Animals (and Humans) In The Fashion Industry

Since the 90s and early 2000s, there was a heavy negative connotation for people wearing fur clothing. Even people not associated with animal welfare would turn up their nose at a fox fur coat with indignation. But despite the public understanding that wearing the torn off skin of a dead animal is neither fashionable nor tasteful, creatures are still heavily used in the textile industry.

Humans have been using animal skins and furs in clothing for centuries. Originally used as protection against the harsh climates and used from animals that had been used for food and other resources, apparel produced from animals has gone from being functional to being fashionable. Mass production of fur and leather items has created a harsh system of fur farming, trapping, and skinning. With the current demand for animal apparel, approximately 31 million animals are killed in fur farms each year.

History of Animals in Fashion

Before gaining recognition in the luxury fashion market, fur and leather were adorned by ancient civilizations as a means of combating the elements. Civilizations living in colder climates often relied on animal fur for survival. In warmer climates, leather often provided the material for necessary clothing and tools. When resources were scarce, every part of the animal was used in order to survive. Cotton fibers as well as weaving techniques were not yet present.

It wasn’t until the mid 1800’s that animal fashion products began to be mass produced. Around this time, fur gained its status as a luxury good and as a result, fur farming began. Creating fur farms was a way that fur producers could guarantee sufficient stock. It wasn’t until the 1960s that fur began to receive a negative connotation.

In 1977, Bridgette Bardot became the first celebrity to actively participate in a campaign against animal skins. The campaign she was a part of was sponsored by Greenpeace and pushed for end to the clubbing of seals for their skin. Despite the formations of anti-fur and skin movements, it wasn’t until the mid 1980s that the anti-fur and skin campaigns began to have an effect on the industry.

The Process

Majority of minks, foxes, and other animals used for their fur are now raised on fur farms. The conditions on fur farms have been compared to those on animal farms used for meat production. All the animals raised are born and die on the farm. The animals are kept within small cages that prohibit movement almost all day. Being confined to small cages not only has physical effects on the animals, but mental effects as well. Animals don’t fare well in confinement and suffer from stress, anxiety, and disease from cramped conditions.

The animals are often killed through anal electrocution or neck-breaking since it prevents any damage to the fur. To cut costs, the animals don’t receive any type of anesthetic and it is not uncommon for the animals to be skinned while still conscious. When producing one mink coat, it requires approximately 60 to 80 mink skins to form the coat. Almost 80% of the minks harvested for their skin are from fur farms.

Karakul lambskin has received much attention for being one of  the cruelest form of fur harvesting. Karakul lambskin comes from baby lambs that are either still within the womb or are only a few days old. Generally, the pregnant mothers are killed and then the baby is harvested from the womb and skinned. If the baby is just born, it is usually skinned within a few days of life.

Animal and Human Welfare

Animal and human rights activists as well as environment protection activists have brought up ethical issues related to the fashion industry time and time again. Human rights activists have found various ethical issues behind the preparation of a fashion product. Extremely low wages and long hours, unhealthy and unsafe working conditions, exhaustion, sexual harassment and mental stress are some of these issues. Both textile and meat industry workers are in the top 10 jobs with the highest injury and mortality rate including severed limbs, punctures, traumas, and having appendages getting caught in machinery.

The production of cotton entails the use of a large amount of pesticides, which is harmful to the environment and to people. Figures indicate that nearly 2 billion USD worth of pesticides are used annually, of which pesticides worth about 819 million USD have been declared toxic as per the guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO). The health of the workers spraying pesticides in cotton fields and the people living around these fields are adversely affected. Pesticide poisoning can lead to symptoms such as headaches, tremors, nausea, depression, seizures, loss of consciousness, and, in some extreme cases, death. Empty pesticide containers are sometimes reused. The use of toxic pesticides leads to air, water and soil pollution. Pesticides also cause the death of other small animals and birds consuming them inadvertently.

The chemical dyes that are used in the production of garments also lead to skin problems. Problems such as eczema, rashes and skin irritation have been noted among people on account of dangerous toxins in the clothes worn by them.

The cruelty to animals behind the preparation of a fur coat has been brought to light time and again by animal rights activists. One fur coat costs the life of about 55 wild mink, 40 sables, 11 lynx, 18 red foxes, 11 silver foxes, 100 chinchillas, 30 rabbits, 9 beavers, 30 muskrats, 15 bobcats, 25 skunks, 14 otters, 125 ermines, 30 possums, 100 squirrels or 27 raccoons. A tremendous amount of suffering is caused to animals in extracting wool and leather, which goes into the preparation of fashionable shawls and boots.

Ethical Fashion

Ethical fashion is the production of textile items with a conscience effort to support the environment and welfare. With the concept of social responsibility gaining ground, corporations all over the world are recognizing the importance of environment protection and ethical business. More and more fashion designers and textile producers are striving to produce goods that do not harm the environment and are cruelty-free. Customers are also becoming more and more aware of ethical fashion and the demand for ethically produced fashion products is on the rise.

In 1989, the Brundtland Commission articulated what has now become a widely accepted definition of sustainability: “[to meet] the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” A business or initiative is not sustainable unless the triple bottom line is integrated at the core of business practices and policy, from board level to studio, shop, or factory floor. The work of the Ethical Fashion Forum with businesses is built on these three pillars, and especially with smaller businesses includes elements of commercial and financial business support, in collaboration with partner organizations.

Increasing the capacity and wellbeing of the people and communities behind fashion. Any fashion business depends on the people behind it. In a broader context, poverty and exploitation of the human workforce behind fashion affects the stability of the industry itself.

Minimizing the environmental impact of all business operations, throughout the supply chain. Creating and acting upon opportunities to reduce environmental issues beyond the immediate operations: such as awareness raising , investment in and support of environmental initiatives.

Without a robust financial business model, none of the above can be achieved. Good intentions without an effective business structure can backfire. A sustainable approach includes quality products or services that meet market needs and demands and are fairly marketed.

Criteria for ethical fashion

The Ethical Fashion Forum has drawn up a set of 10 criteria for ethical fashion, to inform the fashion industry’s official ethical fashion awards, the RE:Fashion awards:

  1. Countering fast, cheap fashion and damaging patterns of fashion consumption
  2. Defending fair wages, working conditions and workers’ rights
  3. Supporting sustainable livelihoods
  4. Addressing toxic pesticide and chemical use
  5. Using and / or developing eco- friendly fabrics and components
  6. Minimizing water use
  7. Recycling and addressing energy efficiency and waste
  8. Developing or promoting sustainability standards for fashion
  9. Resources, training and/ or awareness raising initiatives
  10. Animal rights


Click here ( for a list of Ethical fashion Brands.


What Does It All Mean?

Even thought we have made a step in the right direction, we are still a long ways from eliminating animals from the textile industry. By being conscious consumers and researching into the practices of your favorite clothing brands, you can save the lives of exploited animals and humans alike.




“Ethical Issues in Fashion – the What, When, Why, How and Who – Free Fashion Industry Articles –” Ethical Issues in Fashion – the What, When, Why, How and Who – Free Fashion Industry Articles – Jan. 2016. Web. 15 Feb. 2016.

Gee, Michelle. “Animal Cruelty in the Fashion Industry.” Fashion With a Heart CSR Sustainability. 2012. Web. 15 Feb. 2016.

“Ethical Fashion: 21 Stylish Brands That You Need To Know About.” Marie Claire. Web. 15 Feb. 2016.

“The-issues.” What Is Ethical Fashion? Web. 15 Feb. 2016.






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