Nature, the environment, and climate change have recently been at the forefront of many political debates, concerning the fashion industry and its involvement with animal clothing. Starting with the positive aspects and weighing them against the negative ones can be considered unconventional, especially when attempting such an ethically questionable topic, where your moral compass – in extreme terms – can be weaponised against you for even considering the benefits of the other side.
Ethics and Faux fur
This article is not to defend animal skin and fur coats; it is an exploration of my curiosity about whether the two sides of this debate can ever be considered equal. Is it always unbalanced in favour of creating completely faux clothing? The first question is, how ethical is faux material in and of itself? Is ethics of this always thought of in terms of the direct harm it can cause to animals? (By viewing the act of breeding and killing them for materials as barbaric). So we can wear fake products blindly to clear our conscience, oblivious to the indirect and even long-term harm that they can still cause. PVC was once thought to be the best material for faux leather, but there were concerns about its disposal, and how burning PVC released dioxins, which are potentially ‘hazardous chemicals. Resulting in the irony of creating an alternative to the alternative - 'Polyurethane,' which presented its own "set of economic and environmental challenges." Not to mention the economic ramifications of the difficulties in producing this material. To turn it into a liquid, a solvent is required, which can be highly toxic. The protection of the environment in the fashion industry, including animals and nature, should be held in high regard in its entirety.
Animal cruelty is one of many parts of it. If we ignore the elephant in the room, which is sentience in animals and only consider the sustainability loop of both real and faux leather. The argument for traditional leather' is that its life span is an allegory of the circle of life. Starting with the cow eating plants, the ‘leather is harvested,' it is then turned into a ‘garment,' and the animal carcass decomposes and becomes compost to ‘promote plant growth. On the other hand faux leather, is manufactured in laboratories and is difficult to degrade and recycle. I am not dismissing the cruelty inherent in the use of animals as clothing, and we must avoid becoming completely detached from the fact that we are doing this to living beings with thought processes and emotions of their own.
However, by focusing on one thing, we often overlook another. By creating fake products, you cause direct damage to the environment, thus living organisms' habitats, and then indirectly causing animals to suffer; possibly even more than intended. Another aspect to note, which may be considered selfish, is the effect that faux and real fur/leather has on us as human beings who are also consumers. The obvious benefit of real fur and leather is their widely recognised quality and the fact that they are long-lasting. Therefore fewer products are being manufactured, sold and bought, which is beneficial to the environment due to waste. The safety of the consumers should be considered as well, because, aside from allergies, wearing fur and leather causes little to no harm to humans. As previously stated, artificial fur/leather can also contain toxins and sometimes cancerous chemicals. The biggest and most widely regarded negative of traditional fur/leather is its superficiality, which relates to what I said about human detachment. Every year, '50 million wild animals are trapped and killed solely for their fur.' This brings up the question of sentience: are we so emotionally detached from animals that they are nothing more than fashion accessories? 'Does their worth equate' to nothing more than the quality of their skin?'
By no means do I want the world to return to wearing animal clothing regularly. Especially developing countries that can afford to make ethical changes in comparison to less fortunate countries. However, in the grand scheme of things, we must devote the same energy of concern and attention to the faux material industry as we do concerning the traditional animal clothing industry. We should be hosting the same amount of debates and political discussions about whether the alternative we have created is any better or do we do it because the damage is less direct, therefore lessening guilt.
By Sade Tonga Majek