Can Animal Products in Fashion Be Ethical?

Silk moth portrait. White fur and large antennas.© [Guray] / Adobe Stock
Bombyx Mori has some thoughts.

Everlane, one of my favorite companies, recently launched their Clean Silk campaign, touting a more environmentally friendly silk manufacturing process that cuts the chemicals and energy consumption of traditional production. I follow Everlane on Instagram, and noticed comments regarding animal cruelty in the silk manufacturing process. If you didn’t know, silk comes from the cocoons of the silk worm, which are typically boiled with the worms still inside to ensure better quality thread. New silk moth hatchlings pee on their cocoons, which apparently lowers the quality of the silk [insert pee pee jokes here]. That comment thread raised some important questions in ethical clothing production: How does the treatment of animals factor into ethical garment and accessory manufacturing? Are some creatures, like insects, considered less precious than others? Should ethical fabric choices follow one set of rigid guidelines–say no animal products, for instance?  Or should consumers follow their own personal preferences? Like if you eat meat, is it okay to wear leather?

This is a tough topic to approach as there is a variety of animal products used in fashion. Silk, wool and leather are featured in many popular ethical retailers’ collections. Because there are so many factors that contribute to a company’s “green” status, animal welfare may take less precedence than other sustainable markers. Plus, the animals’–ahem–“involvement” can vary quite a bit. Everlane’s Clean Silk initiative includes a prospective commitment to the guidelines of Regenerative Organic, an organization encouraging responsible agriculture practices, including a humane animal welfare program. This hopefully means that future silk worms will be better cared for, but what about now? (I’m not trying to pick on Everlane–I love, love, love them!)

I’m not one to stress animal welfare over all else.  I grew up on a lot of beef in the cattle-heavy Midwest, and I wear leather, silk and wool. I did, however, become a pescatarian solely for animal welfare reasons. [Side note: Does anyone remember a couple years ago when everyone went vegan after watching that documentary on Netflix? The same thing happened to me after watching Okja. Seriously.]   Anyway, considering I don’t eat cows now, should I be okay wearing them?

Honestly, I don’t really have a straight answer to this post’s question. I don’t know if I will exclude animal products on Ethimode in the future. I also haven’t decided if I’ll stop buying silk from Everlane. For now, I do have some suggested resources to check out if you are curious about a company’s animal welfare standing, or simply want to go 100% cruelty-free. There’s always PETA if you’re completely vegan. I’ve also discovered many ethical companies on lifestyle site The Good Trade. And, last and definitely not least, Good on You is an app (and handy website) that has a clear ratings system with consideration to animal products. Good on You‘s ratings are in good faith, but it’s the most comprehensive tool I’ve found so far. Let me know your thoughts and suggestions in the comments!

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