For me the 'ethicalness' of clothes comes down to waste, the environment and the treatment of people in the manufacturing process. The treatment of animals just hasn't ever really crossed my radar.
When I was visiting a friend this weekend we were discussing fashion and she brought downstairs some of her recent purchases. Reaching into the bag she halted, looked at me and blushed. "Ermmm... I'm not really sure if your gonna appreciate this one... I know it's fur but it was vintage so it's been dead for ages and it would be a waste not to wear it- don't be mad!"
And I wasn't.
I realised then that a) I need to tone it down when lecturing/scolding my friends on unethical fashion purchases (!) and b) I don't really have an opinion on fur. So I started to think about it and here's what I've got so far...
When I consider the idea of becoming vegetarian, for me its not so much about the morals of consuming another living thing, its more about the impact that intensive farming has on our land and the huge additions of methane to our atmosphere that comes from farming cattle. Its about greed, over consumption and the difference between a want and a need. I think that animal products deserve more respect than they generally receive and we need an attitude change when it comes to our consumption habits and waste.
These thoughts on food are reflected in my ideas about ethical fashion. My friends fur coat is vintage and I think its more important to make use out of unwanted fashion than to throw it away. Is it not more respectful and less wasteful to make use of this vintage fur coat by wearing it, tailoring it and treasuring it, than to send it to landfill?
There also seems to be quite a focus on the ethics of fur but not any that I have heard of on the ethics of leather- where do you think all of those shoes and handbags come from? Is it deemed more ethical to wear leather than fur because the animal it originates from isn't cute and fluffy? Maybe it comes from fur being seen as only affordable for the very rich so it stems from a class debate? I think some people assume that as we eat meat, the skin is a by-product but from only a little research, it is becoming clear that this is not the case. Leather is a co-product not a by-product of the animal industry. I'm not sure, but I think that peoples views on fur and leather should probably be matching up to similar levels as they are ultimately the same product- animal skin.
[Left: Vintage Fur Coat, Right: Faux Fur Hood]
As you can see, this is more a musing than an argument; I am really not sure where I stand on the debate. I think that recycling fur and leather in the form of vintage is totally acceptable and probably a good way forward. New fur and leather- I am not so sure, can you buy these products knowing what the environmental impact really is? Can we know that the animals have been treated to a fair life and death? I've not seen much free range leather about.
So maybe we should be looking into non-animal materials to replace our leather shoes and handbags. Faux fur for our coats that is not just animal friendly but environmentally and people friendly too. While these replacements are on the rise, I think vintage products are still the most ethical. They both reduce waste and create a whole attitude change for the fast fashion industry that is based on over consumption and short life fashion.
Whether your clothes are animal based or otherwise, they deserve respect and should be seen as a long term investment not a quick fix that will be thrown out next season and sent to landfill. I don't think I have the answer when it comes what is ethical in fashion but with education comes knowledge and with debate comes ideas. So I think we need to read about it, we need to talk about it and we need to question it to be able to decide for ourselves where our personal ethics lie.
P.S. If you want to take a look at the video below, be warned, it is pretty gruesome...and remember it is only one point of view- there is a lot of different research out there- feel free to check out the articles below and let me know what you think. I would love to hear some other opinions!
Articles of Interest
Article by 'GOOD'
Leather Naturally (the other side of the argument)