(Image by loop_oh)
Everyone has their ‘angle’ in life, their list of priorities and areas of interest, and this applies just as strongly in the world of ethical fashion as anywhere else. Some people think the environment is the most important issue, others animal welfare, others social justice and human rights. They are all connected, of course (changes in the environment can cause massive flooding and water shortages which ruin livelihoods in the poorest areas of the world, for example), but emphasis can differ dramatically from person to person.
Take Stella McCartney. I’ve always had a vague respect for her animal rights obsession and stance on fur and leather, in as much as I think it’s good to think about where things come from and to take a moral stand and try to make a difference in the fashion industry. As a meat eating social justice/human rights emphasiser, however, I’ve just never got that excited about her. I suppose I’ve always been a bit suspicious of the fact that I’ve not heard anything from her or her brand about why sweatshops are awful, and how humans should be allowed the dignity of working in clean, safe conditions and paid a wage that they can reasonably be expected to live on. (This is not to say that she doesn’t engage with these issues at all – I got in touch with her London press office earlier today to ask what their stance on these issues is, but haven’t heard back yet. I’ll keep you posted with what I find out.) No, I don’t want animals to be kept in appalling conditions before being killed for their fur or skin, but – call me heartless if you will – I do think the human issue has more urgency.
Having said that, however, Stella’s latest campaign with PETA has made me take this whole animal rights thing more seriously. Launched ahead of London Fashion Week, the campaign is promoting an anti-leather video that aims to make people think before buying leather (Stella’s own brand offer stylish alternatives). Not for the faint-hearted, it shows how many cows are skinned while still conscious. Something I find appalling is that a lot of leather comes from India, where cows are traditionally seen as sacred animals. Our demand has made a culture act against it’s own belief system. Twisted?
So Stella is right, this is an important issue. The ideal fur and leather situation I would envisage is probably quite different from that of a vegan. I think wearing vintage fur and leather is fine, that leather sourced humanely and responsibly is fine, and that where it is a genuine by-product of the food industry it is good – better to use all of the animal, and not waste any part of it. Makki‘s handbags, for example, are made from recycled eel skin, a massive by-product in Korea where they eat a lot of eels. Danaqa‘s handbags are made from the skins of goats and cows kept by communities in Ethiopia, meaning that the animals live good lives cared for by families, and they are bred to be eaten anyway.
You will not see me throwing paint on anyone’s clothes at London Fashion Week (I can hear your collective sigh of relief), but I do hope I can find other ways to help the fashion industry to become more responsible in all areas of the production of the beautiful things we love so much.