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!

SALE ALERT: Reformation Up to 70% Off

ethimode_refomration_sale_08_2018

© Reformation

Left to Right: Caymen Dress, $50 (originally $178); Fitted Crew Tee, $14 (originally $28)

Reformation has some really lovely, feminine clothing made here in L.A. out of sustainable materials. While far from perfect–they have had some issues meeting the demands of the size inclusivity they advertise and there are some reported quality issues–I think they have some sweet designs. Normally Reformation’s prices are prohibitive for me (oh funemployment!), but I found a slew of really inexpensive tees, dresses and skirts. I purchased the two items above to layer as the weather cools. NOTE: All items are FINAL SALE and I find Reformation’s sizing odd (but that may be because I’m short-just under 5’2″), so purchase with caution.

Link: Reformation Sale

Endless Summer with Mayamiko

ethimode_mayamiko©Mayamiko

As fall collections roll out, summer still seems far from over here in Southern California. (I don’t care if Target thinks it’s Halloween already—nobody here [me] is ready for that pumpkin spice sh*t yet!) Anyway, it’s always hot somewhere, and, after I got an email from Mayamiko featuring some new additions, I couldn’t help but celebrate summer a little more with a few brightly colored, warm-weather styles. 

Mayamiko employs Malawian women who fashion fun, feminine clothing from beautifully patterned, sustainable fabrics. Their clothing is actually meant to be “cross-seasonal” which means if you aren’t someplace sunny and warm, you can easily layer under or over your Mayamiko pieces to suit any season. [Apologies if the items listed are sold out—they run through the more popular styles pretty fast!] The items I chose to feature all fall under $100, but there are also some other slightly more costly items on their site that are pretty sweet (jumpsuits!). 

From left to right:

GAIA PLAYSUIT IN BLUE AND ORANGE PANDORA, $68.53

GEO BOXY SHIRT, $50.26 

UNKHA BOW FRONT CUT OUT DRESS IN ORCHID BLOSSOM, $74.63

 

Greenwashing – What does that mean?

ethimode_08_10_18_greenwash© [hakinmhan] / Adobe Stock

I started Ethimode as a platform for affordable responsible fashion. Considering ethical and sustainable clothing is largely unaffordable for a younger, lower income audience, I wanted to highlight garments and companies that are attainable for [nearly] everyone. Plus, after leaving my professional gig to become a [nearly] broke, full-time student, I am now part of that aforementioned audience. Quite honestly, this task is going to be a bitch, and a topic that the green fashion industry is slowly starting to address.

Before I post any finds, I wanted to talk about something I thought was important to consider: Greenwashing. What does that mean? Greenwashing is the dissemination of disinformation by companies that want to present an environmentally responsible public image. This could mean an oil company making public donations to environmental groups without changing their own environmental practices. Or it could be something seemingly benign as those “reuse your towels for water conservation” placards in hotel bathrooms—hotels aren’t making any additional efforts to save water, and are really just saving on laundry costs. 

Many savvy ethical shoppers are already familiar with this term, but even as a [somewhat] informed consumer, I’ve been guilty of buying into “green sheen” PR. I once made a superficially “feel good” purchase of a super-cute recycled cotton sweater from H&M, neglecting to look into the abusive conditions of their garment workers. How can I feel good about buying something less harmful to the planet, yet still potentially harmful to the people who made it?

H&M has made great strides in providing transparency, which is the first major step in moving towards responsibility. However, H&M and other fast fashion retailers are still ways away from being truly ethical—and that doesn’t address the fact disposable fashion in itself is unsustainable. I know these companies have made efforts to appear more eco-friendly. I also know that for many, these efforts seem like the only affordable way to buy into green fashion. I don’t want to discourage any effort to buy more responsibly, but I also don’t want to turn a blind eye to the uglier parts of mass produced clothing–no matter how cute or recycled or organic. So, I’m going to try my hardest not to promote any company that uses greenwashing to sell their clothes. In a sense, Ethimode is my way to help myself make better choices, and hopefully help others do the same along the way.

#WHOMADEMYCLOTHES?

 

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© Andrea Livingston

Exactly five years ago, over 1100 garment workers died and another 2500 were injured in the collapse of the Rana Plaza complex in Bangladesh, the deadliest garment industry accident in history. While some improvement in worker conditions resulted from this accident, the industry is still rife with dangerous and unethical treatment of it’s employees.

Creating my first post on this day is especially significant: The biggest reason I wanted to change my spending habits was to ensure the human impact of my purchases was fair to those who made my clothing. Coinciding with the anniversary of Rana Plaza disaster, Fashion Revolution, a multi-national organization dedicated to creating a safe, clean and fair fashion industry created Fashion Revolution Week, from April 23rd-29th. This week, to promote transparency in the fashion supply chain, Fashion Revolution encourages you to ask your favorite clothing brands #whomademyclothes? Go to the Fashion Revolution site to learn more about this campaign and download your own poster. @fash_rev