Part 2: Silk, Down & Wool
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! ;)
The Impact of Animal-Sourced Fashion on Animals
Removing wool from sheep is more than mere a summer trim. Biologically, sheep produce enough wool to protect them both from the cold and warm weather. A summer cut is, therefore, not necessary. Genetic mutation is conducted on sheep, so they produce more wool than they would do naturally (also known as mulesed wool). Too much wool can lead to death in hot weather. Extra wool also collects moisture and urine attracting flies who lies eggs, which once hatched can eat the sheep alive. Infections and early deaths are widespread amongst sheep genetically modified to produce wool for garment production.
Once born, male lambs often have their ears punched and their tails chopped off. They are also castrated - usually without any painkillers. The female, once old enough, will be artificially inseminated to produce more sheep.
As the majority of shearers are paid by volume and not by the hour, they try to shear as quickly as possible regardless of the welfare of the sheep. As a result of this system, the animal's skin is often sheared too, along with the wool, making the sheep vulnerable to contracting infections. Violence is frequently used to force sheep to stand still. Every year, hundreds of lambs die before reaching eight weeks old due to harsh living conditions on the farms.
Australia produces about fifty per cent of the worlds wool- 'unused' sheep are regularly sent to the Middle East to be slaughtered. Animals, such as sheep, release methane, which is a highly polluting gas. In New Zealand, methane emissions from enteric fermentation represent ninety per cent of the country's production of greenhouse gas emissions. The pollution of water is also problematic in the wool industry as large amounts of faecal matter are released into the water system contaminating local marine life.
Wool provenance: sheep, alpaca, rabbit, goat, llama, camel, musk ox
Feather and down are animal by-products of the meat industry. Down is the small and soft layer of feather close to a goose's neck, which is used as a 'luxury' form of insulation in garment production. Feathers and down are taken off the bird's body while often still conscious and alive. The pain that birds endure can even cause death. From their tenth week, the birds are plucked every recurring six weeks until they are sent to the slaughterhouse. Similarly, roosters are genetically modified to produce long and beautiful feathers, which are used to create elaborate accessories such as fascinators and earrings. By buying items that contain feather and down, one is supporting the abuse of birds and reducing them to a mere product for human consumption.
Feather provenance: goose, duck, ostrich, turkey, guinea hen, macaw, pheasant, peacock, rooster
Silk comes from the now-domesticated Bombyx mori moth. In silk production, the moth has been genetically modified to be blind, incapable of flying and only able to lay eggs once in her lifetime.
The eggs of the moth require a lot of care. Seven days after the eggs have been laid, farmers feed the baby caterpillars with mulberry leaves and every three to five days, the worm will go into a dormant stage for a day or two. After five of these cycles - during which the silkworm will shed his skin and multiply in size each time - the worm will spin its cocoon and within a week, she will morph into a pupa and then a moth. If moths were left alone, the process would go on and they would climb out of the cocoons, secrete a hormone that attracts males, so they can mate and lay eggs once more. However, because silk is considered a commercial product, the life cycle of the creature stops before they become a moth and climb out of their cocoon.
To extract silk and keep the long fibres intact that create that desirable 'silky' texture, farmers boil, steam or bake the cocoons, while the pupa is still alive. Once boiled, the end of the silk thread is found, and the cocoon is unravelled. This practice has been going on for centuries; however, this technique is nonetheless painful for the animal and now that we live in the era of mass consumption further questions regarding the ethics behind these practices can be raised. To make one silk sari, fifty-thousand cocoons are needed and a ton and a half of fresh mulberry leaves to feed them. Now think, how many are required to make one-thousand.
Silk provenance: silkworm (Bombyx mori)
Why Choose Vegan Fashion?
As aforementioned, the production of animal sourced fashion is extremely harmful to both animals and the planet. While organic wool and cruelty-free silk exist the idea the dehumanising mindset that comes with animals being used for commercial production troubles me greatly. There are many vegan fashion alternatives out there such as cotton yarn, recycled mixed-fibre yarn and even fibres as exotic as banana yarn exist on the market! With a plethora of exciting vegan options to explore it seems like the best step forward to encourage textiles innovation that is both less harmful to animals and the planet.
If you feel like animal-sourced fashion is not in any regard acceptable, either for environmental reasons or for ethical reasons, then take action! Protest, join organisations, stop buying animal by-products and invest in future fabrics. I think the most important thing is to do more research for yourself and recognise that your actions can prevent unnecessary suffering.
Lots of love,