PARIS — PETA is taking on the mohair industry.
An exposé on the angora rabbit-fur trade in 2013 caused Chinese exports of the material to tank by 85 percent in the year following the video’s release, according to Yvonne Taylor, the director of corporate projects for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
The animal rights organization said it is employing the same tactic for combating the production of mohair, the long, silky hair of the angora goat. An exposé on the industry conducted by PETA Asia in South Africa — which supplies more than 50 percent of the world’s mohair — has prompted retail giants including Arcadia Group, Gap Inc., H&M Group and Inditex to impose bans on the material across their portfolios of brands, PETA said in a statement on Wednesday. The latter two groups confirmed plans to phase out use of the material — H&M Group by 2020, and Inditex by the end of its 2019 winter campaign.
The investigation, which PETA claimed is the first of its kind, shows workers physically abusing goats on 12 different farms visited in January and February of this year. PETA U.S. is asking law-enforcement agencies to investigate and file charges, as appropriate, for what the group believes are violations of South Africa’s Animals Protection Act, 1962, the statement said.
Supply chains are increasingly under scrutiny. Already these retailers have been culling collections of animal-derived materials considered taboo, drawing up codes of conduct for any supplier looking to work with them.
H&M Group, for instance, has banned the use of fur and exotic skins, as well as any material deriving from endangered species. Since 2013, this includes the use of angora wool. The retailer has improved its requirements on animal-based fibers and strives “to have full traceability on all animal hair.”
Inditex in its animal welfare policy said it will “never use products from animals slaughtered exclusively for their skin, shell, horn, bone, feather or down. Animal products must come from animals that have been treated ethically and responsibly, based on the internationally accepted ‘Five Freedoms’ for animal welfare,” it said.
The Spanish retailer, owner of chains including Zara, Massimo Dutti and Bershka, has already banned fur from its collections — including materials clipped, shorn, or combed from animals, fleece, sheepskin and shearling — as well as synthetic materials intended to look like fur.
All wool producers in the retailer’s supply chain must comply with rigorous standards for the ethical treatment of animals. “We do not accept cruel practices such as mulesing,” it said.
With a wave of synthetic alternatives to animal-derived materials washing onto the market, such as Vegeatextile, a bio-based technical textile obtained from waste grapeskin fibers, a “huge change” is under way for the fashion industry, “where everything is being turned on its head,” according to PETA’s Taylor.
“Companies that ignore it are going to regret it,” she added.
Taylor credited among influences the rise of the Millennials, who today hold the spending power. “They are quite literally leading this fashion revolution. They’re demanding that designers and retailers ditch cruel animal-derived fabrics and switch them for modern, animal and eco-friendly fabrics,” said Taylor, adding that the rise of interest in the vegan lifestyle — “going from their diet to their approach to fashion and beauty” — is adding traction.
“It’s the fastest-growing alternative lifestyle across all the major markets across the world. In the age of social media, young people especially are far more savvy about the impact their lifestyle is having,” she said.
As one of the most high-profile recent examples of change, Taylor cited the beleaguered fur industry which, she believes, “has been on its way out for years.” “We’re just seeing the last bastions of the luxury fashion industry come on board,” she said, referring to brands including Maison Margiela, Gucci, Givenchy and Versace that have recently banned fur from their collections.
When it comes to taking on the leather industry — one of the key cash cows for luxury brands — “it’s a fast-moving area already,” she claimed. “It’s coming from all angles, it’s animal groups, environmental groups….The most exciting aspect is seeing the fashion industry beginning to look in on itself and saying, ‘OK, instead of sticking our heads in the sand and trying to block this out and doing what we’re doing, we need to face up to the reality of leather.'”
PETA views leather as “an extremely lucrative coproduct,” though it varies case by case, she explained. Most leather still comes from countries like India and Bangladesh, she said, and when “you see the state of the animals, this isn’t a byproduct, these animals have no flesh left on them.”
For industries like the luxury car industry, the animals are reared in Europe, added Taylor, “but there have been exposés there that show the most appalling conditions.” As for the more high-end brands, “sometimes it’s not even a coproduct; it’s the skins that have all the value.”
When asked about the commitment of luxury brands to rigorously controlling the sustainable and ethical sourcing of leather, such as Kering-owned Gucci, which recently inaugurated its ArtLab manufacturing plant in Italy, dedicated to footwear and leather goods, Taylor countered the same thing happened with attitudes to fur a decade ago.
“Many of these luxury designers were saying, ‘We’re not sourcing from countries like China where these exposés are coming out and there are no animal-welfare legislations, we’re sourcing from Europe.’ And what happens? The fur industry develops all these accreditation schemes guaranteeing high animal welfare standards. But we know that’s not true, the exposés show that wasn’t true. Just last year, there was an exposé on the fur farms in Finland with the obese foxes that had been so overfed they could hardly breathe or see because of the layers of fur on their eyelids,” said Taylor. “This is the reality, and people now are learning the same reality about leather.”
Two reports released last year — Pulse of the Fashion Industry and Kering’s Environmental Profit & Loss Account — came to the conclusion that the fashion industry’s most polluting material was leather, and that synthetics like PU represent less than half the negative environmental impact, she said.
“Obviously everybody was familiar with Stella McCartney not using leather, but now even brands like Givenchy are doing faux leather; the ceo of Bottega Veneta [Claus-Dietrich Lahrs] last month was talking about a future where leather will be animal-free,” added Taylor.
A whole generation of “compassionate shoppers” are looking at their labels and questioning not just how the animals were treated, but also the impact on the environment from rearing and killing animals for fashion, she said, adding: “We’re seeing a revolution in what people want to wear and what retailers and designers want to support.”