur-Free!

Click HERE to thank them.The company has pledged to PETA that they will no longer sell fur, starting in 2009. Also, get involved in Fur-Free-Friday this year!

7. Halloween Candy!

Cosmos’ Vegan Shoppe has a nice selection of vegan Halloween Candy including chocolates, gummies, almond and peanut butter cups, and candy drops. There’ still time to order for the 31st, but hurry up!

8. Greener Printer
GreenerPrinter Eco-friendly Printing
I just had my new business cards printed at a wind-powered facility that uses vegetable-based inks and recycled paper. Why settle for anything less? Next time you have a print project, check out GREENER PRINTER.

9. EBAY Bans Ivory Sales

eBay has just announced that it will be instituting a global ban on the sale of elephant ivory products.
eBay’s decision was announced just hours before the release of IFAW’s latest investigative report showing Internet trade in wildlife poses a significant and immediate threat to the survival of elephants and many other endangered species. Thank eBay for Banning All Trade in Ivory

10. Tomorrow starts ‘Wold Go Vegan Days’.