What’s Your Story: How a Plant-Based Travel Brand Is Changing The Industry, High Atlas
I recently attended a desi fashion event in Los Angeles, you know one of those events with the glitz and glamor, the flashing lights and the beautiful people, who were dressed to the nine! I mean they’re here to flaunt their best stuff while shopping for better stuff for the next event. Now with almost every beautiful person, there was a leather shoulder bag, handbag, clutch, or man purse.
And that’s what I want to talk about – leather!
Well, the destruction caused by the leather industry:
- Water: A Duffle Bag uses 5 kgs of leather. Each kg of leather requires 17,000 liters of water in the production phase. That’s 85,000 liters of water. A family of 4 in America uses 40,000 liters a month. That’s in America. Leather is imported from China, Italy, India, Brazil, Korea, and Russia. Families there use much less water. Replacing one leather duffel bag with an alternative saves enough water for 8 — 10 families.
- Greenhouse: By some estimates, animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gases than all of the world’s transportation systems combined. Each year, a single cow will belch about 220 pounds of methane, which is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the atmosphere. There are 1 billion cows globally, 86% in India, Brazil, China, United States, Argentina, and European Union. That’s a lot of methane and although it’s half-life is lower than carbon dioxide, there’s so much of it being released daily.
- Chemicals and pollution: The skin of a dead animal rots and degrades. That’s what leather is, except it’s treated with so many toxic chemicals to make it durable, and long-lasting. These chemicals stop the aging process of the skin, so the leather is not biodegradable and when you trash your leather purse, that animal skin takes forever and one to disintegrate. Leather produced in the US is chrome-tanned – EPA considers all chromium waste hazardous. The chemicals leach into the soil and groundwater and alter the population.
- Animal cruelty: The horrors of factory farming are not a secret anymore — extreme crowding, confinement, deprivation, unanesthetized castration, branding, and tail-docking. Then ending their life with slaughter, when their milk production declines. The cruelty doesn’t stop there. We skin the dead animal and sell it to produce leather goods. Calves, raised for veal, are skinned and made into high-priced calfskin. Some animals are still alive hours after being skinned.
- Worker’s health: People who work in and live near tanneries suffer, too. Many die of cancer possibly caused by exposure to toxic chemicals used to process and dye the leather. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the incidence of leukemia among residents in an area near one tannery in Kentucky was five times the U.S. average. Arsenic, a common tannery chemical, has long been associated with lung cancer in workers who are exposed to it on a regular basis.
The resources consumed (wasted?), the animal cruelty, the chemical pollution and deterioration of workers health caused by the leather industry to profit off the misery and suffering of others.
This is time for us to act and stop consuming leather goods. We have power with where we invest/spend our money. When demands for these products dips, production dips too. When demand for alternatives increases, more and more producers of alternative leather good will surface. Innovations happen during these times.
It’s time for us to wield our financial power to stop these atrocities against innocent beings, to prevent people from dying at the expense of how we look in our social circles (fashion shows) and how hip we are with the dead cow skin hanging over your arm or holding your pants in place.
This is where my guest on What’s Your Story comes in. I recently interviewed South Asian entrepreneurs, Tanmay and Vineeth, co-founders of a brand called High Atlas (highatlas.co). They utilize one of the readily available alternatives on the market — cactus leather.
Tanmay is a member of the 40 Under 40 club. Before his 40th birthday, he had travelled to over 40 countries. His passion for traveling and the shutting down of his travel and tour business at the start of the pandemic caused him to be creative and think outside the box. On several occasions, he had received compliments about his duffel bag, which was made from camel leather from Morocco. This got him thinking of something similar as an extension of his business.
As he was researching his new idea, he came across cactus leather made in Mexico and he decided to venture out to the deserts of Mexico. He saw that cactus plant grows readily in Mexico, so the supply of cactus leather would not be an issue. He saw that cactus doesn’t require much water to grow and discovered that cactus is durable, long-lasting and easy to wipe clean with soapy water. With their love and respect for animals, they seized this opportunity and went the plant-based route.
During the trip to Mexico, they found that their values of ethical treatment of workers, fair wages, and transparency were maintained. This is how High Atlas emerged. Their first product is called the Vegander, a weekender duffel bag released in 3 colors — black, red and green. If you’re interested in supporting fellow desi entrepreneurs and would like to purchase your own, here’s a 10% discount code, varun10, on highatlas.co.
Vineeth left us with a simple suggestion for each and every one – Replace one item you use regularly with a sustainable, plant-based item. Imagine if 7 billion people did this. We have the power to change the world with our day to day decisions. Make decisions towards sustainability, reusability, and remove animal cruelty. Do this and we all win together!
In the random question game, Vineeth was asked: “What would you do with a billion dollars?” “I guess I would probably invest in companies that are trying to change the world. I think that would be something fun to do and I’d probably spend a bit on myself, too.” Tanmay reminded him of his wife and kids and that Vineeth was sleeping on the couch tonight!
Please watch the whole episode below
What’s Your Story Show and Podcast captures stories in the Indian community. These stories share our pain and suffering, the issues we face on an ongoing basis, challenges and stereotypes. We talk about how we can unite to support each other and build ourselves and our community up. We discuss the not so common path traversed all through the power of storytelling. Our stories are all around us and I am here to share them. You can learn more at drvarungandhi.com. Love and Abundance!