Animal-derived textiles like wool, leather, and silk have been staples of the fashion industry for decades, if not centuries.
However, in recent years, more people have started taking a closer look at how their clothes are made and how the animals we rely on for these textiles are treated.
The picture is far from pretty, as fashion brands, and their suppliers, don’t always follow the animal welfare laws we think they would.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything to stop animal cruelty in the fashion industry!
With the growing number of fashionable vegan products and the rise of ethical alternatives in mainstream fashion like humane wool and ethical down, choosing cruelty-free fashion has never been easier. And there’s more you can do too to influence your favourite brands.
Here’s all you need to know about animal-friendly fashion, what you can do and the biggest ethical issues with clothing of animal origin.
What is animal cruelty in the fashion industry?
What exactly do we mean when we talk about the cruel treatment of animals in the clothing industry?
We need to go through some hard-to-digest facts…
Leather & exotic animal skins
To make matters worse, leather is not always, as commonly believed, a byproduct of the meat industry, meaning more killings are required to keep up with our leather requirements.
Exotic animal skins like phyton and alligator skin are also deeply problematic: These majestic wild animals are kept in captivity to breed until skinned.
The fur industry has been in decline for many years, and we have the hard work of animal rights activists to thank for its demise.
In order to create animal fur pieces, animals like minks, foxes and even dogs are poisoned or shocked before being skinned, so as to not damage their precious fur. In some horrific instances, they’re even skinned while fully conscious.
Wool & cashmere
Conventional wool can in some ways be just as cruel as fur.
Roughly handled and kept in increasingly cramped living conditions, sheep often have to endure a process called mulesing, which involves cutting off skin folds at their rear and tail without the use of anaesthetics. This is done to prevent profit-ruining diseases and shear bigger yields at the same time. There are ongoing debates about how necessary and humane this process is.
Prized and pricey cashmere, derived from the undercoat of Kashmir goats, is also a product of painful procedures, as the goats’ hair is roughly torn out with metal combs.
Angora wool is shorn from the fur of Angora rabbits, and much like sheep and goats, these fragile animals have to endure painful procedures before their hair is fully stripped off.
As prey animals, rabbits are easily frightened, so any rough handling can result in heart problems.
Silk is derived from the cocoons of a special insect called the silkworm.
In order to unfurl and weave the soft fibres within the cocoon and keep them in one piece, the structures have to be boiled in hot water with the silkworm still inside.
In recent years, a new manufacturing process called “peace silk” or “ahimsa” has been proposed as an ethical alternative to this cruel practice. Peace silk is made without killing the silkworm, as they are allowed to turn into moths before collecting the leftover cocoon.
Unfortunately, this process is not as non-violent as advertised, as the adult moths are still quickly killed after their fertility decreases.
Feathers & down
The down feather industry is also not free from scrutiny when it comes to animal cruelty in the fashion industry.
Much like with wool, fur, and cashmere, ducks and geese have their feather ripped out while entirely conscious, resulting in long-lasting and potentially fatal wounds.
Is it all bad news?
Looking at a major industry so rampant with horrific animal abuse, it can be easy to feel discouraged and saddened.
But there is good news: There are many ways you can be part of the solution and still enjoy the fashion pieces you love without bringing any harm to animals!
So, what can we, the consumers, do to support animal-considerate fashion?
Here are 10 things you can do to stop animal cruelty in the clothing industry
1. Support vegan alternatives
One of the best ways to stop animal cruelty in the clothing industry is to start supporting the brands that have chosen to avoid animal products altogether.
In 2022, there are vegan alternatives to virtually any material of animal origin, and you won’t have to look far to find plenty of vegan-friendly jumpers, coats, and boots!
2. Never buy fur
Fur is the product of a bygone era, and you don’t have to be an animal activist to agree that we shouldn’t buy any fur pieces at all.
While fur can keep you a lot warmer than other materials, the rise of insulating clothing has made fur production simply unnecessary.
And if you really love the look and feel of a fur coat or fur trim, why not invest in bio-based fur?
Unlike petroleum-based faux fur, this new sustainable material is made with vegetable oils, resulting in a whopping 63% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. For more on the impacts of faux fur and a comparison with the real thing see our article Is faux fur toxic? The truth about faux fur and how to buy better.
3. Only buy certified mulesing-free wool
While many brands have boycotted painful mulesing, the procedure is still widespread in some parts of Australia, the world’s leading wool producer and manufacturer.
If you want to continue wearing wool, all you have to do is make sure that it’s been sourced from mulesing-free facilities, as well as from facilities that ensure sheep have ample space to move around and graze freely.
Look for a Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) certification.
4. Look for GCS-certified cashmere
On the other hand, supporting truly cruelty-free cashmere can be challenging.
The vast majority of cashmere manufacturing takes place in China and Mongolia, where animal welfare regulations are not as strict as in other countries. In order to get your hands on ethical cashmere, you’ll have to look out for manufacturers with a Good Cashmere Standard certification.
GCS certifications are only awarded when goats are raised free from pain, hunger, thirst, and any distress. There are manufacturers with GCS credentials for example in Inner Mongolia and Mongolia.
5. Go leather-free
Going leather-free is one of the best ways to boycott animal cruelty in the fashion industry.
High-street brands like H&M have long renounced real leather as a way to cut costs, but buying faux leather pieces is far from a sustainable choice.
Most faux leather is made from plastic materials like PVC, PU, and polyester, and it is not as durable as real leather.
Knowing the impact that petroleum-based clothing has on our landfills and climate, faux leather has been rebranded as “vegan leather” instead, hoping to shed its bad rap.
Luckily, vegan leather is not only a greenwashed synonym for faux leather.
Manufacturers are turning to organic materials like pineapple leaf fibre, mushrooms, and cactus fibre to create durable and sustainable vegan leather pieces!
6. Invest in Tencel and Lyocel pieces
When it comes to avoiding silk, sustainable materials like Tencel and Lyocell can be the perfect cruelty-free replacement.
They are just as soft as silk, vegan-friendly, and a lot more eco-friendly too!
In fact, silk production has a mixed environmental impact: The fabric is biodegradable and requires very little water and chemicals to produce, yet it comes with heavy energy costs, particularly due to the cooking of the cocoons.
Tencel and Lyocell, on the other hand, are made from renewable and biodegradable materials (bamboo pulp and wood pulp, respectively) and use a low-impact, closed-loop system for production which recycles the water and solvent used. For more on biodegradable fabrics, see Styles that don’t last forever: Which fabrics are biodegradable.
7. Only buy certified down
Just like wool and cashmere, the best way to ensure that your down jacket has been manufactured ethically is to look for an animal welfare certification.
The Responsible Down Standard (RDS) was launched by the popular brand North Face and remains the most reliable certification to this day.
In order to qualify, down manufacturers have to avoid all live-plucking, force-feeding, or rough handling.
8. Make your voice heard
One of the best ways to make an impact is to make your voice heard and contact major brands directly on social media, urging them to leave all barbaric practices behind and apply for cruelty-free certifications.
9. Spread the message
Amplify your voice and demands by bringing more concerned consumers on board.
You don’t have to be a full-time activist to start influencing others to boycott cruel brands and choose kinder alternatives… nowadays, all you need is a social media account!
Try spreading the #wearitkind hashtag, share news related to animal abuse in the clothing industry, and speak with your loved ones about the issue with an open mind.
10. Buy pre-loved
This is because you won’t be supporting unethical brands directly.
Head over to your local thrift shop to give an old leather jacket a new life, or if you fancy buying online check out our piece about where to buy second hand online. Once you’ve made the most out of your finds, opt for cruelty-free replacements or more pre-loved pieces!
Animal-friendly fashion, without the carbon footprint
So, what actions will you take to boycott animal cruelty in the fashion industry?
Whatever you choose to do, try to make sure that the planet is not paying the price: Take a closer look at how your vegan or cruelty-free pieces are made, and make the right choice for not only the animals but the planet too.
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