How Are Animals Treated In Your Supply Chain?
With the rise of ethical fashion, many brands have taken more interest in addressing the burning issues associated with the fashion industry. Conscious consumers demand to know how their clothes are made and won't tolerate products that involve the exploitation of humans or natural resources in any way.
While this progress is positive where the environment and humans are concerned, my question is: Do you ever think about the animals that are involved in the making of such products? Animal welfare hasn't received the emphasis it deserves, and the furry and feathered creatures in fashion supply chains are often subjected to highly unethical practices. Let me shed some light on what really goes on behind the scenes.
The truth about unethical animal products in fashion
There is a huge misconception that fur and leather are the only unethical animal products. This isn't the case. Birds, like geese and ducks and even angora rabbits, sheep and silk worms, are subjected to cruelty when they are plucked, sheared and boiled for their raw materials.
Wool is, in fact, one of the most misunderstood animal-based raw materials. Most people assume that it is ethical, since they cannot imagine how sheep may be harmed or killed during the process of shearing wool. However, recent evidence suggests otherwise.
PETA released a video exposing (WARNING Graphic Content) the harsh realities of what happens at Ovis 21 farms, the “sustainable” Argentinian wool supplier for many brands including Patagonia and Stella McCartney. The footage displayed the gruesome mutilation, abuse, and torture that these mute creatures are subjected to during wool production. The cruelty is horrifying to the extent that it forces us to seriously question the authenticity of every eco-friendly claim by brands that use this supplier.
Both Patagonia and Stella McCartney severed business ties with Ovis 21 after the release of this video, but does that solve the issue? Does that erase the fact that several animals were subjected to inhumane practices in the making of their wool products before this video was brought to their attention?
As brands that claim to be eco-friendly, they had the responsibility to verify what goes on at the different stages in their supply chain, especially when they partner with different producers. This was where they failed.
Annie Gillespie, Director of Industry Integrity at Textile Exchange, commented that any company is at similar risk when they have no way of verifying the farming or production methods in their supply chain. Most of them rely on the supplier's eco-friendly certifications. However, every company should realise that there are limitations to this. Patagonia revealed that they had overlooked the slaughter practices at the Ovis 21 ranches where they were sourcing wool, thus compromising on the animal welfare aspect.
The clear message from this incident is that it is mandatory for designers and labels to inspect and keep strict tabs on factories and production sites to ensure that everything is as ethical as it seems. The labels mentioned here overlooked this aspect, and the result was that their brand reputation was tainted.
So, how do you make sure that your supply chain is free from animal cruelty?
How to ensure ethical animal products in your supply chain
Supply chain sustainability is optional today, but it won't be long before it is mandatory. As designers, we are accountable for everything that goes into our product. So if your products contain any type of animal product, take steps to ensure that no animal is harmed or exploited. This is critical since animal welfare is a very emotive issue, and even the smallest mistake in this direction could cost you your reputation.
There are international standards and guidelines, like the Textile Exchange's Responsible Wool Standard, that indicate a supplier's commitment to animal welfare. While these can be used as a benchmark when checking out suppliers, remember that these certifications don't necessarily assure 100% safeguarding against animal cruelty.
Designers should also look for suppliers who share the same ethical principles as they do. Exercise maximum control over what goes into your products by providing clear guidelines on what is and isn’t acceptable for each supplier. This means we would have to spend time and effort creating strict standards and guidelines. An ongoing effort for exploring and improving the processes at every stage would also be required.
The Swedish company Fjallraven sets the example for this. Following criticisms about their down supply chain in 2009, they revamped their process guidelines and set very high standards for suppliers through internal audits. The company worked towards unique reforms tailored to their specific supply partners. Over time, this helped them eliminate many previous issues related to animal rights.
Their chief sustainability officer, Aiko Bode, mentions that it was on a site visit to factories in China that they identified issues related to animal transportation and set clear guidelines to improve it. Experiences such as these reiterate the importance of regular inspections and factory visits towards the elimination of animal cruelty.
- Continuously improve audit methods
- Set clear guidelines for what is acceptable
- Have high quality standards for suppliers
These are the steps that you should adopt to build a product that meets the customers’ expectations of a product that is free from animal cruelty.
The London-based brand Tengri is another company setting standards in the luxury fashion industry. Tengri is special, they work as a collective movement to protect wildlife and nomadic herders' way of life, which is threatened by industrialisation and land degradation. Tengri have a transparent supply chain (you can practically view it all through a video of on their website!) which create sustainable luxury knitwear from organic and all-natural yak fibres.
The inspirational creator behind Tengri (and a friend of mine, I'm proud to say) is Nancy Johnston. Nancy lived among Mongolian nomadic herders and witnessed first-hand how the detrimental effects of industrialisation and land degradation negatively impacted nomadic herder families, whose source of livelihood were quickly being devastated.
She found a solution; yak fibre. Taking a resource available in abundance, she hand-combed the yaks (how special is that?) as they annually shed their winter coats and realised that the yak fibre was an incredible wool alternative. Not only does this help the nomadic herder families continue to live their traditional and sustainable way of life but it also helps the yak as well as contributing to the biodiversity of the land.
Yak fibre is the inspiration behind Nancy's label, Tengri. With the help of top textile technologists she is excited to develop these fibres even further, and find innovative ways to make use of this fibre using green technologies such as closed-loop systems, ballistic-based technology and waterless and toxic-free dyes made from locally sourced plants.
Tengri is an honest brand, demonstrated by their innovation to better processes. Nancy is an incredible example of someone who used her initiative to solve an unsustainable, unethical problem. By putting her mind to it, she has made a huge impact on how we source our production: not only for people but for animals and earth too.
When anything is done with consideration in mind the opportunities are endless.
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