As the weather starts to feel a little crisper, you may find yourself in the market for some new winter wardrobe or home essentials. While it’s always easiest to gravitate to the stores or brands we know, there are new brands out there that share a fiery passion for ethics and the environment. Now that we have the option to choose alternative products, it’s a pretty good time to align our morals with where we spend our money.
While most people are against the use of real fur in fashion nowadays, the leather, wool, sheepskin, and down industries are yet to receive the same level of disapproval and disgust. Understanding where all the materials we wear and use come from, or who they come, is an important step in becoming a more conscious consumers. Beyond shining a light on the use of animals in winter fashion and bedding, we’ve also listed some tried and tested animal-free alternatives for your next pair of boots, slippers, coat, or doona.
The fur trade is brutal, and unfortunately still prevalent. Every year, over 200,000,000 minks, foxes, raccoon dogs, rabbits, and chinchillas are bred and killed for their fur. This excludes the additional wild animals, such as coyotes and seals, who are hunted for their skin by popular brands such as Canada Goose (a company that shows no indication of moving away from coyote fur, and is proud of it, too). Fortunately, more and more popular labels are pledging to drop fur from their lines thanks to consumer-demand and vocal activists.
Although there are no fur farms in Australia, fur still ends up on Australian products as we import it from Canada, the USA, Europe, China, Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines . While many consumers are rightfully opposed to the use of fur, there are several other common materials which should be critiqued in the same way.
Leather and Suede
Leather is too often glamorised and associated with luxury and quality, just as fur once was. Just like fur, leather is the skin of an animal – in this instance, a cow, calf, buffalo, pig, goat, sheep, crocodile, snake, sting ray, seal, emu, deer, fish, kangaroo, horse, or even elephant, cat, and dog* – that has undergone a range of intense chemical processes to turn it into a sturdy material.
Leather and suede, are manufactured in Australia, but also imported from other countries, such as China and India. Although some of the skin used is a by-product of the meat industry, it also stands as a separate industry responsible for the slaughter of billions of animals annually. In any case, these animals are “stunned”, have their throats slit, and their skin ripped off of their bodies.
The process of creating leather is also incredibly toxic to the environment, and can be dangerous, or even deadly, for workers . For more information on leather, head to Leather: Wear Your Own Skin.
*There are currently no requirements to label leather products, making it extremely difficult and most often impossible, to decipher where, and which species, it has come from.
Cashmere, Angora, and Pashmina Wool
Cashmere, angora, and pashmina wool come from goats, bred by the millions, predominantly in China and Mongolia, and at a smaller scale in Australia. In order to increase production to keep up with demand, higher numbers of goats are being bred and raised, resulting in greater suffering and environmental impact.
The goats are shorn in the middle of winter, during a time when they need their coats most, as they would naturally shed their coat as temperatures begin to rise . As a result, many animals die from the cold. In all countries, once the goats are no longer of use, they are sent to slaughter as “cheap” meat.
Wool and Sheep Skin
There is a common misconception that sheep are not harmed in the process of shearing. While they do need to be sheared, this is only because humans have altered domestic sheep through selective breeding. Merino sheep, who are used for wool, are descended from the Mouflon, wild sheep. They have been bred to have excess skin to produce extra wool. This makes them incredibly unsuited to Australia’s warmer climate. In order to combat flystrike – here flies lay eggs on soiled wool or open wounds, and maggots feed off the of the live sheep’s flesh – farmers practice muelsing, which involves cutting off the sheep tail often without pain relief . Female sheep are also used for breeding. Their babies are either used to continue the wool cycle or sold for meat.
Multiple undercover PETA investigations have exposed the cruelty involved with shearing sheep. Unfortunately, as workers are paid on volume of sheep sheared, they are often rough in an attempt to shear as quickly as possible. Undercover footage from Australian shearing sheds show sheep being kicked, punched, stepped on, and mutilated by the shearers. Some footage revealed sheep were being stitched up without pain relief .
Sheep can live for 10-12 years, with some even reaching 20 years! The wool industry, however, considers them to be no longer profitable after just 5-6 years. They are then sent to slaughter. Many are forced onto live-export ships and sent to slaughterhouses overseas. Sheepskin, like leather and fur, comes from the sheep once they have been killed.
Down is the soft, fluffy, undercoating that ducks and geese have to keep warm. It is commonly used as insulation and padding inside a range of jackets, quilts, and pillows. Whilst companies claim that down is a by-product of the meat industry, this is only partly true. It has been estimated that 50-80% of feathers come from birds who have been plucked whilst fully conscious .
The world’s largest producer is China, accounting for 80% of global production . An undercover investigation by PETA, shows employees ripping fistfuls of feathers from the shrieking ducks and geese. Their bodies are often left with bloody wounds . Even if the down feathers were taken from their lifeless bodies, this once again, is no different to the use of fur.
The rise of ethical alternatives
In 2020, we no longer need to use animal-derived materials keep warm. Alternatives to fur, leather, wool, cashmere, and feathers are available in abundance. Not only are these alternatives saving the lives of animals, but many have a lower environmental footprint – plant-based or recycled materials require less resources, and are often a by-product from another non-animal industry.
Entrepreneurs from all over the globe are experimenting with different plant-based materials. Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez have created Desserto, made from cacti, and Dr Carmen Hijosa created Pinatex, from pinapple leaves. Other inspiring innovators are using apples, cork, mushrooms, soybeans, recycled paper, and of course, recycled plastic. Excitingly, we can expect to see more ethical brands using these materials to replace animal-skin products in the near future.
The fashion industry is finally booming with products that consider animals and the planet. Here are a few of our top picks:
- Patagonia’s insulated parker
- Matt & Nat’s outerwear collection
- Glassons faux leather biker jacket
- James & Co vegan outerwear
- Wuxly Movement
- Superdry parka jacket
- Pangaia – FLWRDWN puffer jackets
- ASOS hooded parka with faux fur
- James & Co vegan outerwear
- Wuxly Movement
Wallets, Bags, and Belts
When looking for new bedding, seek out bamboo, organic linen, microfibre, corn fibre, or microgel products, and avoid down, wool, and silk. With these top picks, you can rest easy knowing no animals were directly harmed in the making of your cosy bed:
- Pure Zone’s Alternative Down Quilt
- Pure Zone’s Bamboo Quilt
- Bambi’s 100% biodegradable Ecorenew Ingeo Quilt
- Eco Down Under’s Corn Fibre Pillow
If we’ve missed any of your favourite ethical brands or products, give them a shout out in the comment section below!