Snakeskin: Study of a Leather
Is Snakeskin Fashion for Everyone?; A Glance at the Best and Worst of Snakeskin Trend
Looking for on trend snakeskin accessories for this fall? While an alluring fashion element, ever wondered if it is bad to wear snakeskin? How to style with the snakeskin trend? What do you need to know before buying? And most importantly, is snakeskin fashion for everyone?
I am James Adams, a professional stylist, a snake enthusiast and a correspondent writer for the Snake Store®’s research team. As a recurrent fashion element in various styling sectors, snakeskin patterns are one of my top picks when styling for their bold visuals and unique feel. Although genuine snakeskin has been subjected to many debates with the rise of awareness about extinction of several species due to this trade. Today, I want to share all the aspects of snakeskin production, processing and its valid substitutes- a knowledge which I have gathered from years of on-field experience and ethical choices I had to make against aesthetics.
Wearing genuine snakeskin is not for everyone. Some people don’t encourage the market’s demand for the snakeskin due to the cruelty aspects of the trade. Although the faux and vegan leather alternatives can be purchased by anyone with any moral and cost related measures, as an all-year chic fashion.
This article focussed on the following sub-themes;
- The origins of snakeskin fashion and its impact on today’s market
- A glance at the genuine snakeskin and its faux substitute
- An overview of the source species of snake leather, their country of origin, the price ranges and commercial production
- Unethical farming and illegal trade of snakeskin
- Environmental footprints of genuine and faux snake leather
Eager to know more? Read a complete account of the snakeskin and its imprints on contemporary fashion below;
1- The Snakeskin, an Evermore Trend
A classic fashion icon, snakeskin has resurfaced again as one of the top favorites of high-end designers. Although dating back to the decade of pop culture in the eighty’s, these exotic patterns became a fervent trend in the 80’s and now once more in the spotlight of celebrities and runway models. Are you interested in the snakeskin history in the fashion industry from its beginning to today’s highly priced accessories? Read on to learn about the journey of contemporary snakeskin fashion to the most popular editions on the current market.
a) The resurrection of a trend from the 80s
Whether scrolling down on social networks, while watching TV, or paging through fashion magazines, it is easy to spot a celebrity or model wearing snake leather nowadays. The glamorous aesthetics of natural snake patterns suit almost any occasion and magnify any look.
Casual pants, miniskirts or maxi dresses, jeans, handbags and pairs of reptile inspired shoes were extremely popular trends in the eighties. However, snakes were not the only fashionable protagonist of the mass fashion in the pop culture decade. Other sensual animalier patterns found their place in between the eighty’s bold styles, rule-breaking colors, and abstract silhouettes, including the leopard print, tiger pattern, and crocodile hide.
Over the last few years, we have witnessed a surge of serpentine patterns in contemporary fashion, along with other animalier inspirations, testifying that we are standing at the doorway of the resurrection era of stylish vintage elements.
Only a few years ago, snakeskin was considered a classic and limited only to vintage wardrobes. Although the shimmering beauty of this exoteric reptile stands in the spotlight of fashion once more for tailoring conspicuously elegant outfits and accessories.
b) The Latest Trend Carried by the Stars
From Balenciaga black python sneakers for men at €845 per pair, to the new full trench coat collection worn by Rihanna, genuine snakeskin is considered a luxury trend and stands on the rather costly side of the market.
Example settings of the celebrities contribute greatly to the mass attention that snakeskin has been receiving, whether presentation of elite fashion brands on the runway, or an actress dressed in an impeccable silhouette that is crafted from serpentine hide.
When Kylie Minogue was spotted with a €1,279 golden python Zagliani bag, the celebrity press dedicated generous sums of attention to her, publishing commentaries of the news reporters and stylists, as well as critique reviews. The same attention was given to Kate Moss for her snakeskin clutch bag that hung over her shoulder, or actress Eva Longoria from Desperate Housewives who was photographed with a €1,300 fringed python Prada bag, and Keira Knightley appearing with a glamorous pair of Chanel python shoes.
c) The Most Onerous Style
But why is the snakeskin so expensive?
Although the snake pattern is everywhere, authentic snakeskin is rare. Genuine snakeskin fashion accessories such as handbags, small tote bags and other carrier bags could reach a considerable sum of $15,000. The average cost of women’s boots, sandals, and shoes made of authentic snakeskin is roughly around $2,000.
Snakeskin imitation in real leather is also a costly fashion luxury. For instance, faux python print platform boots can go as high as $1500. The intricate craftsmanship involved together with the high market demand has turned this trend into one of the most expensive elements of fashion today.
Despite the popular beliefs, extravagant prices of snakeskin leather are not due to its durability. Genuine snakeskin goods are rather fragile when compared to other types of leather. The very reason for exorbitant costs is rooted in the exotic and rare nature of this fashionable leather.
In effect, the larger the snakeskin quilted items are the higher the price rises; an average snake produces enough skin for only a spacious women’s bag. Other factors contributing to the escalation of its price are; the limited species of snakes used for obtaining the hide, the delicate and time-consuming work involved, and the high end fashion demand for adroit craft mastery.
d) Snakeskin Boots: Most Sought-After Accessory
Popularity of snakeskin products change by the seasonal apparel stipulation, ranging in body coverage and adaptations of design to hot and cold temperatures. The current snakeskin trend embraces footwear apparel, in particular the boots; Every major brand and designer has created their own versions of snakeskin flats or high heel boots.
Snakeskin leather pointy-toe boots with comfortably practical features will continue to hold sway over the fall-winter season and remain on-trend in the coming year’s spring-summer season.
While the snakeskin trend is a legacy of the nostalgic decade of extreme fashions in the 1980s, it has turned into a luxury fashion in today's trendsetting, especially when it comes to designer footwear.
After understanding the reason for the high cost and rare origins of this exotic leather, you must be curious to know if all the snake patterns in the market are made of genuine snakeskin? Or what are the price differences between authentic and faux snake leather? The following section answers all your questions about snakeskin use ethics and costs.
2- Real leather and faux leather
What would you choose; the genuine snakeskin or faux variety, derived from domestic animal skin alternatives? Your personal style is an outer expression of who you are. To make a balanced choice between the morals and price ranges, you require all the details involved in ethical aspects and pricing of your favorite leather crafted accessory. Read this section for a thorough comparison of the available varieties of leather goods on the market.
a) How to choose between these two types of leather?
The choice between real and fake snakeskin varieties depends on two main factors:
- The price ranges
- The moral aspects
Cost is the number one factor, as most people are not willing to spend thousands of dollars for a bag with a red leather lining that neither can be worn everyday. Like any exotic bag or luxurious accessories, it is more of a status symbol for most people.
On the other hand, many people think it is unnecessary to take a life for the mere fact of getting dressed and filling a wardrobe, especially when valid substitutes are available. Therefore, a large part of the public opts for the fake or so-called vegan snakeskin.
Calf and cow, goat and buffalo leather are highly debated products. Although they provide a precious and luxurious snakeskin substitute, some believe that such leathers are obtained as a by-product of food processing, and these animals are not killed simply for the sake of fashion and their skins.
b) The Real Snakeskin
Products made of real snakeskin have a long shelf life. But as it ages, the scales start to disintegrate and point outwards. There techniques used to slow down the aging process and replenish this exotic leather such as formulated snakeskin wax, and proper storage.
While this is highlighted as a downside to the shimmering beauty of the snakeskin, the aging process is yet inevitable. On the other hand, some people prefer the aged snakeskin and think the rugged scale look adds beauty to the leather when compared to a younger edition.
In any case, it’s best to use professional formulas to clean and rejuvenate the exotic leather goods.
c) Snake Leather Faux Leather : More Affordable or More Ethical ?
Faux Snakeskin products are generally made of cow, calf or goat leather. They are crafted with 3D embossing to provide the same look and textured feel of the snake scales, covered with a mat or glossy patent. This layer of patent also serves to protect the leather, making the fake snakeskin more durable and beautiful.
Faux snakeskin is not necessarily cheap. The price of such items is also determined by the quality of its material, the brand and designer, and the amount of hand craft detailing. Some pairs of faux snakeskin boots could cost as high as $1500, while others no more than $100.
The type of patent leather and methods used for printing are also relevant to its price. In some cases, the average person cannot even distinguish between real and fake leather. So it is best to base your decision on fit and style as well as brand authenticity which guarantees durability of their products!
Grasping behind the scenes of snakeskin pricing and its vegan and synthetic leather substitutes narrows down a choice that considers both your personal values and monetary measures. Genuine snakeskin is not overruled completely by unethical conduct; some of them are produced in morally immaculate conditions.
Ever wondered about the different species and patterns of snakeskin? And how can one tell the difference between genuine snakeskin and reptile textured cow leather? The answers to these questions might just surprise you!
3- The Different Types of Snake Leathers
Not all genuine snake leathers are equal. Some are more precious than others according to their pattern, their resistance, their rarity, their color or the complexity of the reptile’s morphology.
Let's have a look at the most implemented snake leather in the fashion industry:
a) Python Leather
Python leather is the most frequent snake leather and the most recurrent pattern in leather goods. Python skin comes partly from breeding farms (see below). What makes this reptile’s hide truly special is having a surface large enough to produce medium-sized leather objects: bags, boots, jackets, etc.
The most expensive snakeskin bags are made of smooth python leather- besides the precious cobra skin crafted goods.
However, many python species are now protected because of the extensive exploitation of this species in the past, before reaching their adulthood and reproduction age.
b) Indian Cobra Leather
The Indian cobra species, also known as spectacled cobra, royal cobra, Asian cobra or binocellate cobra, is a fatally venomous snake. The spectacled cobra wears this famous typical mark on the back of its head, reminiscent of the shape of two eyes, used to imitate its enemies.
The coloring of cobra skin ranges between the shades of brown to camel. The distinctive and irresistibly beautiful marks on the collar have highlighted cobra leather among the most expensive reptile hides on the fashion blocks. A single cobra leather handbag is sold for thousands of dollars depending on the size and detailing.
Following the Washington Convention on the Protection of Species, any trade of Indian cobras and their derivatives, such as their skin and fangs, became illegal across the globe. This decree aimed to offer protection to species classified as "rare" or "endangered".
c) Anaconda Leather
Anacondas live in deep forests of South America. The giant anaconda is the largest snake in the world, but is not classified as a protected species. When processed in the right way, the anaconda's two-toned skin gives a monochromatic or bi-color leather that is very fashionable for both women and men.
d) Snake Leather with Bells
Rattlesnake leather is mostly used in the manufacture of sandals, heels, moccasins and other similar products. The natural beige color which inclines towards khaki, makes this snake leather unique.
Even the rattle on the tip of the snake’s tail is sold, and incorporated in the making of key chains, belts and other rugged accessories.
e) Leather and Leatherette with Snake Leather Embossing
Cowhide and a variety of other leather can be embossed with miscellaneous reptilian patterns. Synthetic leather, or bi-material imitation of leather, can also be adorned with embossing that creates a textured effect similar to the genuine snakeskin. You can find most of the Snake Store®’s products, crafted from this category of cruelty free material.
This process also has the advantage of easy application of dye for multicolored, silver or metallic finishes. For a more natural characteristic, the PU leather is often inlaid with rhinestones, sequins or sharp nails.
While it is not an easy task to imitate the shimmer of real snake leather, good copies are very realistic, and only leather experts can recognize the difference. This is another reason that contributes to the popularity of the faux leather genetics in the production line of feminine fashion.
You have learned that snakeskin comes from a specific variety of species for their natural aesthetics, and from domestic animal leathers as well as synthetic imitation of snake leather. Choosing from any of these sources highly depends on the morals of animal conservation and the price differences between each category. But to comprehend why some consider the use of genuine snake hide as immoral, you must first understand what lies behind the snakeskin industry. The following segment walks you through all the stages of the process and production of snakeskin.
4- The Snakeskin Industry
Snakeskin is an internationally cherished trend, although farmed and produced majorly in particular parts of the globe. Thailand holds most of the credit for the production of the serpentine leather, together with a few neighboring countries. Below, you can have a glance at the vast network of the industry that starts from snake poachers and farmers, to small scale processing factories until the elite fashion brands for crafting on trend goods.
a) Asian Producers
Indonesia is the world's largest exporter of snake skins. In addition to many other Asian countries such as Vietnam, Philippines and China who are also exporters of ophidian skins.
The Indonesian snake leather industry largely depends on the vast network of snake shops. According to a report on trade and conservation of snakes published in 2011 by the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry, about 196,000 people in Indonesia work and make their living in the snakeskin sector.
Approximately 170,000 of these people are snake catchers, ranging from casual part-time hunters to full-time professionals. The rest are involved in processing the skin and selling it.
b) Consumers Around the Globe
Snakeskins are processed in the Indonesian factories and then exported all over the world. Many stocks are sold via trade fairs in China, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei. With five employees, a modest Indonesian workshop can produce 50 bags and 30 wallets or purses in one month.
Italy is the world's largest consumer of snake skins and one of the largest manufacturers of snakeskin products, combined with the renowned Italian craftsmanship. The United States accounts for approximately 50% of Italy's export market for finished products, followed by Japan with 25%. The remaining 15% is destined for other European markets.
Most people know about the origins and the snakeskin production grounds, but they have little to no idea about the entire process of obtaining and curating this exotic leather- starting from the wild, to slaughterhouses, to illegal trade and until reaching to fashion designers and behind the vitrine of their favorite brand outlets. Let's take a look behind the curtains of snakeskin industry together.
5- Manufacturing Process of Snakeskin Leather
The snakeskin handbags are an elegant accessory, often showcased in luxury stores and on the catwalks of the fashion capitals by the world famous designers.
But the long journey of this coveted leather, from the wilderness habituating snakes to the shelves behind the window of a department store, is combined with unpleasant undertakings that are looked over by the shoppers.
a) The Capture of Snakes
The founding block of the snake industry pyramid is the snake catchers or farmers. The snake poachers work at night raking the jungles, swamps and gardens to find visually appealing ophidians. It is a tedious task and calls for hours of walking and careful approach to the venomous snakes; even in snake infested areas, it is rare to catch more than one reptile per hour.
Thanks to the complex patterns of its skin, one of the most coveted snake species for reptile quilted accessories is the reticulated python. This particular species is also ranked as the longest snake in the world.
Once captured, the snakes are put in a bag and transferred to the slaughterhouses where the skin preparation process begins.
b) The Recovery of the Skin
There are numerous ways to kill and skin a snake. But the most commonly incorporated methods are cruel and remain a constant concern to NGOs and animal rights activists.
The biggest snakes, such as pythons and anacondas, are killed or put to an unconscious state by getting hit on the head with a mallet. Then the jaws are opened to attach a hose and flush their body with an excess amount of water which causes swelling and easy detachment of skin from skeletomuscular flesh.
Occasionally snakeskin processors don't even bother to kill the creature beforehand in order to accelerate the process. Witnesses share their story:
"Captured snakes have hoses stuck in their mouths and are inflated with water while they are still alive to loosen their skin. They are impaled by the head, and eventually the skin is torn off and the body thrown in a pile."
c) Tanning and Processing
Once the snakes are peeled, the skin is rolled up and sorted into stacks based on their dimensions. They are then cut into strips and dried, in the sun and occasionally in an oven. Snake meat is not discarded without a use; In Asia, it is believed that snake flesh holds curative properties against various diseases and stimulates virility.
Once the skin has been dried, what now is considered neutralized snake leather is either sent to foreign factories or dyed and transformed in the same facilities into leather handbags, tropeziennes, pumps, wallets, briefcases and authentic shoe collections.
These items, which are manufactured locally and then sent abroad, often receive a striking price increase. In Indonesia, a snakeskin shoulder bag can cost anywhere from 1.5 to 3 million Indonesian rupees or $120 to $250. The same bag is sold for thousands of dollars in a small leather goods store in the United States.
6- Smuggling and "Snake Farms"
Smuggling of the snakeskin remains a concern both for animal activists and many forward thinking designer brands. Ethical farming has taken the place of black market resources, in response to ever-growing demand for this fashionable leather. Continue to read for understanding more about the ethical resources and steps against snake poachers by global organizations as well as the systematic flaws yet to be resolved.
a) The Explosion of Demand and Smuggling
Every year, approximately 500,000 snake skins are legally imported from Southeast Asia to Europe, where they are processed into designer apparel and accessories. This number displays a 40% increase over the previous decade.
The European Union legally imports 700 million euros worth of snake skins per year. Some believe that illegal trade is just as important, due to tax regulations and market’s growing demand.
In Asia, the smuggling trade is even more extensive. During last year’s raid of 68,000 illegal python skins for instance, the Chinese government estimated the worth of the load at over $48 million.
b) The Creation of Snake Farms, the Example of Kering
Today, breeding of the reticulated python and the Burmese python is considered unprofitable. These snake species take about three years to reach maturity, while the tasks involved in their husbandry and captivity breeding are rather painstaking.
In response to the very high demand for many snakeskin items, major multinational fashion companies have been motivated to create their own source of skin supply.
Kering, the luxury company that owns the Gucci, Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen brands, among others, have set up its own farms in Thailand to raise pythons, and as it was mentioned by their spokesperson, in "the best conditions for the animals, the farmers and the ecosystem".
According to a report that was released about three years ago, the company has also touched upon the fact that their designer groups are looking for other valid substitutes to source the precious skins. These activities were introduced following their collaboration with the Python Conservation Partnership in striving for a reduction of illegal trade of snakeskin and hence decreasing the widespread snake cruelty.
c) The New Python Breeders Are Supposed to Be More Ethical and Sustainable
These new snake farms announce that they will follow the recommendations of the Farm Animal Welfare Council to guarantee the "Five Freedoms" rule for their captive animals:
- Freedom from hunger and thirst
- Being free from discomfort
- Express normal behaviour
- Being free from pain and injury
- Being free from fear and distress
The animal rights conservation group, Peta, has recently revealed that it had purchased shares of LVMH, the fashion house that owns Louis Vuitton, Dior and Givenchy.
Owning the shares was done as a fight against the violation of animal rights by holding an imposing position within the moda infrastructure. Peta has already acquired shares in Prada and Hermes as part of its campaign against the use of exotic skins, particularly alligator and crocodile hides.
d) Difficult Skin Tracing
All the great fashion designers will no doubt tell you that their skins come from ethical sources. Under pressure from animal rights activists, fashion labels claim to use farmed hides and work within the framework of trade and wildlife conventions. This is to ensure "sustainable and ethical" sourcing and slaughter.
However, it is not possible to trace every snakeskin product that reaches store shelves. Many brands and stores do not know where the python skin comes from, due to the lack of the manufacturer reference. Business rules are easily exploited and the illegal trade in snakeskin yet remains very lucrative. When compared to mammals, there are far fewer animal protection laws for reptiles.
There several so-called ethical commercial snake farms exist in Southeast Asia and China. While they seem law-abiding on the surface, the system is often used as a via to launder illegally captured wild pythons. These exploitations are to a point that most of the python skins from Cambodia, Indonesia and Laos are considered doubtful in origin.
With the widespread movements against use of unethical sources of snakeskin, several species have been saved from indisputable extinction. Now by learning the dubious nature of the snakeskin farming, you may want to make your choices in fashion with a deeper moral perspective. Still wanting to know more about the environmental footprints of the snakeskin trends, the following section walks you through the wild territories of snake habitats as well as its valid alternatives.
7- Ethical and Environmental Issues
Some consider domestic animal leather an ethical substitute for snakeskin, solely because of their non exotic origins. Similarly, calf or goat leather that is embossed with serpentine textures undergo a considerable amount of work and processing.
But when it comes down to it, what would be your choice? A calf leather crafted bag, or a synthetic alternative with zero cruelty? The following pointers may help you answer such questions.
a) By-products of the Food Industry
Any animal product used in fashion is a by-product of the meat industry.
This is the case for faux leather: the meat of the slaughtered domestic animals including cow, sheep, buffalos and camels are used for processing food, while the skin is used to make commercial leather goods. In Asian countries where snakes are consumed as medicine and food, reptile skin could be categorized as a by-product.
Leather related matters are therefore largely under dispute of animal welfare organizations; although, unlike the reptiles, cows are never bred solely for their skins.
On the contrary, the domestic animal leather industry would also collapse if people were to stop eating meat. However, it should be noted that the price the farmer gets for the hide of his livestock is insignificant in contrast with snake leather. For example, cow leather is purchased by weight, and not as per individual skin.
b) Environmental Damage Caused by this Industry
Nearly 70% of the world's water supply is used for livestock, food and therefore fashion. A quarter of the Earth's surface is covered by pastureland, while habitats for wildlife are becoming scarce and taken over by vast farm lands.
This exploitation is also a source of pollution with blood, waste, silage and manure, and above all, high production of methane.
Over 95% of the world's leather is chrome-tanned; chromium is a heavy metal and a health-hazard to humans and animals if released to water sources. In addition to the waste and as a result of poor tanning process, the free radical molecules could be left loose to oxidize into chromium-6, which is highly carcinogenic.
The alternative to chrome is "vegetable tanning". This process uses the bark of trees and takes over two months to complete. While chromium only needs a few days to take effect. However, the waste from vegetable tanning also has its own down sides, including releasing activated carbon into the environment, decrease of leather liability as well as higher cost of the end products.
In addition to genuine snakeskin, awareness of the very fact that every kind of organic leather comes with ethical and environmental costs, which are sometimes more than what you bargained for. Choosing between the bad and worse types of leather origin is now an obvious decision but there is always a conscious-approved choice of artisanal and organic leather varieties with minimal cruelty, or even better, choosing from the synthetic leather goods.
8- Genuine Snakeskin to Vegan Leather with Snakeskin embossing; a Journey from Reptile Atrocity to Cruelty-Free Goods
After gaining a certain knowledge, we can almost never ignore it. You are now acquainted with the origins of snakeskin fashion and how it has manifested into several celebrity- highlighted trends today. You also have learned about the entire process involved in refining the snake hide, including the source species, prices and the geographical outlook on the industry. And the next time there is a conversation about the snakeskin, you can dispose of all the doubts about the subject for your friends and family.
Despite the boundless beauty and timeless fashion of the authentic snakeskin, you have also understood the sinister aspects of its production; from the cruelty on the variety of species of this magnificent reptile, to poachers and smugglers engaged in the industry. Considering all these factors, you can choose with an open eye from animal-based faux alternatives and synthetic leather crafts.
Looking for a bag that is hundred percent cruelty free, but it boasts all the glamour of a genuine snakeskin pattern and texture? Checkout the Snake Print Bag, made of glossy leatherette with an embossed snake print pattern and blending vintage allure and modern craftsmanship together.