Animals are used for clothing in one of two ways. Either, they are slaughtered for their skin, i.e. leather or other body parts (such as bone); or they are reared for their ‘coats’, for instance, wool, which are removed periodically from the live animal as these grow.
Generally, animal products, such as leather or fur, are pretty obvious to recognise, but others might be a little harder to spot, for instance silk, feathers, angora, pashmina, mohair, etc. These can hide in unexpected places, so I would suggest reading your clothing’s labels and brand’s policies before you make any purchase.
In this blog post, I teamed up with Alina, the founder of Cotton & Push- a super comfortable, vegan, eco-friendly and simply gorgeous lingerie brand that you just must check out! We wanted to share our knowledge and expertise, if you will, on the subject of obvious and non- obvious animal elements in fashion. Grab yourself a cuppa and enjoy the reading!
How is silk made?
Alina: Traditional silk, harvested for centuries is made by the silkworm, a moth of the Bombyx Mori family. During its period of pupation the worm secretes fibroin (a liquid protein) from two glands simultaneously, creating two threads, which harden as they come into contact with oxygen. These threads are met with sericin, a bonding agent which holds them together. As you know, the worm dies in the production of silk, as the cocoon hatching means destroying the thread. The cocoon is either blasted with hot steam or placed into boiling water. This also softens the sericin leaving the silk easier to be manipulated. The threads are twisted together to weave into several varieties of silk fabric. As it takes approximately 2500 worms to create just one pound of silk, the worms must be cultivated in the billions in order to facilitate mass silk production.
Ania: Leather is made from animal skin. The animals are killed to make the material. Once an animal's skin is removed, it is preserved through a process called 'tanning' which uses strong chemicals to prevent the skin from decomposing. This process is very toxic to both the environment and people.
What is pashmina?
Alina: Pashmina is essentially the old Persian word for “made from wool,” and more specifically, from cashmere wool. Cashmere wool comes from none of the apt names cashmere goat, who’s winter undercoat is extremely soft and downy, making it a cash product in the commercial world. The cashmere goat family is broken up into different breeds, differentiated by region of the world, and pashmina wool comes from those several varieties.
Is wool ethical?
Alina: A tricky question to answer. Instinctively and traditionally, ‘mulesing’ (cutting skin from the buttock region without anaesthetic) the sheep was done to avoid flystrike, where blowfly eggs latch onto the sheep’s skin and its larvae feed on the sheep’s tissue. However, these days shearers are paid by volume of wool they cultivate not by the hour, so regard for pain of the animals in question sometimes suffers. Skin as well as ears or tails are often cut off in the fast process. Wool is so massively used in fast fashion garments (even if just 5% on a cheap Christmas jumper) that these animals are still treated like products, even if not put down for their coats. If you were to ask me if wool is good for the environment I would have to say that it is. It’s biodegradable and naturally produced, therefore less energy demanding to produce than synthetic fibres. However, there is no reason why we can’t recycle wool, and make use of the wool already in existence. Furthermore, we have the means to cultivate alternatives such as cotton flannel, which is also incredibly insulating and naturally biodegradable.
What animals are used for clothing?
Ania: Today, cows have become the dominant herd animal across the globe, due in large to their hardiness as well as ability to provide both meat and dairy in large quantities. But also pigs, goats, sheep, crocodiles, snakes, sting rays, seals, emus, deer, fish, kangaroos, horses, cats and dogs are used to make leather. Even baby animals don't escape the leather industry- with the skins of calves and lambs considered particularly valuable because of their softness. In some places lambs are killed in their mother’s womb, even before being born!
How is fur made?
Ania: Similarly to leather, animals ultimately die for us to wear fur. There is no fur product that is not marked by the tremendous suffering or death of an animal. Animals on fur farms are forced to spend their entire lives in confined, filthy cages. In order to maximise the expanse of the fur pelt, farmers kill the animals by suffocating, gassing or poisoning them, or by inserting an electrified rod into their anuses and electrocuting them from the inside out.
A common presumption is that it is only foxes and minks that go through such a horrific treatment but many cats and dogs are also used for their skins and suffer the same intense confinement and brutal killing methods as other animals used in the fur industry.
What animals used for clothing are endangered?
Ania: Humans unthinkingly use animal products for nothing but vanity and need to stay on trend. The fashion industry has a third impact on animal life through its effect on biodiversity. Starting from practices of land clearance for agriculture, and agricultural and industrial pollution, to climate change. All these significantly affect and reduce biodiversity, which leads to a loss of animal habitats and species right across the world.
Below is the list of ten poor animals that are most commonly killed for clothing and on the brink of endangered species.
The above is a very general overview of the problem and general misconception around the subject of animals used for clothing. Please have a look at our blog posts: What is vegan leather?, How to dress cosy without using wool or fur? and The importance of sustainability in fashion for more information about the matter. And as always, I finish off by appealing to you and asking to look for alternatives and support the companies that are committed to cruelty-free, eco-friendly fashion. For some inspiration please head over to Vegan fashion- my favourite vegan brands and where to find them guide. We don’t have to sacrifice animals to look fashionable!
Alina is the founder of Cotton and Push, a vegan and cruelty-free lingerie brand. On a personal note, Alina’s super friendly and kind person. She’s a hu-mum to 4 rescue furry babies which makes me love her even more! Check her brand’s platforms as per the below: