Animal print has been coming in and out of style for decades. From leopard spots to tiger stripes, you name it, and it has been made. Midi dresses, sandals, and silky slips to name a few have hit the high street year after year. But where does the fashion industry’s fascination with animal print come from?
Since the 11th century, animal print was synonymous with luxury and wealth. In history, royalty and upper classes had rugs made from animal skin or displayed animal heads around their homes as a symbol of their status. Today, real animal fur is still used in high fashion and by many indigenous communities. As the years go on, more and more brands are stepping away from real fur and opting for faux.
But in the argument of real animal fur and fibres vs faux – who wins?
Pros and Cons - Animal fibres
When we discuss animal fibres, we don’t just mean mink scarves and snakeskin boots. Natural animal fibres such as wool, cashmere, alpaca and silk are commonplace in both highstreets and high fashion. They can be viewed as beneficial as they have desirable clothing properties, and they are biodegradable. However, there are growing concerns about how these fibres are sourced.
In fact, fur farming has been banned in many countries, including Austria, Croatia, Serbia and The Netherlands and there have been calls to ban the importation of fur into the UK. Animals most commonly used for their fur include foxes, minks, chinchillas, rabbits and dogs. Vegan activists are on a mission to ban all animal fibres for use in fashion, holding protests and raising awareness for the cruelty that these animals are put under for the sake of style. Instead, they recommend faux alternatives.
Pros and Cons - Faux alternatives
As veganism and concerns about animal rights hit the mainstream, so did faux and vegan fashion. In any shop today you can more than likely find yourself a pair of vegan leather boots or a faux fur trim. The pros of these alternatives, of course, are that no animals are harmed in the making – vegan alternatives are deemed much more ethical within society. But it is important to consider that although they are ‘cruelty free’, they are not automatically environmentally friendly.
For example, vegan leather is often a combination of synthetic fibres such as polyester or polyurethan. In other words, these materials are made from plastic fibres that are harmful to the environment. They are not biodegradable or renewable and can damage our wildlife in the form of microplastics.
Despite this, there are some brands who are making an effect to contribute sustainable vegan fashion to society – and in the 21st century this industry is booming. Clothes and accessories made from hemp, bamboo and other animal-free materials are now familiar alternatives for those who are seeking cruelty-free, sustainable options.
So, who wins?
The answer to this question is a bit of a grey area. There are pros and cons to both the use of animal fibres and vegan alternatives, it depends on what you are looking for in an item of clothing. We can conclude that vegan fashion is not necessarily an environmentally friendly or sustainable alternative by default, however that does not mean there are not attempts to combat this. Similarly, not all animal fibres are more environmentally friendly than synthetic ones.
This debate combines the arguments of both ethics and sustainability- which are both completely separate topics.
Consuming ethically produced clothing is not always synonymous with those which are sustainably produced. Ultimately, it is down to the consumer- those who decide not to purchase animal products should be given the luxury of alternatives; but the fashion industry must work harder to offer sustainable and eco-friendly alternatives for all the above. That way, when the new year rolls around and we get to see what the latest animal print trend is, we can all do so mindfully.