A shopping journey through the ethics of leather, with a twist - Thank you for your skin!?
It was like any other good clothing shopping trip: See an item I love, try it on, and if it fits and I’m lucky enough to get that feeling of familiarity that it's already mine, buy it. Only this time it was leather. Real leather. A leather jacket.

Standing in the mainstream clothing store looking at the jacket, I was reminded of the person I used to be. At 14 years of age I stopped eating meat because the connection in my mind between the steak on my plate and the cows in the paddock grew too strong for my comfort. I later even went 'vegan' for a couple of years, for holistic reasons. I felt that the planet, its people and animals were all better off as a result of my lifestyle choice, and this person I used to be would never have bought a jacket made out of a cow.
But who I was now stood drawn to the jacket. It FELT like it was already mine. Having exercised rational decision-making and following the ‘right thing to do’ many a time in the past when shopping, I decided to trust that feeling part of me and found myself buying the jacket. My logical mind even chipped in with 'you can always leave the tags on and bring it back for a refund later if you change you mind...’.

Three weeks later with the end of the 28 day return policy looming, the unworn jacket, its tags still attached, was hanging like a question mark off my wardrobe door. I'd tried it on again, several times, had prayed for inner clarity, and the 'leather issue' had become the subject of several googling sessions and conversations with friends. I found it baffling that I was still no closer to knowing how I really felt - Was or was I not really okay with buying and wearing leather? Looking back now, it seems obvious that I was not!
I reminded myself that ultimately there is no right or wrong. There are only consequences (in this case, especially for the cow!), and any judgments that I made (ultimately about myself) would be my own. But what judgments was I willing to live with?

I contemplated the softening of the former hard-core vegetarian / vegan in me. She had gained a new appreciation of natural appetite, craving and literally dreaming of 'forbidden' foods. The frustration of denial died when I realised that despite all of the rules I was following, I didn’t feel or look any healthier (or happier) than before. I courageously made a special trip to the local shop, just for eggs, and rather ceremonially boiled and ate one for dinner. Freedom ensued and by the end of the following week I’d devoured 4 schnitzels! That said, I’ve not eaten red meat in the 7 years since, simply not feeling the need for it. I’ve followed what my body has shown me, as much as my (wavering) discipline allowed, eating fish regularly, eggs sometimes and cheeses when I’ve forgotten how eczema inducing they are for me!
My conclusion from self-conducted food experiments is that I can have all of the rules about what’s right and wrong or good and bad in my head, but my body does not lie, and if it cries out for something not aligned with the rules, I have to take the leap of faith, trusting the wisdom of a natural instrument, and discarding my mental constructs.
Remembering this natural instinct, my mind was cast to the moment when I looked closely at the jacket and could see little holes, follicles where the body hairs of the animal once grew. It looked just a bit too much like my own skin for my body’s comfort, and was definitely a clue as to how I really felt.

The young vegan in me has also learnt that things are definitely not always what they seem to be on this planet, for everything can find its purpose within the whole. Machelle Small Wright recently reminded me of this again when reading a segment from her Perelandra Garden Workbook. She began gardening after a group of devas (angelic beings who oversee the natural world) began a telepathic rapport with her, teaching her to co-create a garden of maximum life force and balance as a whole. All was well until the robins began to pull out and devour large numbers of her prized earthworms. This irritated Machelle, who sought clarity from the devas and was told that there were plenty of earthworms for the robins to eat, and moreover, that by eating them, the robins were increasing the vitality and purpose of the worm population overall!  It was not the answer she expected, nor I. I now wondered if a similar principle was at work with the leather industry: is the use of the cow to make my jacket giving greater purpose to the cow population?
Native cultures have used animal skins and furs for eons, honouring the Soul of the animal from which it was taken, and drying and treating the skins with natural methods. Had my jacket been bought from an outlet that conducted and advertised its use of such practices, I would probably not have hesitated to keep it. If an animal is given a quality life, a rapid pain-free death and acknowledgement of its massive sacrifice, then I can see how it is possible that the human use of cows would give them greater purpose within the whole. My hesitation then, is partially a message to leather retailers (and their big brother the meat industry from which they are an offshoot) to clearly express their ethics, on their tags if possible, so that customers like me can feel safe in the knowing that we are not contributing to the suffering and taking for granted of animals.

My questioning evolved: considering that maybe humans can give greater purpose to animals by using them for our own ends, do I feel okay about keeping the jacket even though the ethical and spiritual practices that I feel are an important part of this process are not yet a mainstream occurrence? Part of me thought ‘well, it's never too late to say thank you’ and that might be enough to complete the circle of giving and receiving. Honouring in retrospect. But for the greater part of me that just didn't sit right. I tried it, thanking the cow internally, and it felt ludicrous. ‘Thank you? Thank you for your skin!?’ It just seemed too big  a ‘gift’ to be okay with ‘receving’, just too important to the giver for me to accept.

On the tag read ‘Leather Not of Indian Origin’, but that didn’t tell me much about the farming conditions of the cow(s) that became my jacket, so in an effort to find out more, I sent the clothing company an email. I knew that it would probably be some time before I received a clear picture from them, and I thought that in the meantime I’d go straight to the Source like Machelle Small Wright did, and I had a chat with the Deva of Cows…I simply imagined a cow in front of me, feeling its essence. When I felt connected, I introduced myself and put my dilemma forth. Asking for greater understanding, this is what I received:

“ The question is not whether the cows mind being used for leather. The question is ‘do you mind using the cows for leather?’. It is a question to bring to your own Soul, also part of the Whole. Do not be afraid of making a mistake. Everything is a learning.

Imagine having your own skin torn off and worn by another species. Does that not seem absurd to you? Be mindful that what you do to others you do to yourself. There is no separation. Why do you think it is okay simply because it is a cow and not a human being, or as you so often imagine, a baby of another mother, who you have snatched away to eat and make clothes out of?

Let your life be a demonstration of your deep love and respect for nature. It is ironic that these gentle giants are the subject of such torture by humankind. It is not your fault, it is a cultural thing.

Let go of the jacket and see what good comes into your life from the animal kingdom.

That is all.”

As you can imagine, after receiving and contemplating these thoughts, I did return the jacket.

About 6 weeks later, I received the following response from the clothing company:

“Thank you for your patience whilst we looked into your email enquiry, and I am sorry for the resulting delayed response.

I can confirm that the suede jacket, item number xxx-xxx, is constructed from pigskin. This is sourced from pigs from commercial farms in China.

The reason we include the tag that states that the material is not of Indian origin is because, for leather and suede products, (our company) does not source the skins from animals that have been slaughtered in India due to concerns about the animal husbandry techniques used.

I hope the above information proves useful.”

I was amazed! – Pigs! Pigs!!? That was the last thing I expected! Can you imagine that being on the tag, public knowledge? People saying “ooh wow, look at her funky pig leather jacket!”? It’s interesting for me to note that had ‘pig’ been written on the label, there is no way that I would have even considered buying the jacket. Their intelligence is widely recognised as being equal or superior to that of dogs, and their flesh the most similar to a human being’s than any other animal. Had I been subtly conjured into thinking that it’s more okay to use cows for leather because it is a widespread and accepted practice in our society? I think so.

The ‘Pig News’ was for me a complete confirmation; In returning the jacket I had done the right thing by my own standards. Thank God for my senses, for my enduring hesitancy that would not give me peace until I found my own clarity within.

Most of all, this experience was a clear reminder to always ask ‘where did it come from, and who does my buying it affect?’, and that when such information unavailable the wisest course of action is, as my aunty always says, ‘if in doubt, go without’!
XX Muriel