Part 1: Leather & Fur
Note to readers: I will not use the term 'humane' or 'inhumane' when referring to different killing methods for the extraction of fur, skin, silk, down or wool from any animal as I consider the use of any being for commercial purposes inhumane in every sense. Just thought you should all know where I stand: on the vegan side of the force. Now, sit back and learn something new ;)
Using fur and animal's skin is so last season, one may say. Versace, Gucci, Jimmy Choo and others could say the same: their future clothes lines are going to be fur-less. Even Kim Kardashian is going fur-free. So why should you too follow this trend?
Think about it for a second: who doesn't love seeing a bunny or cow roaming free enjoying its surroundings? Why is it then that so many are okay with having their skin and fur wrapped around their bodies? Should we not be disgusted by the idea of animals being killed and having their skin shredded off their bodies while often still being conscious so that people can look 'chic'? Personally, it makes me sick because it is not one fox or one squirrel that will be enough to make a coat, but dozens of them.
The Impact of Animal-Sourced on Animals
Leather is more than just a by-product of the meat industry. Often animals are killed for the sole purpose of using their skin to produce bags, shoes, and garments. Furthermore, cows are not the only animal used for leather production. Tracking the provenance of leather is nearly impossible as it is not labelled. In other words, your leather could come from China or Europe, but it could also come from a cow, a dog, a pig or a cat. Moreover, your clothes or bags could have been made in Italy or the U.S, but the leather did necessarily not come from these countries as the 'Made in…' label that we see on our clothes only refers to the final 'cut & sew' stage of production.
Animal welfare laws are nearly inexistent in the countries where most leather comes from, such as India or China. PETA investigations have found out that some farmers will break cows' tails, rub chilli pepper and tobacco into their eyes so they will keep walking to the slaughterhouse even though the animals are extremely weak. Torture often takes place in the factory: cows and other animals suffer from food and water deprivation, castration, or dehorning - often without any painkillers. Animals spend their lives in crowded farms. They are fed hormones to get fatter - to produce more skin - and stay alive in unsanitary conditions.
When animals are killed for fashion, the same techniques that are used in the meat industry are applied. Animals have their throats sliced open, are skinned and dismembered, while in most cases, still being conscious.
Leather provenance: cow, pig, goat, crocodile, kangaroo, cat, fox, dogs, kangaroos
Similarly, to leather, the origin of fur is mostly untraceable. Most fur factories are based in Europe and the rest are in China, Russia, Argentina and North America, but knowing what country and animal fur comes from is often not possible. Animals are kept in small cages and their lives are short. These conditions are unsafe and unprotected, as well as mentally and physically damaging to the animals. The food they are fed is food unfit for human consumption and the water they are given through a nipple system often fails.
Minks are the most common source of fur. Breeding females are kept for four to five years in the factory and each year, they give birth to kittens; however, only three or four usually survive. The kittens are usually kept alive for six months before being killed for their skin. The animals treated as consumer items instead of sentient beings live in unsanitary, fearful and psychologically challenging environments. In China, animals in fur factories are exposed to rapid changes in weather between the freezing cold and the boiling sun. The anxiety generated by these conditions, whether in China or elsewhere, create psychotic behaviour in the animals, which can lead them to throw themselves against their cages, hurt themselves, or even become cannibalistic.
When the time comes to kill the animals for fur production farmers usually opt for cheap methods such as suffocation, electrocution, poisoning or gassing. In some cases, these methods fail to kill the animal, so farmers will use physical violence such as slamming the animal's neck against hard surfaces to finish the process.
Fur provenance: rabbit, coyote, fox, squirrel, beaver, chinchilla, dog, mink, racoon, seal, bear, hamster, lynx, cats
The Impact of Animal-Sourced Fashion on People and the Environment
The skin of the animal needs to be treated before it is usable for producing garments and accessories. As skin is biodegradable, chemicals are necessary to preserve the leather and prevent decay. The tanning process goes as such: the hides are cured with salt then soaked in water to remove the salt. After this, the leather is treated with chemicals to 'de-hair' the skin (chemicals used include: sodium sulphide, arsenic sulphide, dimethylamine). Once the hides have been de-haired, they are again soaked in chemicals diluted into water to prevent the growth of bacteria. Once treated, leather cannot biodegrade because of the chemicals used in the preserving process. Piles of unfit or old leather, therefore, are being dumped in landfills, which continue to pollute the environment post-consumption.
This chemically-intensive process is harmful to the environment as it pollutes local water systems and intoxicates the people working in and around tanneries. In Kanpur, India - the biggest leather exporter of the country - factories release 50 million litres of toxic tannery water in the city water system every day. People bathe themselves and drink this water and as a result get sick. Diseases such as tuberculosis, nasal and lung cancer, asthma, skin decolouration and mental disabilities are common in regions around tanneries. The intoxicated water also affects agriculture fields surrounding the tanneries: crops either die or are grown and sold with toxins in them. Lands, where old tanneries used to be located, cannot be used for agriculture because of the chemicals present in the soil. Moreover, the treated water released into water systems, affects local marine life spreading adverse effects throughout the food chain.
The fur industry also presents environmental concerns. The energy required to produce a real fur coat is 20 times more than what is needed to produce a fake fur coat. Furthermore, because fur is treated chemically as not to decay, it is not biodegradable. Animals also generate tons of polluting faeces. If we take the example of minks, they each produce 40 pounds of faeces in their lifetime, multiply this the number by the number of minks raised in US-only fur farms (which is 3.76 million) and this gives tens of thousands of tons of faeces. All of this waste is released into the environment threatening the preservation of already scarce clean water.
Why Ditch Animal-Sourced Fashion for Vegan Fashion?
Besides the fact that giving up animal-sourced fashion could prevent the unnecessary slaughter of thousands on animals, one of my biggest arguments is that by stopping buying fur and leather, you are decreasing demand for products that are chemically hazardous to the environment.
Secondly, the aesthetic of vegan fashion is simply extra: bags from Matt & Nat or Stella McCartney, shoes from Beyond Skin, Veja or Bourgois Boheme. The list of vegan fashion brands is endless, and everyone should be able to find a brand that suits their style.
Moreover, with the growing demands for cutting-edge aesthetics from the vegan movement, alternative fabrics are popping up left, right and centre. Pineapple leather (Pinatex), apple leather (Frumat) and mushrooms leather (Mu Skin) are all either commercially available or are on the brink of hitting the marketplace. I even have a cardholder from a brand called Thamon, which is made out real leaves, and mimics the texture of leather, but has a beautiful leaf look finish. Telling people that my cardholder is made out of real leaves is certainly a fun conversation starter too ;)
Not every country has the same animal-welfare laws, but with globalised consumer capitalism in full spin, the barbaric killing of animals for the fashion industry still takes place just not right in front of our eyes. Companies might stop using fur, but leather is still widely accepted and is not considered a taboo in fashion spaces. Some countries are banning fur-trading, but other animal by-products are still authorised.
If you feel like this is not in any regard acceptable, either for environmental or ethical reasons, then take action! Protest, join organisations, stop buying animal by-products and invest in innovative future fibres. I think the most important thing is to do research for yourself and recognise that your actions have the strength to prevent unnecessary suffering.
Lots of love,