Vegan fashion is clothing that is 100% “cruelty-free”, meaning no fur, leather, feathers, wool or any other animal-based fibres are used. It is increasingly important now not only for animal welfare, but the harsh environmental impact of the fur trade and animal agriculture.
Many opt to lead a more animal-friendly lifestyle as a direct response to the unnecessary suffering of sentient beings or to reduce the environmental impact. So why vegan fashion?
1. Animal Agriculture And The Environment
Meat, dairy and leather are all intrinsically linked. Animal agriculture is the second largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions after fossil fuels, and is a leading cause of water and air pollution. 70 billion animals are raised annually for consumption, accommodating a third of the planet’s land surface and consuming 16% of the global freshwater supply. A further third of grain production worldwide is used to feed livestock.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to the livestock sector, the rough equivalent to the emissions from all the fuel burned by all transport vehicles worldwide.
Leather products, especially those in direct contact with the skin such as gloves or shoes, can contain high levels of a toxic chemical called hexavalent chromium, a strong allergen that can lead to skin conditions such as eczema.
Chemicals used for wool production can pollute water supplies, and more than 4,000 kilograms of insecticides were applied to sheep in the US alone.
Every year, millions of animals suffer and die for our clothing. Fur, leather, wool, down, angora and silk are just some of the fabrics the fashion industry exploits animals for. Let’s take a look at each one.
2. Animal Rights - Wool
Despite high standards for the harvest of wool from sheep, there is some controversy over the practice of mulesing the sheep.
Mulesing is done to reduce flystrike, or myiasis. Flystrike is a condition where parasitic flies lay eggs on the skin with soiled wool or open wounds. After hatching, the larvae feed on the sheep’s tissue and can cause infection and even death. The sheep then display agitation, matted wool and poor odours, which all further attract flies.
To prevent flystrike, many sheep farms practice mulesing, a preventative measure that involves cutting chunks of skin and flesh from the buttock region, and this is usually done without anaesthetic.
3. Animal Rights - Fur
Over 100 million animals die annually in the fur industry, and 85% of furs come from animals in fur farms. To maximize production, animals are packed into tiny cages and can rarely take more than a few steps in any direction. The frustration of life in a cage often leads these animals to self-mutilate and frantically pace and circle endlessly, a classic symptom of severe distress.
Farmers use the cheapest and quickest methods to kill the animals, including suffocation, electrocution, gassing and poisoning. Much of the world’s fur comes from China, where there are low standards of animal rights. Methods of slaughtering include bludgeoning, hanging and bleeding to death.
A small percentage of animals are trapped in the wild. More than 100 countries have banned the use of leghold traps due to the suffering they cause to animals, yet in the US, leghold traps remain one of the most commonly-used traps by commercial and recreational trappers. Stuck for days in traps, animals can die of exhaustion, exposure, starvation, dehydration, drowning, injury or blood loss. Those that manage to stay alive are brutally killed through drowning, beatings or suffocation when found.
4. Animal Rights - Leather
Leather can be made from cows, pigs, goats, kangaroos, sheep, even dogs and cats. The meat, dairy and leather industries are all closely linked and are co-products of the livestock industry.
Most of the farms are in developing countries where there are limited to no animal welfare laws. Animals often live in cramped, squalid conditions, with slaughterhouse killing methods seeking to maximize speed without regard for the suffering of the animal.
It is widely believed that the fastest way to drain animals of their blood is to slit their throats while their hearts still beat. Because it takes several minutes for a cow to bleed out, being stabbed in the neck and bled dry causes suffering.
Many countries have passed “humane slaughter” laws that stipulate animals must be stunned before being bled out, yet many more countries have no such laws.
5. Animal Rights - Down
Down is the soft layer of feathers that is closest to a duck’s or goose’s skin usually located in the chest and belly areas. About 80% of all down production is in China, where chickens, turkeys, geese and ducks are raised in filthy, cramped cages with no room to move.
Down is gathered after slaughter, however, it is estimated that between 1-2% is still collected by “live plucking”, a process of plucking that involves manually pulling off feathers still attached to a live bird. This causes bleeding, tearing of skin, pain and stress.
6. Animal Rights - Angora
China produces 90% of the world’s angora. In 2013, PETA released a video of an angora farm in China, showing a rabbit screaming as its fur was being plucked, a truly horrifying video. The effects were immediate, over 100 major retailers banned angora products from their product offerings.
Angora rabbits are first plucked when they are only 8 weeks old. They are plucked every few months after that for the next two to five years. After horrifying mistreatment and suffering, the ones that survive are then slaughtered and sold for meat.
Rabbits who are sheared have their feet tightly tethered, which terrifies them. As they struggle to free themselves, the sharp cutting tools inevitably wound them.
7. Animal Rights - Silk
Some 6,600 silkworms are used to make 1 kg of silk, and about 10 billion silkworms are killed each year in the silk industry.
A silkworm is a domesticated insect who goes through the stages of metamorphosis that moths do - egg, larva, pupa and adult. Silk is derived from the cocoons of larvae, so the insects raised by the silk industry do not live past the pupa stage, they are boiled or gassed while they are alive in their cocoons.
Dropping silkworms into boiling water kills them, potentially causing suffering. While the insect central nervous system differs from that of mammals, insects do transmit signals from stimuli.