Animals have long been used in the production of clothing. Initially hides and furs were used out of necessity in northern climates. They were durable, insulating, and helped people get through even the coldest of winters.
Through the 20th century, different materials were developed with similar warming properties and leather and fur became luxury materials used for style rather than utility.
While leather remains widely popular today, fur began a decline in the 80s, as people were made aware of the treatment of animals used in its production. Foxes, Mink, and Rabbits were among the most common animals used.
To this day animals used in the production of fur are kept in small cages, with little opportunity for free movement, with constant exposure to disease which can quickly wipe out a farm.
Even though resistance to fur became mainstream decades ago, the push back against the use of leather in the fashion industry is still in its infancy. Even though fur and leather are among the known materials for animal abuses, they are not the only ones.
Like fur and leather, wool has had a longstanding relationship to the fashion industry.
It’s used to produce a variety of goods including sweaters, socks, thermal layers, and filling in jackets.
Many people consider wool to be a sustainable material—to a certain degree it is—but like other animal derived materials sheep used to produce it are subject to vast amounts of cruelty.
With the rise of fast fashion so too came a demand for lower cost clothing made from wool. It wasn’t that long ago that knitwear was reserved for a few items of fall and winter clothing and meant to last for several years. Of course, durability and utility came at a cost, wool clothing has traditionally been reserved for the most expensive items in any wardrobe.
More recently however cheap wool sweaters can be found throughout the aisles of fast fashion brands and discount clothiers. While much of the affordable wool clothing is made from synthetics, there has been greater demand for natural wool products in recent years, driving further industrialization within the wool industry.
Most people don’t even think of animal welfare when it comes to silk clothing. It’s easy to relate to animals like cows, rabbits, and sheep, but it doesn’t transfer to worms used in the production of silk.
The production of silk can be quite cruel.
Silk comes from the larvae of the Bombyx Mori silk moth. Each female lays up to 500 eggs which typically hatch within about 2 weeks.
Domestic production of silk sees the caterpillars through to the development of their cocoons. Before they emerge from the cocoons, they are boiled to kill the silkworm and preserve the long fibres in their best state instead of being partially destroyed by the emerging moths.
It takes 5000 cocoons to make a kilogram of silk. It takes an enormous number of silkworms to make a single article of clothing.
Realistically silk could be a cruelty free process by harvesting the cocoons from wild insects after they have reached the adult stage and the cocoon is no longer needed. However due to the higher cost, and lower efficiency, it is unlikely to become an actual method of harvesting silk.
Birds usually aren’t the fist thing to come to mind when we think of the fashion industry, but they have played an important part for centuries.
Feathers can be a very good insulator which is why they are mainly used for filler in winter coats. Goose down is highly sought after and coats that are filled with it can command higher price tags than synthetic alternatives. Though they do tend to be bulkier and less resilient to moisture.
Feathers are also used as decoration and are often found in accessories like earing or on hats. Feathers can also be used on clothing items to make create unique patterns or add a bit of flair.
It should come as no surprise to learn birds are also exploited in the creation of clothing.
They are confined to small cages, with little access to outdoors. While goose down can be warming, it’s largely a way for brands to claim some form of natural status on the clothing they produce, even though there are other better synthetic and natural fiber insulators available.
Time for Change
Now is the time for change, not to spite the high demand for fashion, but because of it.
Simply, the industrial livestock industry cannot sustain the continued pressures of todays consumers. It’s driving producers into increasingly unethical practices for animals and consumers alike.
Ethical production of clothing isn’t nothing new, and with modern sustainable farming practices, high tech bio-materials, and greater transparency, there isn’t the need for animals there once was.
Consumers have a range of great producers to choose from doing the right thing for the planet and all living creatures who live on it. Why buy from someone who doesn’t have the future in mind?