Let's Stop Insulting Leather, Fur, and Silk Workers
by Sica Schmitz | Posted on October 27 2017
I've gotten into a lot of conversations lately about vegan fashion and can safely say that it's a very divided topic. And therefore, a very important one. We must continue to (nicely) discuss difficult and uncomfortable things, and especially things we disagree about.
I've heard basically every excuse in the book as to why in the year 2017 we still use animal products, and while there are definitely people who just don't care about animals or about the environmental impacts of animal products, a lot of the reasons for the continued acceptance comes down to an argument - a belief - about the cultural tradition of animal fibers, and the livelihoods that rely on them.
People have worn pieces of animals for thousands of years. Silk, wool, leather, fur - these can be found throughout the history of fashion. And since it is such an old way of doing things, many industries and many skill sets have been built around it, passed down through families and generations, and become an important part of heritage and also just necessary income.
There's a really common story perpetuated in ethical fashion about how artisans and small businesses rely on these old-fashioned fibers to create goods to sell in order to create jobs and support families and schools and futures. And these are goals that I totally believe in, too. It's part of why I am such a huge advocate for fair trade (I'm on the board of Fair Trade LA, and founded the Fair Trade Fashion Show, and run this fair trade company you're on the blog of right now....).
So, as a fair trade fan, and as someone who also wants to see thriving families and schools and futures, I want to ask that we, as the ethical fashion community, stop insulting leather, fur, and silk workers by assuming they aren't talented enough or smart enough to learn how to work with another fiber or learn a new skill or even perhaps create an entirely new, ethical fashion industry.
The entire world is constantly evolving, constantly changing, and technology and knowledge are constantly showing newer, better ways of doing things. Of course family run mills and small fair trade brands can do this too. Of course women working in remote villages can find non-animal materials to make shoes or bags or anything else. And of course we should refuse to diminish these makers by believing and perpetuating otherwise.
I recently read about how coal miners are transitioning into IT, and creating safer work that protects their own health and that of our environment. Isn't it only fair to acknowledge that fashion can also transition in a positive direction as well, and could even be led by the very people most impacted by it, just as many coal miners are doing?
I truly believe in the ideas, the skills, and the innovations possible by artisans around the world. And I truly believe they deserve for us to show just as much faith in their abilities to create a more ethical fashion industry as we have in our own abilities as businesses and consumers. Artisans don't need for you to support leather, silk, wool, or fur - they need for for you to support their talents, which can flourish regardless of their textile choices.
So basically, I'm trying to ask nicely: if you want to continue justifying your use of animal products as a company or shopper, don't scapegoat the makers.
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