This September brought with it a potential end of a fashion era as Jane Birkin requested that Hermès remove her name from their crocodile skin Birkin bag, as footage emerged showing the horrific conditions that the crocodiles used for making many of the luxury brand’s products, including the infamous bag, were kept in.
The charity group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) brought the conditions to the public’s attention by releasing secretly filmed video clips showing the crocodiles spending their lives crammed into concrete pens and sometimes ending them being hacked to death whilst fully conscious.
Some may have felt more relieved than saddened by this, as at last the cruel practices behind many luxury brands were being publicly acknowledged. Maybe this could even signal a turning point towards more ethical practices, right? Perhaps not. Shortly after the initial drama kicked off, Hermès released a statement reiterating the firm’s commitment to the ethical treatment of crocodiles in its partner farms. PETA had obtained footage from a Texan farm that appeared to show, amongst other malpractices, over 500 crocodiles being crudely hacked to death in one day since the appropriate tools had been misplaced. Hermès’ labeling of this as an ‘isolated irregularity’ appeared to satisfy Birkin who quickly dropped her name removal request.
However, PETA said in a statement after the situation was resolved that they believed Birkin had ‘been given false assurances by Hermès that [the brand] gives a hoot about animals’.
At over £14,700 for one Birkin bag, you would have thought that Hermès could afford to treat their
crocodiles to a greater quality of life. The French brand deliberately produces less bags than is demanded to keep hold of their exclusivity, resulting in people waiting on lists for a year or more; overpaying by up to one hundred per cent on resale sites or, on occasion, renting one for a month for a cool $1,200. It seems that despite this initial uproar, it’s back to business as usual; high-end fashion continues to demand skins, even if they come from questionable sources.
However, in other fashion spheres, cruelty-free fashion seems to be on the rise. The likes of Stella McCartney have been paving the way for years, with the brand refusing to use any leather or fur in its clothing and accessories, and trying to use as much organic cotton as possible in its collections. The designer’s boutiques are also operated in an eco-friendly manner. McCartney was brought up on an organic farm and her mother, Linda, launched her own successful line of frozen vegetarian meals (before being a vegetarian was as commonplace), so it is no surprise that animal welfare and sustainable issues have worked their way into her designs. In a 2009 interview with the Guardian, McCartney said “the beliefs I was raised with – to respect animals and to be aware of nature, to understand that we share this planet with other creatures – have had a huge impact on me.”
It appears that finally other members of the fashion world are following the example Stella has set. This year, H&M have announced a partnership with the NGO Humane Society International (HSI) in an attempt to not only improve their own standards and move towards cruelty-free fashion, but also to raise awareness throughout the whole industry and attempt to improve practices globally.
At over £14,700 for one bag, you would have thought that Hermès could afford to treat their crocodiles to a better quality of life
The brand already carries a line of cosmetics that does not test on animals. Whilst the issue of testing cosmetics on animals has arguably been on the public radar for a while, the hidden suffering of animals used in the production of wool, down and leather is all too often ignored, and H&M hope to raise awareness of this fact.
H&M is not the only high street store to be moving towards a cruelty-free ethos; Urban Outfitters have also recently started stocking vegan leather products. The fact that a vegan leather tote bag from the store would set one back £42 may have the cynics amongst us stirring – by marketing a product as ‘vegan’, could Urban Outfitters be using a cunning marketing ploy by making what used to be the cheap alternative to leather as expensive as the real thing? Indeed, there is no denying that veganism is having a fashionable moment. Vegan health food bloggers can be found in abundance on the web, so it is not surprising that other brands are trying to cash in on this movement.
An optimist might say that with discussions over animal welfare in the media and a rise in fashion against cruelty-norms, it will be hard for people not to become more engaged with the moral issues that surround their clothes and food. Let’s just hope that this view will prevail and the new trend of being ethical is not just another hipster fad, instead a move towards becoming more aware of the world around us.
Featured image: PHOTO/flickr