The truth behind one of the worlds most expensive materials.
Crocodiles are aquatic reptiles, and because of their size, big powerful jaws, and aggressiveness, remain one of the most feared carnivores on Earth. Crocodiles, in the form we recognize them today, have roamed the earth for 80 million years, they are successful predators and once lived alongside the dinosaurs. After the Chicxulub impact, which happened around 66 million years ago, the non-avian dinosaurs were gone but crocodiles managed to survive. (1)
Where can Crocodiles be found?
There are 13 species of crocodile and the average lifespan varies. The large reptiles reside in the tropical regions of Asia, Africa, America, and Australia. Their different lifestyles mean that each of the species grows and lives differently from each other.
The largest of the croc species, the saltwater crocodile has an average lifespan of 70 years, living as long as the modern-day human. Its cousin, the Nile crocodile, can live anywhere from 70 years to 100 years of age and the American crocodile lives to a maximum of 70 years old.
However, smaller croc species are not so lucky. Their average lifespan is around 30-40 years. (2)
Crocodiles are powerless against environmental change, hunting and poaching, and there is much debate about the supply of eggs from these wild populations to crocodile farms. Those in favour claim that eggs taken from wild nests provide landowners with a valuable source of income and control the local populations, reducing human injuries and the number of cattle killed. On the other hand, conservationists and critics say only a few crocodiles reach maturity in the wild and removing eggs could have a devastating impact.
What is a crocodile farm?
A crocodile or alligator farm is an establishment for breeding and raising animals to produce crocodile and alligator meat, leather from crocodile and alligator skin, and other goods. Many species of both alligators and crocodiles are farmed internationally. In Louisiana, USA, alligator farming is a $60 to $70 million industry. (3) In Australia, crocodile farming contributes an estimated $100 million to the Northern Territory economy.
What is crocodile leather used for?
The skins of crocodiles and other reptiles are widely used for the manufacturing of leather goods such as bags, wallets, and belts etc. The pattern of crocodile leather makes a product unique because it is impossible to find an identical pattern.
Why are crocodiles used for leather?
Many in favour of exotic skins would say ‘why not?’. Animals have long been used as materials for fashion and clothing, and there does not seem to be a boundary which humans are not willing to cross. Almost any animal you can think of could and would be used for fashion if there were brands willing to put a price tag on it.
Why is Crocodile Leather So Expensive?
Crocodile skin is considered one of the world’s finest leathers and features in collections by some of the world’s most elite luxury brands. Brands such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Versace use crocodile skins in their highest priced items.
Materials that are rare or difficult to make usually demand a high price tag. The limited number of crocodiles and their small size is a
factor, as is the lack of dependable farms and tanning facilities that can process and prepare the product for market.
Can crocodile skins be responsibly sourced?
One could argue that some exotic skin farms are managed and operated better than others, but when Chanel announced their decision to ban exotic skins back in 2018, a factor in their decision was the difficulty obtaining responsibly sourced skins.
Responsibly sourced or not, there can be no denying that behind every crocodile, alligator, snake or lizard handbag is a violent death.
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Are crocodiles humanly killed?
Although various methods are used to stun and kill crocodiles before their skin is taken, none of the methods we have seen can be described as ‘humane’. Some involve the severing of the spinal cord and others include skinning the animals whilst they are visibly still alive. Many of the videos which show these methods are far too graphic and upsetting to show in this article but can been seen online if you want to see more.
The following video was recorded by a crocodile farm to attract business from luxury brands and shows the conditions and processes in taking a crocodile or alligator skin. It comes with a graphic content warning and some scenes which viewers may find upsetting.
Major Luxury Brands Say Goodbye to Exotic Skins
Over the last five years many brands have been turning their back on exotic skins. In February 2019 Victoria Beckham announced her intention to ban exotic skins from future collections. Their statement read “We are happy to confirm that we will cease using exotic skins in all future collections as of our main autumn/winter 2019 ready-to-wear presentation. This decision reflects the wishes of not only the brand, but also that of our customers.” (4)
Later the same year, Jil Sander confirmed it had stopped using exotic skins, and joined luxury brands Vivienne Westwood, Diane von Furstenberg, Chanel, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, and many others on the right side of history.
As we move into 2021, more brands are making the same pledge. Alexandre Birman, will stop sourcing exotic skins beginning January 1st. The shoe brand’s ethical decision will send a strong message to the fashion industry about the dangers of raising and killing exotic animals for “luxury” fashion items—including the increased risk of outbreaks such as COVID-19. (5)
But it’s not all good news. The high price of crocodile skins may be the reason why in November 2020, Luxury fashion brand Hermès invested $7.25 million to purchase a lagoon in Australia with plans to build Australia’s largest crocodile farm. The announcement caused a stir on Twitter, as animal activists labelled the move ‘revolting’ and ‘unnecessary’, citing how other luxury brands have moved away from using fur and leather in recent years.
Neither Hermès nor Louis Vuitton has any mention of their involvement in the crocodile farming industry on their websites.
Hermès’ highly coveted Birkin crocodile handbag can retail for over £50,000, while Louis Vuitton meanwhile sells exotic handbags for up to £30,000. (6)
In recent times, the fashion industry has faced increased scrunity over the level of environmental damage it causes and the cost to animal lives. New bio-tech companies are innovating next-generation materials which removes the need for toxic chemical processes and animals to produce alternatives to animal derived leather.
With more of these next-generation materials coming to market, one must ask why it is necessary to continue using animals such as crocodiles for their skin.
Main image by Robert Zunikoff