Ask any footballer who has bought boots before and they will all likely tell you the same thing: that kangaroo leather is reserved for the cream of the crop, the best of the best. This staple in the footballing industry has been unquestioned for decades. However, what seemed to be an untouchable pillar in the industry of football seems to have suddenly been rocked to it's core and at risk of being eliminated entirely.
Kangaroo + Football boots - A Quick History
I've combed the internet for an exact date of when kangaroo leather began being used in football boots, but apparently that remains inconclusive. We know for a fact that adidas' most famous Copa Mundial model has been produced since 1982 and is known for its k-leather upper. Puma has it's Puma King and Puma Super Atom models, dating back to the 1970's and 1952 respectively, but it is difficult to verify what type of leather was used for these boots. In conclusion, we know that kangaroo leather has been used in the production of football boots since AT LEAST 1982. I do however believe that the possibility that k-leather was used prior to 1982 is quite high, just undocumented. 41+ years of industry standard using kangaroo products.
Why does the football industry use kangaroo leather?
Kangaroo leather offers many performance benefits that are unmatched among other leathers. It is softer than other known leather alternatives (cow, most notably), more malleable, as well as more durable. All of these characteristics provide the ultimate footballing experience for the player and brands have recognized this. Nike, adidas, Puma, Mizuno, New Balance, Umbro, etc. all have kangaroo leather featuring on their most premium products. It is common knowledge that kangaroo leather > cow leather because it offers better fit, feel on the ball, and durability to any of its competition.
What actions have sparked this sudden shift away from kangaroo leather?
There are a few major actions that have initiated this mass exodus from k-leather. The first is the recent California Penal Code ruling and enforcing that more "rare and exotic" (not their words, but mine) animals cannot be used in products sold in that state. Kangaroos are on that list thus making products containing kangaroo illegal. California is a MASSIVE soccer market, arguably the biggest footy hub in the United States. That means a sizable portion of the boot-buying market is no longer able to purchase these boots. So I'm sure you know where this is going...
The sport brands were bound to respond. Nike I believe, acted first in stating that their most famous and longest-running model, the Nike Tiempo, would no longer be manufactured with kangaroo leather, but that the upper would be replaced with a proprietary synthetic material beginning at the conclusion of 2023. This move alone will send aftershocks around the world, as the Nike Tiempo has a massive following of players who swear by this product. Born in 1984, the Nike Tiempo is the only top-end boot on offer from the American brand that features leather, let alone kangaroo leather, so any player looking for a leather boot from Nike only had one option: the Tiempo. That will no longer be the case at the end of the current year. Both the Tiempo and Nike Premier models will have the leather aspects that made them so unique, stripped away and replaced with synthetic material.
I am of the belief that this move by Nike will create a domino-effect across the market. We are already seeing it with Puma, as they have replaced the upper material of their most famous Puma King model, which since 1966 has featured leather and since the 1970's or 1980's has featured kangaroo leather, with a new synthetic material they are calling "K-Better" (It's clever, I will give them that). This new upper is alleged to be made with 60 percent recycled nylon from post-industrial waste (I like the sustainability here) and offer better touch and durability than the kangaroo counterpart (this part I'm skeptical about...). Adidas have also taken action. While their long-standing Copa Mundial and World Cup models remain untouched and continue to use kangaroo leather (for now), their current Copa silo, which has featured kangaroo leather since 2008 (the Adipure line evolved into the current Copa line, fact check me!) now interestingly enough feathers a cow-skin upper.
These are just the recent and most highly covered moves made by brands in the footballing industry. After being extremely engaged in this sport and the trends of it's industry for the past 16 years, one can see that Nike has taken the spot as "top dog" in the market. They set the trends, the norms. What they do, others follow. So with this in mind, I would be shocked if these were the only brands to take action on this issue.
Why have brands begun shifting away from kangaroo leather?
If you haven't realized by now, some of this blog post has been influenced by personal opinion. I do think it is a well-informed opinion (but that in itself is an opinion... *refusing to go down that existential crisis trap*), but I personally think the move for these big brands to uproot these very established and trusted processes is motivated by two factors:
To further establish themselves as "trendy" or "on-brand" by showing a responsibility to produce more ethical and sustainable products....
And to recapture the monetary massive slice of pie that is the California soccer market.
Again, this section is nearly all opinion, but like I said, I think it is a fairly well-educated opinion. All brands in every industry want to be viewed as sustainable, ethical, and environmentally conscious. Who wouldn't? And trend setters like Nike and adidas lead the way in areas like this by changing the status quo, which in this case is using kangaroo leather in football boots.
If using kangaroo leather is not ethical, then what about cow leather? All leather?
This section I think will be the most challenging to accurately to factually back up. Because the question of whether or not to use kangaroo leather in football boots is quite a complex one. So bear with me as I try my best to represent multiple sides of this problem.
So we've established why kangaroos are used in football boots, but we have yet to discuss how. It is difficult to accurately depict the many details of this process because depending on what sources of information one consults, they will find information supporting the culling of kangaroos as sustainable, eco-friendly, and even a necessary practice. Or you can find the polar opposite stating that the manner in which it is done is unethical and unnecessary. Before we really dive into this, please feel free to fact check any and all of this, as I will not be citing sources but will be recounting information and data that I have unearthed when researching this topic.
Apparently, the kangaroo culling business generates $60 million worth of kangaroo products to the US alone. While I understand that money cannot be the sole motivator for action, we cannot neglect that that is a sizeable amount. Certainly not an amount that Australia would want to miss out on. So if kangaroos make the country of Australia that much money from just it's dealings with the US, then how does it produce those kangaroos? Well in Australia, kangaroos are not farmed. This means that unlike cows, sheep, pigs etc. that have massive amounts of land and resources dedicated to producing those animals, kangaroos are wild. They have no designated areas or resources dedicated to them and are encountered out in the wild. They are not an endangered animal either, with an estimated 50 million kangaroos inhabiting Australia. When it comes to harvesting or culling kangaroos, there are guidelines and laws that dictate how it is to be done. From what I am able to find, the general consensus in Australia is that the kangaroo is seen a bit of a pest. If left unchecked, the population quickly gets out of hand, resulting in more car collisions, and water consumed that was designated for other livestock. There are only four types or breeds of kangaroos that can be hunted but it sounds as thought the methods of hunting them are questionable at best. It seems as though the enforcement of the guidelines and laws in place to ensure ethical hunting of kangaroos are not effectively enforced and I believe this is a major reason as to why there are issues with kangaroo leather being used in products. There is reason to believe that there are regular infringements and violations of those laws protecting kangaroos and if this was to be eradicated, I think there would far less concern with the matter of kangaroos being used. Most consumers do not want to use a product that has abused or mistreated an animal in the process, and with good reason.
Ultimately, this comes down to an ethical perspective that I do no think can have a middle ground. Either you are for killing animals for the consumption of products, or you are not. Because it seems to me that using a cow, which generates far more environmental harm in terms of land degradation, carbon footprint, resources to sustain them, etc. versus using a kangaroo that is not farmed or groomed, but rather is hunted as a wild animal as a component for your boots is a bit of a backwards argument. For example, adidas has currently swapped out the kangaroo for the cow in it's Copa line. Based off of those points, this seems like a step backwards. Perhaps because the cow is a widely accepted livestock that has been used for its leather among many other components is an easier pill to swallow? We've been doing it for so long with the cow, that to do it to a cute kangaroo seems too cruel? I know, I know, I'm speculating. But I think anyone could see my point here. It gets to a point where you are ok with killing of animals for boots, or no. If you are for it, then if properly managed and regulated, I don't see why so much fuss is being made about kangaroos being used for boot manufacturing. I am totally open to new information and would love to know more about the relationship and status of the Australians and the kangaroos and more details regarding the processes in place to hunt them. I'm not particularly for killing animals for boots, but I'm not against it either? I'm a bit on the fence. I just find it interesting how quickly this space has changed.
But anyways, that's my thoughts on the matter. Let me know what you think!