In this article, we discuss the problems with using animal-derived materials in clothing, outline the animal welfare issues with leather, down and other materials, and highlight the animal-friendly alternatives and where you can find them.
What are the problems with using animal-derived materials in clothing?
For many, the use of animals’ bodies for human clothing is inherently unethical. Their skins, furs and feathers are exploited for our gain – denying their bodily autonomy. Farmed animals are usually killed once they stop becoming economical e.g. producing milk fast enough, cutting their lifespan to a fraction of what it could be in the wild or at a sanctuary.
For other people, the key concern may be whether certain welfare conditions are met. Unfortunately, animal-derived materials are associated with some very low standards of animal welfare. Foxes and rabbits are often kept in cages for their entire lives, for the use of fur. Many merino wool lambs are subjected to painful mutilations.
While humans have used animal materials since the prehistoric period, the rise of industrial farming has rapidly transformed our relationship to other animals and the materials we take from them.
Many species are farmed in enormous numbers. They can live in confined or otherwise uncomfortable conditions and be forced through cycles of production designed to make their bodies produce more and produce faster up until the day of slaughter.
In the UK it is estimated that over 70% of farmed animals live on factory farms. Amongst these, there are over 1000 mega farms. And between 2011-2017, there was a 26% rise in this kind of intensive factory farming. These are farms that have more than 125,000 birds reared for meat, or 82,000 egg-laying hens, or 2,500 pigs, or 700 dairy cows or 1,000 beef cattle.
Leather is usually bought as a ‘by-product’ (see below why some people prefer the term ‘co-product’) of the meat industry. Although considered a ‘waste product’, it can channel money back into factory farming. Other animal products like fur are specifically farmed – meaning that fashion creates an exploitative industry all of its own.