Questions that I’ve always thought about is; is the enslavement, exploitation, and the subject to torturous treatments that animals go through necessary to make clothes? This is all done to animals in the name of fashion. The face and history behind most clothes such as cashmere, leather jackets or boots are made from animals. There are more than 50 million animals a year that are violently killed for use of fashion. The question is, is it not possible to survive without animals being used as clothes?
The History of animals used for fashion
Long ago, Neanderthals, also known as cavemen, wore outfits made from the hides and skins of animals. A BBC article by Mellissa Hogenboom explored the history of Neanderthals and why they had used animals for fashion. The Neanderthals had walked the earth in colder climates and would have needed to cover up. Therefore, the Neanderthals would drape the fur of animals around themselves. This would suggest that animals were used for a source of survival. However, Neanderthals are known to have lived a very long time ago, as the earliest known Neanderthal-like fossil was around 430,000 years old. So, wouldn’t we now have more tools for clothes that would not require the need for animals, or do we still need animals as a source of survival?
When investigating this further, it was really important that I also included tribes, cultures or different groups of people in the 21st century that still use animals for clothes and explored why animals where still used for clothes, such as the Makah tribe, who used the grey whale for both food and clothing purposes. Tribes such as Makah recognised that animals deserved to be treated with respect and unlike the clothing industry now, animals were only killed when they needed materials and these tribes used all parts of the animal. After reading this, it made me realise that even tribes like the Makah tribe had a form of respect towards animals but made me question whether the Westernised fashion system now also have the same respect for animals that these tribes have?
The Westernised fashion systems definitely doesn't! Certain clothes such as fur clothing and fur accessories were a symbol of wealth, luxury and high fashion. In the 1950s, many celebrities were spotted wearing luxury furs, and the rise for fur started to increase as it became even more affordable meaning that a lot more people could afford to buy fur coats. It is difficult when comparing tribes such as the Makah tribe to other fashion systems as they both produce the same result. However, can this be differentiated by arguing that this is the difference between culture and tradition versus just for fashion purposes, or should both sides be held responsible for how animals are treated for clothes?
The Demerits of wearing clothes made from animals
Not only does wearing clothes made from animals cause the suffering and deaths of millions of animals each year, the production of animal derived materials such as wool, fur, and leather contributes to climate change, land degradation, pollution, and water contamination.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals organisation explains how this works. First, water and land are used to grow crops to feed the animals. These crops and water are used to bulk up animals to be slaughtered. The animals the emit levels of carbon dioxide, methane gas and excrement that pollute our air and waterways.
So, wearing animals has a lot of effect on the environment. In addition to this, another disadvantage of wearing clothes made from animals is how animals are treated in order to make these clothes!. Every year, millions of animals suffer for clothing and accessories. Skin is torn from them to make leather, birds are held down while handful of feathers are ripped out of their sensitive skin, and small animals are caged for life before being killed for their fur. Sheep are often beaten and mutilated by workers stealing their wool and their skin for shearling and goats are similarly abused for cashmere and mohair. So the question is, are clothes made from animals really the only option or do we have alternatives?
Thankfully, many countries have started to put a stop to certain forms of animal cruelty for clothes. For example, the United Kingdom became the first country in Europe to ban fur farming in the year 2000. Other popular clothing brands have also started to put their own ban on the animal manufacturing processes. In addition to this, there are many alternatives that can be used compared to clothes made from animals.
For example, instead of fur, there is faux fur. Faux fur is a synthetic fabric that is engineered to have the appearance and warmth of animal fur. In addition to this, there are many brands that are also vegan friendly and eco friendly.
What else to consider?
Therefore, there may be better options that can be used other than using animals for clothes. However, even though organisations such as PETA are working hard to put a stop to animal cruelty, it may be hard as it can be considered to be traditional and culture for many indigenous tribes as it is their main source of survival. Neverthless, it is important that other fashion brands and people are aware of the effect of clothing made from animals on both animals and the environment.