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The Torturous Timeline of Animals Used as Fabric

Mankind used animal skin for survival before the invention of faux fur garments.

Animals have been used for their skin and fur to produce clothing garments for thousands of years dating back to when fur was necessary to survive against environmental factors such as cold nights. Billions of animals are slaughtered each year, just so fashion designers can produce the latest trends - whether it's leather, fur, wool, feathers, or silk, animals are tortured and killed as resources.

However, thanks to animal rights movements, companies and campaigns such as Peta are fighting on their behalf through protesting and naming brands in the media. As veganism grows in popularity, more lives are saved as consumers purchase faux items which are described as lighter, cheaper, more durable, and practical.

Survival of the fittest

Mankind used animal fur as a survival technique, to protect from the cold weather conditions and potential harm. Warmth and durability using those fabrics could not be substituted at the time, but these garments were considered sacred so in many cases the garments were passed down from generation to generation.

Sourcing animal fur and leather was difficult as it required hunting techniques and the correct knowledge of how to use the skin to produce garments which soon turned into a sign of wealth. The type of animal also determined how wealthy you are and your place in society, such as lion skin only to be worn by kings and chinchilla being exclusive to royalty.

Germans were the first to gain control of the fur market as they had access to the finest Russian fur market, particularly ermine which was the most extravagant symbol for royalty and nobility. The discovery of what critiques called the “new world”, North America, opened the doors to an almost unlimited supply. Between the 17th and 18th centuries, Western European manufacturers of fur became incredibly rich. North America remained superior in the fur market until fur farms started dominating the market. Today, over three-quarters of the fur we consume comes from farmed animals that are treated in better conditions.

Becoming fashion-forward

It was at this moment that fashion designers stepped in and made use of animal fur for the latest trends, styles, and must wears. Until the 19th century, fashion designers were hardly seen as celebrities. However, in the late 1800s, French designers Paul Poiret and Jeanne Paquin used fur with regularity and their status boost from the use of fur meant the fur market increased when it was just starting to slow down. Faux fur garments were already established as a cheap alternative for women who wanted to join the fur trend, but could not afford the real thing.

"Go without jewels, pocket money, or every-day clothes, Vogue advises, but never try to scrimp on fur. For the fur you wear will reveal to everyone the kind of woman you are and the kind of life you lead." - Vogue, 1929

Speak for those who have no voice

Fur remained the identifier for social stratification until the 1980s when animal rights movements started questioning the use of animals for clothing and introduced the notion of using faux fur products. Faux animal materials were made available before the protests, but the status symbol was a higher priority so individuals ignored the opportunity to stop using animals for fabric. This misfortune was responsible for driving some species to extinction.

Individuals who were not advocates of the animal rights movements, considered the faux garments as high quality with good durability for the price, making it a cheap alternative, therefore challenging the real fur market. Evidence suggests that customers cared more about the costs of garments than ethical standards.

"Whenever fur becomes fashionable the trade hunts for a substitute, because the girl in Sixth Avenue wants to look like the fashionable woman on the Fifth, and we must help her find her way." - The Times Magazine, 1924

Technology moving the world forward

Due to technological advancements, clothing and accessories were able to be mass-produced. This devalued the status of fur as it was more accessible, therefore just wearing any kind of fur did not make an impression, but only certain kinds of fur. In regards to the downward slope of demand for fur, it became possible to produce clothing without exploiting animals. Textile products that are known as synthetic or natural that do not come from animal origins such as cotton, polyester, linen, and GORE-TEX.

The ethics behind animal use for clothing garments continues to be questioned and fur remains to represent a status symbol that indicates wealth. Companies are still advocating against it, introducing sustainable garments which win consumer votes as it practices ethical codes, which relieve consumers of guilt when purchasing items.

However, some critiques ask; is it is more sustainable? It can be argued with the chemicals used to replicate the texture and look of the faux leather, may cause more harmful emissions to the environment when produced in factory settings. There are arguments for both sides, but both draw to a similar conclusion which is the use of animal skin or the production of replicas is damaging the environment.


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