Late American model-actor Rue McClanahan’s famous line, “Cruelty is one fashion statement we can all do without,” was the first thing that came to our mind when we read reports regarding Italian designer Giorgio Armani’s decision to stop using fur for all his products.
This move follows years of lobbying by animal rights activists, who have consistently promoted fashion without the use of animal skin.
While animal cruelty has been one of the harshest truths of the fashion industry, things are gradually changing for the better now.
Today, everything, from faux fur stoles to faux leather boots, is up for grabs, and being promoted by several designers.
A global move
Before Armani, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Stella McCartney were some of the designers who switched to animal-friendly creations. Closer home, too, designers have been making efforts to shun materials and elements that either cause harm to animals, or the environment, in general. “I can see more and more social awareness and responsibility among the design fraternity in the recent years,” says designer Anavila Misra, who only uses organic materials for her designs, and stays clear of animal fibre.
Echoing a similar stance, designer Gaurang Shah, who has been promoting India’s handloom industry for many years now, says, “Fashion needs to be sustainable in a manner that it does not harm animals or the environment, and at the same time, meets the expectations of the consumers. I am an ardent believer in being absolutely natural, when it comes to clothing, textiles, and the colours that are used as dyes. I love cotton, silks and khadi. There are abundant natural elements that can be used for textile designing and colouring. I refrain from using anything that is synthetic, or has anything to do with animals.”
In fact, many designers, including Priyanka Ella Lorena Lama, Archana Kochhar and Shruti Sancheti, among others, have also moved to using Ahimsa Silk, which is created using a process that does not involve the killing of the silk worm. It is often also referred to as ‘the fabric of peace’.
What the law says
The use of animal products like ivory, fur, and even shells and corals are illegal in India. In fact, the sale and possession of shahtoosh, a fabric woven with the fur of the Tibetan antelope (chiru), is banned. But, there are still several practices and materials that, the fashion industry in India feels, should be avoided. “I hope animal skins, fur and all such materials that encourage poaching and hunting, and pose a threat to animals — endangered or otherwise — should be made illegal. As it is, in today’s world, with advancement in technology, faux fur, feathers, etc, mimic the real thing so closely,” says designer Payal Khandwala.
In fact, the use of leather and other types of animal skins for fashion is not only cruel, but it also harms the environment. “Tanneries are some of the most polluting industries,” reveals NG Jayasimha, managing director, Humane Society International, India.
He adds, “Consumers and retailers should move away from stone-age fabrics to digital-age ones. The Government of India should encourage alternatives to animal skin that are humane, and more environmentally sustainable. Any person who wears a leather glove has blood on his or her hands.”
Other avoidable fabrics
Designer Ridhi Mehra feels that apart from animal skin, other fabrics that should be shunned by the fashion world are rayon, acrylic and nylon. “Rayon is recycled wood pulp and is treated with harsh chemicals to survive regular washing and wearing,” she says.
To this list, Shah adds polyester, the most widely used manufactured fibre that is made from petroleum. “All synthetic fabrics that are made with energy intensive processes, and require large amounts of crude oil, should be avoided by the industry. Instead, we can consider using sustainably grown cotton, hemp, bamboo, and other fibre crops that require fewer pesticides, irrigation, and other inputs,” he says.
Take it slow
Some designers are of the opinion that fast fashion — designs that once showcased on the ramp are swiftly manufactured and displayed in stores — is also creating stress that adversely affects the ecosystem. Designer Wendell Rodricks says, “We do not realise that everything we wear impacts the earth.” He adds, “The amount of water and vegetal produce that goes into harvesting natural fibres is much less. It’s better to buy an expensive long-lasting cotton T-shirt than buying multiple cheap ones that impact or harm the natural elements of this planet.”