History and Ethics of using Animal Fibres in Fashion
The fashion industry has always been an influential aspect in society, which offers the capability of prompting public opinion and ethics. With a large part of the industry making use of animal materials, the implications of doing so are often overlooked. As conversations around sustainability and animal well being are gaining more importance in society its effects can also be seen in the fashion industry.
Historically animal pelt and fur was primarily used for the purpose of protection against natural elements. During the ancient ages, humans wore animal skin and other natural materials in the form of crude clothing. In modern society, however, most animal fur and skin is used in the production of luxury fashion.
Even in 11th century Europe, wearing fur was seen as an external indicator of a person’s socio-economic status rather than a means to provide warmth.
The Victorian era, is when fashion trends seem rather macabre; furs were obviously still in, used to line and add trim to coats, hats evolved from having a few decorative feathers to having whole embalmed birds, positioned to look like they were about to take off, or were in mid flight or just softly resting on the hat. These fashion trends were in line with how Queen Victoria’s mourning of her husband was romanticized at the time, it was not uncommon to see someone wear extravagant jewelry made from dead loved ones hair. The wings of beetles were also embroidered into day dresses, which still, to this day, look captivating as light reflects off of the surface. Decorative beetle wings were actually used in many cultures around the world, in Egypt, Northern Thailand, and Mexico to name a few.
Fur became more affordable and socially acceptable to wear in the daytime in the 1950s where film stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly were seen wearing luxury furs in their private lives and in movies, making the price and demand of fur fashion rise. By the 1960s designers began crafting affordable faux fur fashion and accessories.
With fur and leather farms being established as early as the 1870s to balance the gaining popularity of animal skins, animals were being specifically bred for growing long thick fur, mostly numerous varieties of sheep and goats, they developed thinner fat layers unable to protect them from the cold when they are sheared. Most sheep and goat farms sheared them even in mid winter, resulting them in passing away due to the unforgiving effects of the climate on their bodies. Most of these practices are still being used right now, I’m sure most of us have seen videos of goats forcibly being sheared for cashmere, where they scream in pain as the fur is being ripped off their skin. An average of 4 goats are sheared for making one cashmere sweater. In most fur and leather factory farms around the world, animals like foxes, crocodiles, rabbits and mink are kept in tiny cages stripped of the ability to participate in natural activities only to be used for their skin. Animals like snakes and crocodiles have no proven painless euthanasia techniques resulting in painful deaths. Additionally animal species like ostrich, sharks and rhinos have become endangered due to humans hunting them for their leather.
With synthetic wool being invented in 1938 and faux fur being invented in 1929 and perfected in the 1940s, they were always deemed as inferior to natural fibers, with people looking at them as cheap and not as socially respected. Synthetic wool is in fact not as good as real wool in terms of keeping one warm, but does it really matter if it’s used in luxury fashion, as most don’t wear designer clothes for their efficiency, and synthetic fibers still keep you warm enough to survive.
In recent years, thankfully, luxury brands like Moschino and Chanel are popularizing using faux fur, which is more moral than using real fur. This still however does not tackle people still sporting authentic fur and leather fashion items, as flexing culture still prevails in our youth, with most people not doing research and ethically sourcing their clothes and accessories.
Pamela Paquin, an individual who crafts fashion accessories with fur she obtained from roadkill; animals run over by cars, aims to create a world where breeding and killing animals for their fur is unnecessary, Sparking conversations about the ethics of using animal leather and fur in the fashion industry.
What we can do to stop the use of animal products in fashion are to support and sign local petitions to conserve animals and endorse the use of faux fur and synthetic wool on social media.
The most important thing we can do is to educate and spread awareness about the horrors of the use of animals in the fashion industry.
Illustrated by Ira Sampat