Skins and feathers are as cruel as fur, the fashion industry is told

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<p><figcaption class=Street style nail art against a plush coat at the AW2024 shows at Copenhagen fashion week in January.Photo: Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

Copenhagen fashion week has just announced that exotic skins and feathers will be banned from its catwalks next year, in what will be the biggest industry event yet.

shelve to Copenhagen fashion week for raising the bar for other events,” says vice president of corporate projects at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), Yvonne Taylor. “Now all eyes are on other fashion week organizers, who must follow suit.”

Fashion campaigner Venetia La Manna agrees: “It really proves to me that these organizations – fashion weeks, potential brands – can take these big steps when pushed.”

But there is still a long way to go. While the ban follows similar moves from smaller fashion weeks, such as Stockholm and Melbourne, as well as brands such as Burberry and Chanel, it will be for some time until exotic skins, including crocodile, snake, alligator and ostrich , as well as ostrich and peacock feathers, are considered cruel in the same way as fur.

The value of bird feathers was just last month on the catwalks of New York, London, Paris and Milan. They were also abundant on the red carpets this awards season.

Although there has been no significant spike in the use of exotic animal skins, the so-called Millionaire Speedy bag has been one of the most sought-after designs of the past year. Made from crocodile skin, the Pharrell Williams design for Louis Vuitton lives up to their name with a price tag of $1m. group Collective Fashion Justice, and “Luxury brands such as Hermès and Louis Vuitton not only source these skins but now own factory farms.”

The case against fur is the result of many years of work by animal rights campaigners. It has now been banned by most of the biggest brands in the luxury sector, and in December the British Fashion Council formally banned fur from London fashion week, although the ban has been tacit since 2018.

But Emma Håkansson, founding director of Collective Fashion Justice, says that while the industry is “largely convinced that it is unacceptable to kill an animal specifically for fashion”, she thinks she has yet to understand the cruelty associated with the feather supply chains. , which usually involve ostriches, in the same way.

There is a lack of education. “The mainstream consumer doesn’t put the two together and think feathers are cruelty-free,” she says.

But exotic feathers and skins are subject to appalling cruelty, according to Peta’s Yvonne Taylor: “Snakes are pumped up with air or water while they’re still alive, and the lizards are brutally decapitated. Metal rods rammed down the spines of crocodiles and into the brains of alligators in an attempt to kill them.”

Part of the issue is “the way fashion separates the animal from the final product”, says Håkansson, whose organization consulted Copenhagen fashion week together with World Animal Protection to convince them of this policy to enact. While researching feathers recently, she showed people a photo of a dress trimmed with ostrich feathers. The vast majority did not identify them correctly. The same is also true for brands. Last year, its investigation found that retailers including Asos, Boohoo and Selfridges had mislabelled real feathers as “toys”.

Cruelty aside, even if consumers recognize that feathers are derived from animals, or that exotic skins come from crocodiles, La Manna emphasizes cognitive dissonance: “We always withdraw from the realities of what goes into our clothes, be that workers. ‘ rights abuses, whether that’s gender-based violence, and of course animal cruelty.”

She also thinks that people in the west are less likely to have a problem with cruelty towards a cold-blooded reptile than a furry mammal.

Håkansson agrees that there is an emotional barrier: “It’s really hard for people to connect with the fact that a crocodile or a snake is really emotional in the same way that a fox or a mink is,” she says.

But for all the progress in fur, even in that area there is a slide back. “I think it’s honest because the cool girls have started wearing it again,” says Le Manna.

No less to blame is the mob wife trend, which saw huge fur coats and Sopranos– chic in vogue. “TikTok is all this recycling of your grandmother’s fur,” said Hillary Taymour, designer of the ethical brand Collina Strada. “This is starting a revival in the use of fur and faux fur in the industry. The trend is spreading like wildfire, and we saw it all over the fall collections.”

While there is an emphasis on re-wearing vintage furs and upcycled materials, Taymour believes that glamourisation is “ultimately harmful. By creating and standing behind the trend, you are welcoming fast fashion houses to run with them [it].”

Håkansson also believes that there is pressure from the industry to say that these materials, such as fur and leather, are natural rather than synthetic materials derived from fossil fuel. But, she points out, they are no longer biodegradable once they have been processed.

The regression on fur could be linked to a wider trend of sustainability issues, which were so dominant in the fashion industry a few years ago, moving into the background. Håkansson doubts fatigue. “There was that early pandemic period, where there were dolphins in Venice, and everyone was excited about what the world could be. And then we got a little tired and went back into hypercapital mode.”

Taymour agrees that the conversation has been quiet, citing increases in costs to produce garments, especially sustainable ones, since the pandemic. “Big companies have stopped the conversation to continue making a margin,” she says.

Håkansson hopes that people will become more patient. “There’s a feeling that solutions won’t work, if they don’t happen overnight.” But, she said, “people have to be willing to play a longer game.”

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