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Man’s Best Friend or the Internet’s New Fashion Exploitation?

Move over Kim Kardashian-West, there’s a new dog on the scene. No, really.

“The more I can be recognized as a fashion icon, the more that dream gets closer and closer“ Boobie Billie, a greyhound-chihuahua mix and up and coming pet fashion expert

Pet fashion influencers are only gaining more momentum in the digital age. The most famous dog on Instagram, JiffPom, is currently racking up over 10 million followers. Cute animals dressed up are not a new concept, from Paris Hilton and her Chihuahua, Tinkerbell, to "Grumpy Cat". We adore a good cat in a hat, or a duck wearing cowboy boots, but we don’t stop to think of the animal’s welfare: if that pet “fashionista” is being exploited.

The renaissance of pet fashion

The pet fashion industry has had a resurgence during the Covid-19 lockdown, with more pet owners than ever dressing up their pooches. During 2020, the global pet clothing market grew to $5.01 billion, (or £3.6 billion), and designer brands are jumping on this.

Currently in stock, Prada has a puffer-coat for your dog which will set you back £440. If you needed a dressing gown for your pet, don’t worry, Versace has one for £174. Louis Vuitton has jumped on this trend too, with their Baxter Collar, and so has Ralph Lauren. With pet social media accounts making up to £7,113.89 per post, if your pet’s azchpn on TikTok, it’s a lucrative market.

Even the pets themselves are getting in on the trend. The aforementioned Boobie Billie is launching her own line of mini-bags and '70s inspired headscarves for humans to “Make people smile, even just for a second”. It even comes with a website to rival the likes of Boohoo and Pretty Little Thing, which describes the bags as 100% vegan leather and “ethically” made. However, the owners of Boobie Billie have publicly said they “Order a lot of different things online and build off of it.”

How much is that doggy (coat from Shein?)

This brings into question whether there’s a new wave of fast fashion, this time for our furry friends? While there are high-end pet boutiques who specialise in pet fashion, the Posh Puppy Boutique and PetLondon, these can cost upwards for £30 per item. In its place online shops like Shein and Amazon offer an affordable, cheap alternative. But at the cost of sustainability.

Much like a human influencer, these pet fashion “experts” wouldn’t be caught dead wearing the same outfit twice. This cements further the need for the low risk, high reward payoff that cheap online stores can provide.

From fun to commodity

With the endless doom scrolling of social media, when a cute puppy in a designer outfit pops up, we get a shot of serotonin. We feel happy. It is a bit of harmless fun. A break from news of Covid-19, or another horrific event happening. When we see dogs like Tika the Iggy, who recently went viral for her “pandemic looks,” it gives people a break from harsh realities.

With a cute animal on Instagram or Tiktok, there is no worry about body image, or whether someone has the right clothes: it’s just an animal in a hat, in a dress, in boots. People do not compare themselves, as they might to a human influencer. It's a break from toxic social media.

The issue isn’t the act of taking a photo, posting it on Instagram, and then immediately taking the outfit off your pet: it’s those people who see, and copy. People follow trends, they follow the ideal of the celebrity. Kim Kardashian-West recently posted a photo on her Instagram. The comments immediately condemned the photo, noting the obvious health issues with the animal, but also using the pet as a prop. There are people, who see an issue here, but there are those who don’t, who see the rise of popularity, and realise a way to get famous, to get rich.

It'd be easy to dismiss pet fashion as a bit of fun with no bad repercussions. To just put it down to a ridiculous way to spend your time and money. It’s cute, what’s the harm? The harm lies in the wellbeing of the animal. While your pet may need to wear a coat due to it's age, this is not universal. Pets struggle to control their body temperature, and the added stress of unnecessary clothing can lead to overheating. There may also be a communication issue between the pet and other animals.

The only way these accounts keep rinse and repeating, is with engagement. It’s with likes, comments, and views. It’s with people discarding it as internet culture, as “Well it’s not hurting anyone.” We have always humanised animals. Whether it be baby talk to our cats, or the anthropomorphised animals within Disney movies: we all do it. It gives us some peace, some happiness in a stressful moment, but when it comes to animals wearing clothes, it’s different from a cute animal video.

It’s animal abuse. It’s cruelty, and only when we push back against content creators, that we start to put animals first.


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