Redesigning Fashion Pt1. Fur, skins and innovating replacements.

Once you begin looking into the clothing industry, there is a slightly depressing realisation that our fashion choices are taking a severe toll on environmental and human health from start to finish. It begins with the pesticides applied to cotton fields, the land and water use needed to raise cows for leather, and continues all the way through textile dyeing and tanning of leather, manufacturing of products, transportation, washing and, the manner in which we are consuming and ultimately, throwing away each garment.

Yet with every problem, we can change our perception and see an opportunity to create a solution. Even if it is simply changing our choices.

Perhaps you may already be making choices to only support and purchase fashion free from animal cruelty. We do so because we don’t want to support the suffering of another being….yet in the long run, it doesn’t help the earth if we are buying products, even if they are vegan, that contribute to human suffering and planet degradation.

 We don’t choose cruelty-free because we care about animals more than humans. (Well mostly) We choose cruelty-free because we recognise that everyone has rights, and no one deserves to suffer if they have the capacity to – which animals and humans do – just for us to have a trendy bag or sneakers or whatever end-product we have. 

We choose cruelty-free because we are doing what is in our power to not add to suffering. 

So when we are redesigning our own personal fashion choices, we want to broaden the scope of factors we are considering from start to finish. From where and how the material is sourced, to the workers who make it into a material, then a product and how it is going to affect the environment when we don’t use it anymore. Which of course leads to us also redesigning how we interact with our fashion lifespan. This new consciousness around our fashion choices being deeper than simply a pretty colour or a nice hemline and starting to encompass sustainability, ethics and circular fashion, is filtrating through consumers and designers alike.

Nielsen study shows that 73 % of millennial consumers say that they are willing to spend more on a product if it is made by a sustainable or socially-conscious brand. With 81 % of these research participants expecting the brands that they buy into to be transparent when marketing to consumers and actively speak about their sustainability impact. This group of people are the biggest spenders alive right now, so it is no wonder the designers and big stores are listening.

This is as big a topic as the food production system, so rather than starting another website, I want to give a broad overview of some of the key points, for awareness and so we can make empowered choices. And since this is a blog focusing on animal welfare, looking at animal usage in the fashion industry and its impact is a good place to begin. One of the most publicised redesigning going on currently with animals in the industry is around fur usage.

Wearing fur has been controversial for a long time, since it is near impossible not to realise it once belonged to an animal, often with the animals body parts even dangling off. These animals have either come from appalling conditions, 85% comes from fur farms in tiny cages, where animals are electrocuted often from their genitals, or the rest being trapped and experiencing a slow death or from China where millions of cats and dogs are hanged or skinned alive for their fur.

Yet the top fashion houses held on. If you look in the past, moving further from just keeping us warm to survive as cavemen, fur, often from leopards, was used in Ancient Egypt, only by royalty and high priests and then later English kings reserved costly furs for the noble elite. So likely, there was some old-school belief that fur equates to power and status.

But the last couple of years has been revolutionary when it comes to fur and the fashion industry.

That equation of fur being desirable has come smashing down.

The theory was already wobbly from decades of animal welfare protesters throwing red paint on catwalks, helped along the way a bevy of supermodels getting naked rather than wearing fur back in the 90’s.

From then there was a trickle of stores and designers who avoided the use and sale of the animals fur, such as Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfigur, and of course, those who never did from the beginning including Stella McCartney, Kate Spade, Alexa Chung and Victoria Beckham.

Then in 2016, Armani announced his intention to move away from fur. It may not have been the first major, luxury designer to do so, yet this announcement had a domino effect unlike anything prior. 

Soon to follow Armani was Hugo Boss, Coach, The Kooples, Gucci, Michael Kors and Jimmy Choo, Furla, Versace, Donna Karan and now Maison Margiela via Galliano.

Gucci came out and said “fur is not modern”. Boom.

French Vogue had stamped fur out in 2017 with Giselle on the cover, dedicating the issue to animal protection and demonstrating though-out the issue, faux-fur in its place. Vogue. In France.

And if that isn’t enough to cement that fur is out;

  • one of the most fashionable weeks of the year, London Fashion Week went FUR-FREE this year.

  • one of the most influential towns, West Hollywood, don’t sell it, with the rest of LA phasing out to ban sales by 2021, joining San Fransico and Sao Paulo - also arguably two extremely “cool” forward thinking cities, who have already banned fur sales.

  • Yoox Net-a-Porter also adopted a fur-free policy across all its online stores, some of the most popular in the world, including Net-a-Porter, Mr Porter, Yoox and The Outnet. David Jones and Myer here and Selfridges in London, no longer sell it. Farfetch followed suit and also went fur-free…

A few designers are hanging on but the tide has very obviously changed.

And that is just the beginning, as our view points are being widened and our capacity to choose from other sources are also growing. From fur, our scope of concern will move to other skins of animals, and the first place this is landing is with ‘exotic’ leathers.

Crocodiles, snakes, lizards, kangaroos….

We used to make hats from seal skins that came from seals being clubbed to death. This idea is appalling now. Perception is a funny thing and the ability for perception to change is what changes the future we make.

Why ban exotic skins and not leather from a cow? Firstly our perception around what animals are meant to be kept for our use and which ones are not.

Lions. No. Seals. No. The question for crocodiles and the rest of their "‘exotic’ wildlife friends, is being asked because of two reasons. Firstly because they are wild animals, rather than livestock. So while both have the ability to suffer, it is our perception that these exotic animals deserve not to, more than a cow…

This is also tied into the fact that they endure disgusting and cruel conditions, with constant exposes and undercover investigations showing them being kept in tiny cages and enduring painful deaths. For some reason, strange as it might be, this doesn’t cast the right luxurious image the designers were going for anymore…obviously.

Victoria Beckham, Vivienne Westwood, Chanel and Diane von Furstenberg are the the first line of top end designers banning them and high-end department store chain Selfridges joining them. With India being the first country banning the import of all exotic animal skins. ASOS, already fur-free has gone further to ban the sale of anything from vulnerable, endangered, exotic or wild-caught species; feather and down, bone, horn, shell (including mother of pearl), mohair, cashmere, and silk. Bring it on.

Will the natural course of action be to turn our concern to leather?

Personally I think so, but I think it will come due to the environmental pressure rather than animal welfare issues. Most leather comes from cows.

Cows are one of the biggest land users, fresh water uses (they drink 100 litres of fresh water per DAY!) and polluters, contributing the methane, the greenhouse gas more potent than co2, to global warming. Raising cows or food for cows is one of main reasons for land clearing, specifically rainforest destruction world wide.

Then tanning leather is one of the most polluting industries in the world, with over half of it being done in developing countries, where policies around environmental and workers standards are very substandard. The humanitarian crisis that is happening from the major pollution in the waterways and terrible wages and hours being worked in toxic work places, is major. These are multi layered issues that will not be solved immediately, but will bring leather more into the line of questioning. Because as conscious humans, we can not ignore it.

Going forward from the changes that are being made around fur, exotic skins and the emerging awareness about leather alternatives, what will be integral for all of these animal welfare wins to be a celebration for Mother Earth, will be what we replace them with and how we dispose of them. Faux-fur is incredible to look at, but if we buy a new faux-fur jacket and throw it out with the close of each fashion week, all we do is add non-biodegradable items to landfill.

Changing leathers for toxic plastics does us no good either. Plastics generally come from fossil fuel - a finite resource and they create greenhouse gases when thrown away or, as we are seeing, major problems when they end up in our oceans…

Luckily there are people dedicating their lives to innovation when it comes to sustainable materials. And their are designers committed to not only using these materials but also creating fair-trade working policies.

British fashion designer Stella McCartney uses “fake leather” that is made with a recycled polyester backing, solvent-free polyurethanes and a coating made from at least 50 per cent vegetable oil. Another design is the 'dinamica' faux suede material which is made from 100% recycled PET plastics that is being used as a replacement for leather for shoes, bags and it's currently used by Jaguar & Mercedes-Benz in their car interiors. Another new 100% recycled PU coated in this vegetable-based plastic is now on the market, which avoids all the pitfalls of regular PU and gets top marks for sustainability. And topping them all off has to be the Pinatex, “not leather” from the tops of pineapples - that would otherwise go to waste! Some examples are below.

I believe we are creative by nature. Because of this I believe we will create solutions to the problems we are facing.

I believe we are peaceful by nature, and given the information, we will choose products that do not support cruelty.

I also believe it is human nature, a blessing and a curse, that we can change our perception on what is not only acceptable but also what is considered desirable… which means I have hope our fashion industry will reinvent itself and what it fashionable, and with it, it will change the process, from start to finish.

More to come in part two looking at circular fashion, workers rights and other bits and bobs… xxx