As fall comes into full swing, chunkier fashion pieces, such as leather boots and wool sweaters, are being resurrected from closets. Even though Los Angeles weather — which barely drops below 60 degrees at night — doesn’t necessarily insinuate the need to wear thermal garments, keeping up with fall fashion is paramount (to most fashion-savvy Californians). While the quality and warmth of products is vital, wearing dead animal skin as a fashion statement is cruel and harmful. So, here are reasons you should “wear your own skin, not animals” this fall. Special thanks to peta2 for the extensive knowledge I accumulated about the animal skins industries for our Skins campaign this past summer on the Vans Warped Tour.
In recent years, fur has become less socially accepted. Nevertheless, fur products are still on the market. Before purchasing a fur-trimmed parka, keep in mind that regardless of what the label reads, the jacket could be made out of rabbit, beaver, fox, mink, dog, cat, raccoon fur or any combination of said furs. These animals, among other furry creatures, are killed in the most inhumane ways for their fur, such as neck-breaking or drowning, according to peta2.
After being skinned for their fur, their carcasses are often dumped into landfills. Aside from the evident animal exploitation, fur is up to 10 times more harmful to the environment to produce than a faux-fur item, according to a 2013 CE Delft (an environmental consultant) study. Additionally, the chemicals used to prevent animals’ flesh from rotting after being turned into a coat or trim are highly toxic and carcinogenic.
Consider returning your recently purchased leather jacket, purse or belt. Every year, “the global leather industry slaughters more than a billion animals,” according to peta2. Goats, pigs, sheep, lambs, horses, deer, kangaroos, snakes, alligators and elephants are all exploited for their skins. Perhaps even more alarming is that in China, the world’s largest exporter of leather, producers skin an estimated 2 million dogs and cats every year. These skins are often not labeled or deliberately mislabeled in order to keep consumers in the dark.
Furthermore, in India — one of the largest leather manufacturers in the world — cows are marched to slaughter for days without food or water. Those who collapse from exhaustion have chili peppers and tobacco rubbed into their eyes and their tails broken in order to keep them moving, said peta2. Animal skin is turned into finished leather using a variety of dangerous substances that harm the workers and the environment, such as mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, various oils and dyes, chromium and sulfuric acid.
As the world’s top wool exporter, Australia produces about 90 percent of all merino wool. In wool factories, the deplorable conditions create sheep and maggot infestation. To prevent flystrike, Australian ranchers often perform a barbaric procedure on sheep called “mulesing.” During this procedure, ranchers carve huge chunks of skin and flesh from the animals’ backsides or attach vise-like clamps to their flesh until they die. Usually done without any painkillers or anesthetics and deprived of food and water before being sheared, the sheep endure unnecessary pain until they are too weak to resist.
Since shearers are usually paid by the volume and not by the hour, fast, rough work is encouraged. This leads to severe cuts on the sheep’s bodies. Workers don’t give sheep any painkillers before sewing up the gaping, bloody wounds caused by shearing. The sheep’s exploitation doesn’t end at the accumulation of their skin. Once the sheep are no longer wanted, the ranchers sell them for slaughter.
These cruel practices are unfortunately not exclusive to fur, leather and wool. A variety of other animal-derived industries, such as exotic-skins, angora, down, suede, silk and cashmere exploit animals, the environment, and the workers for the sake of fashion.
Fortunately, there are many cruelty-free fashion alternatives at many retailers in Los Angeles and online, where a cornucopia of vegan fashion awaits. MooShoes, for instance, is an all-vegan leather goods store located in Silver Lake.
Dr. Martens, famous for their iconic heavy-duty boots, makes multiple vegan leather shoes. My faux-leather boots have already lasted me three years of everyday wear. Online stores such as Matt & Nat, Luca Chiara, Vegetaryn, bead & reel and jeane & jax exclusively offer vegan fashion. Additionally, retailers, such as Urban Outfitters and Free People, offer a multitude of vegan clothing options. If you’re into secondhand shopping, like me, make sure to read the label. As long as there are no animal products listed, you’re good to go.
Ethical consumerism has never been so fashionable. The alternatives, cheaper than their animal-product counterparts, more sustainable for the environment, and more compassionate towards animals and workers, make alternating faux leather for leather almost unquestionable. While fashion is an important part of our lives, being an advocate for faux products will allow you to be comfortable in your own skin, embrace self-love and respect and spread the message of compassion toward animals to those around you.
Tessa Nesis is a sophomore majoring in NGOs and social change. Her column, “The Sentient Bean,” runs on Thursdays.