Animals in Clothing: Leather and Wool Industry

October 20, 2021Lu Shegay


Every year, hundreds of millions of animals are raised and killed on intensive farms for the purposes of clothes, accessories, and shoes. According to the FAO, in 2018, the number of cows, calves, buffaloes, goats, and pigs killed for their hide and skin to make leather increased to more than 2.29 billion across the globe. In the United States alone, approximately 159 million animals are killed every year for the purposes of the leather industry, which is four times more than in 1980.

Animals are raised and killed on those farms unnecessarily and are kept in unnatural conditions. Despite the active campaigns against fur and leather, there are other products that are made out of animals, such as wool, feathers/down, silk, cashmere, etc. Animals are trapped, tortured, and killed under the most horrific conditions to satisfy human desires.

"Lurking crocodile" by A.Cahlenstein Photography is licensed under CC BY 2.0


Despite many discussions that leather is just a by-product, it is a product derived from the pain and suffering of sentient and living beings. The largest producer of skins and hides remains China, with more than 892 million animals killed for leather in 2018, followed by the United States (159 million), and Brazil (85 million).

Leather items are mainly produced for bags, shoes, clothes, phone cases, etc. To manufacture these, cows, pigs, goats, and sheep are killed for such production, as well as exotic animals, such as alligators, ostriches, and kangaroos, sometimes dogs and cats. Most of the leather products are being manufactured in countries where the legal protection for such practices is either non-existent or not enforced, e.g, India and China.

For instance, in India, there was an undercover investigation where it was found that employees of the factories break the tails of cows and rub chili peppers and tobacco into their eyes for the purpose of forcing them to get up and walk after their collapse from exhaustion. In the United States, animals raised for the fashion industry also endure horrific conditions, such as extreme crowding on filthy factories, castration, branding, tail docking without any painkillers.

Presently, leather is mostly made out of cattle skin but other animals are used too. For instance, lamb and deer’s skin are also used for soft leather in more expensive apparel, as well as in producing work gloves and indoor shoes. The skin of pigs is used for manufacturing apparel, wallets, seats of saddles. Other animals, such as buffalo, horses, goats, alligators, crocodiles, dogs, snakes, ostriches, kangaroos, oxen, and yaks are raised and killed for leather products.

Animals that are brutally slaughtered to produce leather are hunted, caged, farmed, and skinned alive after living in inhumane conditions. Most of the leather comes from Asian countries. The top producers of leather goods in Asia are now China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Vietnam.

GRAPHIC CONTENT: This video contains sensitive content which some people may find offensive or disturbing.


While one may see a lot of campaigns against fur and leather, there are other products that derive from animals for manufacturing clothes, shoes, home products, accessories. For instance, wool can be used in warm clothes and blankets, and it may come from a sheep, goat, llama, alpaca, or Tibetan antelope. Products that derive from these animals may also be called mohair, pashmina, shahtoosh, cashmere, apart from wool. There are many countries, where wool production is common and where wool items are exported to other countries around the world. With that being said, in Australia, over 100 million sheep are raised and mutilated for wool production.

For the items made out of animals’ body parts, lambs, for instance, after a few weeks from their birth, are tortured by hole-punching their ears, chopping their tails off, and castrating male lambs without any painkillers. Male lambs are killed while they are still babies, at the age of 2-8 weeks, cutting off blood supply with a rubber ring, which is one of the most painful methods of castration.

Shearing is another common practice used on animals in the process of acquiring wool. Timing in shearing is considered critical, so in the rush, a lot of sheep die from exposure after premature shearing. Workers who do shearing, shearers, are generally paid by the quantity, not the hour, which encourages them to conduct fast work disregarding any welfare for the animals. According to one of the witnesses, the shearing shed “must be one of the worst places in the world for cruelty to animals … I have seen shearers punch sheep with their shears or their fists until the sheep’s nose bled. I have seen sheep with half their faces shorn off …” Apart from that, when sheep reach a certain age and when the wool production declines, animals are sent and sold for slaughter, which leads to another torture for them before dying. The statistics demonstrate that this results in the cruel live export of 6.5 million sheep annually from Australia to the countries of the Middle East and North Africa.

Cashmere, or simply known as cashmere, is a fiber that is obtained from cashmere goats, pashmina goats, and some other breeds of goat. Cashmere is merely hair that is shorn from goats’ underbellies. Goats that are kept and raised on farms for cashmere production are dehorned, castrated, and have their ears notched without any painkillers, too. If there are any goats with defects or not considered appropriate for the cashmere production, they are killed before they reach the age of 2. “Shearing robs goats of their natural insulation, leaving them vulnerable to cold temperatures and illnesses. Many goats are sold to be slaughtered for their flesh after shearing.”

Read more: Animals Used for Clothing

Wool is another product that comes from animals’ suffering. Contrary to many beliefs, sheep do not need shearing. Sheep naturally produce the right amount of wool they need. In natural conditions, animals shed their winter coat before spring like many other animals.

"Sheep" by James Bowe is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Regulations and Bans

As it was mentioned above, leather products mainly come from countries where animal protection either does not exist or is not enforced. In India, for instance, the practice of raising and keeping animals for the leather industry is done against the Constitution of India, and laws are completely ignored. Unsanitary slaughterhouses continue to contribute to air pollution, illegal slaughterhouses continue to operate.

“Commercial vehicles crossing Indian state lines are required to pay taxes, so animals are often transported by truck within the state and walked across the border, where they are loaded back into severely crowded trucks. Indian law requires that not more than six cattle be transported in a truck at one time, but this law is routinely ignored. However, to avoid any problems at state borders, some cows are dragged off the trucks, marched over the border, and then loaded back into the trucks. Many cows are trampled or gored in these extremely crowded, illegal transport trucks during the long journey to slaughter.”

In 2015, India banned cattle slaughter, which affected its leather industry.

As for the wool sale, H&M, a Sweden retailer with 1,500 stores in 28 countries, sources wool from countries other than Australia after pressure from animal rights activists. Also, in New Zealand, one of the wool-producing countries, lawmakers have made history by passing a ban against sheep mulesing. The country, which is known for sheep farming and wool exports, has officially prohibited the practice following increased pressure from animal welfare groups and major clothing companies.

Some retailers have banned alpaca wool, such as Colovos, ESPRIT, JackRabbit, Maison Numen, Marks & Spencer,, Smith and Caughey’s, UNIQLO, Valentino, etc. Recently, Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger banned the use of exotic animals for leather. Not too long ago, the cruelty to crocodiles raised for manufacturing bags for Hermès has been exposed, which led to the launch of the campaign “Drop Croc.”


The continuance to contribute to the businesses using animals in their products and to the factories that keep and raise animals in horrible conditions implies the continuance of exploitation of animals. This type of business also concerns slaughtering animals for the purposes of human consumption, since there are practices when the animals do not meet standards for clothing. There are plenty of alternatives to wool and leather, which include faux leather, cotton, polyester fleece, synthetic shearling, Tencel. Moreover, leather is not an environmentally friendly product and is not biodegradable. Leather, wool, and many other products are the result of animal abuse and animal cruelty. It is not too difficult to check the ingredients of the product.

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