Well obviously vegans wear clothes, shoes and accessories like any other person! Buuuut, the choices vegans make are heavily influenced by concerns about how animals have been used, harmed or killed to make them.
Thanks to Peta’s “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” campaign that began in 1991, fur shed it’s luxurious, aspirational tag, and became a symbol of selfish, unnecessary cruelty. It was provocative, as is the organisation, but it got the message out there, which can only be a good thing. The campaign still continues today with celebrities like Alicia Silverstone, Pink and Taraji P Henson all choosing to pose for Peta to raise awareness of the insanity of the fur industry.
image credit: Peta
In case you can’t read the writing, the poster states:
Animals killed for their fur are electrocuted, drowned, beaten and often skinned alive. Be comfortable in your own skin and let animals keep theirs.
So it’s safe to say that even most meat-eating people find wearing fur abhorrent and cruel, and recognise that the fur industry has no place in modern society. It’s just a shame that it took until 2018 for some of the biggest fashion houses to catch up, with Burberry, Gucci, Michael Kors and Versace all now having dropped fur. Also, London Fashion Week is now the only big fashion show to ban animal fur from all its catwalks and presentations. About time.
Ok, well fur isn’t typically in my wardrobe, but what’s wrong with everyday materials like wool and leather?
A fair point! Well, in addition to fur, vegans will also avoid other textiles and materials that have been taken from animals. This includes leather, calfskin, sheepskin, wool, silk, suede, angora, cashmere, down/feathers, and any other animal skins or furs.
Put simply, vegans not only don’t eat any animals, but also don’t wear any animals.
Most people question why vegans don’t wear wool, because they believe that sheep naturally need to be sheared by human beings for their own good. It a benign transaction that benefits everyone involved right?! Wrong. Leather is seen as an innocent by-product of the perfectly nice and decent meat industry. Again, this is deeply flawed.
We truly have been kept in the dark about what happens to make our woolly jumpers and leather jackets. Vegan and animal rights organisations work tirelessly to investigate and shine a light on that darkness.
Before we get into the details, wanna play a game…?
Imagine that you don’t have the power of speech or communication. You’ve been taken away from the only life and people you’ve ever known and shoved into a cramped room with 100 other people.
You haven’t got any personal space, no sense of freedom. Every natural choice you want to make is denied to you. You can’t run, stretch out or sit down comfortably. The smell from the waste dropped on the floor from all of you is atrocious and you have to walk and live amongst it. You have no idea what’s happening and can only stand or crouch in the crowd. Every so often the urine and feces are cleared away and your trough to eat at is refilled.
Meanwhile, as the days pass through this torturous existance, your hair has been growing long and beautifully. It keeps your head warm. But you don’t really need it, and the people whose existence is valued higher than yours want authentic human hair for wigs, jumpers, gloves and coats. They don’t need them, as there are alternatives. But they want products made with “the real thing” because your hair is natural. It’s also seen as sustainable because you can grow more of it. A win-win situation!
A team of men come open the door, and you can see them grabbing your fellow captives. They are being dragged out, you can hear an electrical buzzing noise and screams that you’ve never heard before. Panic rises in your chest. You’re frightened but know you can’t escape. The room empties out.
It’s your turn
You’re pushed outside and into a brightly lit steel shed and forced down on your knees in front of a man on a seat. You try to get away in fear and in sensing freedom, but another man stands down on your body with all his weight, bending over to hold your limbs apart to stop your struggle.
Now you’re unable to move, the first one grabs your hair in fistfulls, yanking it high. He shaves you roughly and quickly straight to the scalp. There’s no concern for you or your wellbeing. You feel alarmed, violated and powerless. Your head is bare, cold and stings with cuts. Within a minute, they’re done with you and onto the next person. You find yourself back in the cramped room. Eventually, you’re all back together; shaken, confused and defeated.
The men have got enough hair from all of you to meet their targets and make their profits. You on the other hand don’t know whether it’s going to happen again or if you’ll ever be able to be free. Will you even be allowed to keep your hair on your head ever again? You continue to live in conditions that go against your nature, but that you’ve come to accept.
The nightmare doesn’t end here
In a year’s time, your hair has grown back. Wonderful! So it’s time to be taken out of the room and get shaved again. You’re not expecting to be treated kindly, with respect, reassurance or care through the experience. You scream and you try to kick them away, but if you kick too hard, you’re kicked back, violently.
You endure these torments year after year, because your hair keeps growing back. Once you were hit hard in the face with a metal tool. Another time, a man stood on your neck and you thought you’d die.
Some years your hair was plucked out by hand to ensure the longest fibres. A few times, your actual scalp was torn off so the hair remained intact in your skin. You were fully conscious with no anesthetic or medical care (but then what could possibly make that feel ok?). You could barely handle the searing, raw agony. But, your hair was sold for a higher price that way.
This repeats each year for the rest of your natural life. Or so you think. After all a few people in your room have not survived and died around you.
But now the end is in sight
Unfortunately, you have reached middle age, and your hair has started to thin out. You’re going grey. The higher beings don’t want this lower grade hair.
So your product isn’t saleable anymore. Therefore your product is worthless.
Your life no longer has a monetary value. Therefore your life is worthless.
So you’re sent for slaughter. Killed. Disposed of. It’s ok though because your owners will get some money for the muscles, fat and tissues (sorry, I mean meat) on your bones. I shan’t even ask you to imagine what being “processed” in a slaughterhouse is like.
Your lifelong ill-treatment has been acceptable to the higher beings because some fancy pants people wanted fashionable wigs, cardigans with real human hair trim and authentic, natural, human hair jumpers to wear. Your suffering was glossed over and justified.
Besides, you didn’t really want to live anyway did you? You’re not intelligent enough to understand pain and suffering nor the joy of life. Your sole purpose on earth was to give the higher beings your hair and meat, after all. Plenty of them say so loudly, so it must be true.
The reality for animals is much, much worse
This is how so many people see animals; as disposable commodities that are only here for our benefit.
What I asked you to imagine above is not based on fiction, but on actual well-established animal farming practices. In reality, human hair wigs are made through people choosing to shave their hair, often, it is true, out of desperate need. But the situation for animals who don’t have a voice, or a choice, is more harrowing than I could depict. I just wanted you to put yourself in their situation for a few moments.
img credit: Jo-Anne McArthur/ We Animals / Peta
This treatment of animals is why vegans don’t wear any animal products. There is no way in which their production does not end in their needless death.
Brits are rightly outraged when cruelty to dogs is exposed on puppy farms here and abroad. But it doesn’t just happen to the animals we typically love as pets. Killing a lion as a trophy or an elephant for its tusks is reviled around the world. But yet it’s acceptable to shoot a baby cow dead for its skin to make calfskin gloves?
Factory farmed animals born for their furs, coats and skins end up killed and as meat. They don’t live out their natural lives. Wild animals don’t escape the cruelty either. They are trapped in horrifying ways, and then murdered for their furs, coats and skins. This is the simple truth, and it is abhorrent. Therefore it makes no sense for vegans (and vegetarians) to wear such fabrics.
The only possible exception…
As a vegan, I could only find an animal-derived fabric acceptable, if the fibres and feathers had naturally fallen off the animal. The animals couldn’t be kept for any farming purpose whatsoever. They would have to reside in a sanctuary or be in the wild. This is obviously uncommon, would be very expensive and not the strongest business model, but such items can sometimes be found.
Unfortunately, companies instead think that this sort of policy should be applauded:
Fully traceable down has been the reality at Fjällräven since 2014. With our Down Promise you can rest assured that when you purchase a down product from us no birds were harmed – this means no live plucking; we know exactly where the down comes from and that it’s of the highest quality. And because our down is a by-product of the food industry, we’re working to reduce waste too.
That last line sticks in my throat. “And because our down is a by-product of the food industry, we’re working to reduce waste too.” Ohhh aren’t you wonderful? Here’s a thought, animals’ bodies are not “waste”. This statement clearly admits that the company knows the animals are destined for the slaughterhouse. How can that be a selling point of their so-called “ethical” product? Instead of being proud, they should only use alternatives and reduce the availability and demand for feather and down products.
A temporary pause in the proceedings…
I want to keep vegan365 a happy place full of the positive and enriching aspects of veganism. As a result I won’t post any of the violent and heart-wrenching pictures that document what happens to animals. But I strongly encourage you to find them, and learn the truth for yourself, as nothing compares to seeing it with your own eyes.
I had planned to provide a guide here for you, to explain how wool, leather, fur etc are produced. However, even after 6 years as a vegan and knowing most of what goes on, I’ve found it too distressing to continue at this time to go through every single animal’s mistreatment and abuse in one go.
Rest assured that I will write further on this and give you the best summary of what to avoid, why and how to replace it.
You express so much of yourself, your life and your values through your appearance. If you’re veganising your kitchen, it only makes sense to veganise your wardrobe too.
After all, who do you want to tell the world you are? I want to show that I care.
Obviously there are a lot of people out there that just don’t care. But as you’re reading this, I hope to goodness that you do.
Stay tuned for more on this important subject.