Fashion x Animals
Clothing comes from many difference sources, as we discussed here. Included in that is clothing from animals.
There are important considerations to consider regarding animal welfare, and for those people looking for alternatives to animals all together, such as “vegan leather,” there are also important considerations to know about regarding the environmental impact of leather alternatives.
Let’s take a look at the animal kingdom:
Sheep’s wool is the most popular animal fiber, although it accounts for only 3% of the world’s total fiber production. China, Australia and New Zealand are the top three producers. The U.S. accounts for less than one percent of the world’s wool production. The top states for wool production are California, Colorado and Wyoming.
The main welfare issues to look out for in sheep are castration, tail docking and mulesing:
Many male lambs are castrated to prevent breeding, aid fattening, and reduce aggression. Lambs are usually castrated by applying a tight ring or clamp or by surgery. This is normally done without anesthetic.
It is common for lambs to have their tails docked. This is partly to prevent the accumulation of feces around their tails and partly to reduce lesions and infections from flies. However, evidence shows that tail docking is not necessary to maintain the health and welfare of lambs. Tail docking is carried out with a knife, hot iron, or tight ring around the tail.
Mulesing is the surgical removal of sections of skin from around the tail of a sheep, often with no anesthetic causing pain to the animal. Mulesing is often performed on sheep who produce Merino wool in Australia for the purpose of reducing the incidence of flystrike (lesions and infections caused by blowflies). The use of topical anesthetic is becoming more widespread, but it only provides about eight hours of pain relief. The incidence of flystrike can be dramatically lowered by the use of specialized fly traps, chemical treatments, and selective breeding.
Through voluntary industry agreements, mulesing has been largely phased out in New Zealand.
Unfortunately, mulesing is still practiced in Australia. Many retail companies in other countries import Australian wool, including the US, and therefore may be selling wool from lambs who have undergone this painful procedure. In 2009, the leaders of the Australian wool industry backed out on their 2004 promise to phase out mulesing by 2010. Companies in the US and Europe have repeatedly demanded the end of mulesing; most recently, a number of major retailers collectively urged the Australian wool industry to phase out mulesing in favor of alternatives and progress is being made.
For more on animal welfare issues, read our piece on wool.
Down is the soft layer of feathers closest to birds’ skin closest to the chest region. These feathers have the greatest value, because they do not have quills. Down remains one of the most efficient insulators available and has the lowest carbon footprint of any other fill material either natural or synthetic.
The major animal rights issue facing the down industry is live deplucking. This is the practice of removing feathers while the animal is still alive.
This video, produced by Patagonia demonstrates the problem: ">
When buying down, look for down certified by the Responsible Down Standard, when possible.
Leather is a byproduct of the meat industry. About 23 billion square feet of leather are produced annually in a market that is worth about $77 billion.
China and India process the most leather, but even lower labor rates and nonexistent environmental safety regulations are attracting orders from poorer countries in Southeast Asia, including Bangladesh.
To make leather from animal hides, the material must go through a tanning process. Tanning stabilizes the material so it doesn’t harden. It’s the tanning process that can have major implications for the environment.
Chromium tanned leather is the most popular form of leather production today and also one of the most toxic. This tanning method requires a toxic slush of tanning liquor and chromium salts.
It is common place in regions without strong environmental protection standards (which also happen to be the primary region where leather is tanned, such as China, India, and Bangladesh) to dump this toxic waste into local waterways. This chromium sludge can damage fish, create respiratory problems, infections, infertility and birth defects. It has also been linked to serious cancers in animals throughout the food chain.
To learn more watch this video: ">
What you can do:
Find out where your leather comes from. The major issue is management and lack of regulation, so look for leather tanned in more highly regulated regions. Better yet, seek out vegetable tanned leather.
Many people seek out “vegan” leather as an alternative to animal product. But being animal friendly does not mean being environmentally friendly.
Most fake leather is made from some kind of plastic, which is derived from fossil fuels. And much of that fake leather is made from polyvinyl chloride (known as PVC), a product that contains, among other toxic chemicals, phthalates. Greenpeace calls PVC “the most damaging plastic on the planet,” as it releases dioxis and persistent organic pollutants.
If your conscience does not support leather, then look for polyurethane vegan leather rather than one made from PVC.
Silk comes from the cocoons of silk worms. The worms (which are actually a kind of caterpillar) live in and survive on Mulberry trees with abundant, crunchy green leaves. As the worms prepare to transition into moths, (pupating) they spin cocoons of one long, single thread, made of a strong, gummy substance which, pound-for-pound, is stronger than steel. Traditionally, silk is harvested by gassing or boiling the cocoons, which prevents the moths from creating a hole in the silk from which to fly away. Boiling the cocoons also separates the stickiness (seracin) from the raw silk threads. Roughly 2,600 silk worms are required to produce just one pound of raw silk.
But there is an organic process, which we use here at Zady, for all of our Jharkand silk pieces. Our cruelty-free process involves waiting until the moths emerge on their own. While this allows the continuous strand to be broken into shorter strands, our weavers just twist the fibers together, and wash the silk filaments by immersing them in water and Indian washing nuts rather than bleach or peroxide. Our facilities are GOTS-certified, which ensures the highest environmental standards, and our workers earn ILO-approved living wages, as opposed to the lower governmental standards.