How To Make Clothes That Are Good For Animals
It’s been more than 35 years since animal rights activists first started targeting the use of animals’ fur and skin in fashion. The iconic campaigns which saw mink wearers splashed with paint, and the release of David Bailey’s provocative Dumb Animals advert drew attention to the plight of creatures caged and killed to produce luxury furs.
The issues around animal fur are well understood, however other animal products in fashion have not received the same level of scrutiny. Leather is still the go-to material for footwear and accessories, wool is universally lauded for its warmth, softness and versatility, while there is a seemingly endless stream of exotic animal products from stingray to yak hair that can be tanned, spun, or woven into wearable materials.
Creating an ethical and sustainable fashion label means being fully informed about the impact of the materials you select, and manufacturing the clothes in a transparent and responsible way. When we’re talking about animals, that means understanding how these creatures were treated, where they came from, and who looked after them.
There are five main ways that you can address animal welfare with your label. These are:
Consider going vegan - build a label without the use of animal materials.
Use upcycled and recycled materials - good for animals and the environment.
Avoid non-domesticated animal materials such as python and crocodile.
Avoid harmful practices in the supply chain like sheep mulesing.
Use certification schemes to ensure compliance with standards.
It speaks for itself, but the most straightforward way to make your label animal-friendly is to make it vegan. This means using no animal products at all, including wool.
There are a few different organisations that provide vegan certification, so that you can back up your claims and ensure your label is animal-free. These include PETA and The Vegan Society. Check here for a list of vegan certifiers.
Fashion has once again woken to the many horrors of fur, with a slew of major labels rejecting animal pelts in recent years including Prada, Chanel, ASOS, and Farfetch. There have also been widespread bans on fur farming across Europe, and a growing number of places such as California are banning its sale.
There are almost no situations where the use of animal fur in fashion could be considered ethical towards animals. Almost. Exceptions to the rule would be when the fur is vintage or upcycled - extending the life of a material that an animal gave its life to produce. If you go down this path, be prepared to fully explain the sources of your fur and justify its use.
Wool is a natural, biodegradable fibre, seen by many as a sustainable option for an ethical brand. However, as with any animal-derived fabric, good sourcing is key.
In Australia, some merino sheep are put through the process of mulesing, where the skin of the backside is removed to prevent flies from laying eggs there. Animal advocates have called this process cruel and unnecessary, saying the flies can be managed with better farming practices. The international backlash to mulesing has seen fashion brands threaten to boycott Australian wool.
To create a fashion label that puts animal welfare at its heart, you need a thorough knowledge of where your wool was sourced and under what conditions, even going as far as identifying the farm or farmers.
Some ethical brands are turning to alternative wools such as ethically sourced cashmere and khullu, which comes from Yaks. Khullu is a soft underdown that the animals naturally shed that has been touted as a warmer softer alternative to sheeps wool or cashmere. However these materials are not risk-free. Again, the key is understanding the source and being confident the animals are treated well. At Good On You we look for brands that can trace the source of these fibres all the way back to the field and have a comprehensive policy on animal welfare.
These wools are firmly in the luxury fabric category, and that is reflected in their price. If that’s not an option for your brand, then recycled wool provides the same soft, warm versatile fabric, without the ethical issues.
Leather has been used for more than 7,000 years for its strength, durability, and water-resistant properties. The leather industry is huge, said to be worth more than $80 billion USD globally, with leather still the go-to material for shoes, bags and belts.
For some people, the wearing of leather is justified because it’s a byproduct of the meat industry that would otherwise go to waste. That’s a claim rejected by animal advocates, who say it’s more of a co-product and that the industries support each other. Whether that in itself is a problem is subjective.
What’s not in dispute is that our global appetite for a bountiful supply of cheap leather has led to the cruel and inhumane treatment of animals. Reports include cows being forced to march for days to slaughter and dog hides used to make leather products.
Small brands that have a direct relationship with their leather producers can claim an ethical leather supply chain, however there will always be fashion fans that reject the idea of wearing the material.
Again, recycling and upcycling are your friends here. Post-consumer leather removes the risk that your brand is directly contributing to animal cruelty, or death, and it reduces waste.
Silk is another iconic material that has been spun to make garments for centuries.
The bombyx mori (the mulberry silkworm) produces the bulk of commercial silk. If left to its own devices, a silkworm will make a small hole in its cocoon when it’s ready to emerge as a moth. However, this breaks the long silk strands that make up the inner cocoon. That’s why silk producers usually prefer to boil the cocoon with the worm still inside, ensuring the long strands remain intact.
It is possible to find less lethal alternatives to the silk-making process. Ahimsa silk, also known as ‘peace silk’, allows the moth to evacuate the cocoon before it is boiled. Some silks that fall under the Ahimsa umbrella include ‘Eri silk’ and ‘Tussar silk’.
There are endless ways in which animal products can make their way into our wardrobes, from fabrics to trims, to buttons to glues. Knowing and understanding your supply chain, from the field and through the factories, will help you avoid contributing to the mistreatment of animals and create beautiful garments that people will feel good wearing. Please visit Good on You to learn more.