Banning Exotic Skins Won't End Animal Cruelty
Just as fashion brands have been bidding farewell to fur, exotic skins are quickly being seen as more cruel than cool. Luxury brands such as Vivienne Westwood, Chanel and Victoria Beckham are some of the most recent to make the ethical choice to stop paying for the skins of slaughtered reptiles. However, the end of animal cruelty in fashion is not so simple.
Undercover investigations on crocodile farms and snake slaughterhouses have exposed horrific confinement, and vicious, grizzly killings. Crocodiles have been seen being impaled, pierced through their brain and down their spine as they thrash, trying to free themselves from pain. Snakes have been seen being bludgeoned with hammers, and blown up like balloons. It is no wonder fashion labels want to distance themselves from such archaic practices, no one confronted with animal cruelty truly wants to support it.
Announcing the ban, Victoria Beckham's label stated that it was important they produced 'ethically sourced products'. Another luxurious fashion label, Diane von Furstenberg, stated that they were 'committed to supporting the shift to a more ethical and sustainable fashion industry', as they moved away from exotic skins, mohair, angora and fur. These are noble commitments, after all, who doesn't love a cruelty-free handbag? The question is though, does banning exotic skins make Chanel, or any other label, truly cruelty-free? No.
The issue with banning exotic skins is that it's not a ban on all skins. Animal cruelty is inherent in the production of all leather and skins. While snakes and crocodiles rejoice over these luxurious brands' decisions, all that's really happened is the victimisation of one animal has been replaced by another. When Victoria Beckham and Chanel released bags following their exotic skin bans, they did not create vegan bags. Instead, they made bags that mimicked snake and crocodile skin, which were made from the skin of a baby cow. Can we really call this a cruelty-free alternative? The saving of a snake at the expense of a slaughtered calf?
Some justify this switch by claiming that cow skin is a simple by-product of the meat and dairy industry, but this is flagrantly false, an idea perpetuated by an industry wanting to seem sustainable, when it couldn't be farther from. Animal skins are not used simply to reduce waste, and buying them absolutely does support the slaughter of animals, and the destruction of the planet. Animal skins are sold for a profit, and the leather industry is worth billions of dollars - with baby cow skins being the most valuable.
Vivienne Westwood, to her credit, got it right. Following her exotic skin ban, she came out with a vegan bag which looked just as good as the real crocodile skin bags, but without the animal cruelty. This is the only way we can call our handbags cruelty-free - by creating handbags that are animal-free. If all we do is kill cows instead of snakes, we are not working in the best interest of animals, we are being speciesist.
'Speciesism' is the belief that some species are more valuable and worth protecting than others, more deserving of rights. Inherent in this idea is a premise of human supremacy, our right to do unto other animals all kinds of atrocities, just because we like wearing them, or eating them. An inconsistent care for animals, speciesism, is clearly shown when we stop killing one animal, only to kill another.
When Donatella Versace pledged to remove fur from her collection, she stated ‘I don’t want to kill animals to make fashion. It doesn’t feel right’. This is a wonderful sentiment, one every designer should come to feel. And I'm sure most would, if they saw what truly happens to animals, and connected with who animals are as individuals. But the sentiment is not either insincere or misguided, while Versace is not a vegan label. Cow skin leather, cashmere goat's fibre, sheep's wool, duck down, silk, all of these 'materials' mean animals being killed for fashion. None of it should feel right.
It is time we extend our compassion to all animals, not simply a few. Banning exotic skins is a great start, but it's only that - a start. We've got a long way to go before we can truly look animals in the eye and know we are treating them with respect.