The Importance of Animal Welfare

The Importance of Animal Welfare

For many of us it can be easy to disassociate the product from the animal and the topic of animal welfare is not always considered when it comes to fashion, however, millions of animals are farmed, hunted, abused and killed to make clothing. Thanks to the appeal of the final product, the animal origins of staple clothing items such as your favourite winter down filled jacket or waterproof leather walking boots can be quickly forgotten. Animal materials remain prominent in the fashion industry due to their benefits such as durability and warmth, but the real issue at hand is the unsafe and unregulated mass production of these animal products which is not only extremely unethical for these sentient beings but is damaging to the environment. 

As these issues become increasingly apparent amongst consumers, many companies are now supplying animal products through governing bodies and certification programs to ensure high standards of welfare for sheep, geese, ducks and other animals in relation to the textile industry are met. Learn and discover more about the key issues concerning animal welfare in fashion and how we are combatting this issue below.

The Implications of Leather Sourcing

Leather has continued to be a key staple in the fashion industry and every year a large number of skins are produced from animals such as cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, crocodiles, snakes, stingrays, seals, kangaroo, horses and emus. Contrary to popular belief, leather remains a profitable industry and not all leather skins are a by-product of the meat industry. Many animals are factory farmed for their skins and are forced to live in depriving, crowded and confining conditions with the addition of painful treatment by workers. Mass crowding of animals has seen a stark increase of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere accelerating global warming, increases the risk of future pandemics, and creates potentially harmful waste amongst neighbouring communities. 

Unfortunately, a large proportion of the world’s leather is supplied by countries where there is a lack of animal welfare legislation. Governing groups such as the world’s premiere leather manufacturing certification, the Leather Working Group (LWG), aim to improve the environmental impact of the leather by assessing and certifying leather manufacturers. LWG engages with members of the leather supply chain and helps them make informed, sustainable and ethical choices. The LWG scores official LWG members and brands we stock such as Bellroy, Timberland, and Ariat to ensure leather products are sourced from commercial slaughterhouses and produced sustainably by measuring welfare standards, energy consumption, water usage, air and noise emissions, and more. Environmentally friendly alternatives to leather are natural cork, recycled thermoplastic, and even Pinatex made from pineapple leaf fibres used in the footwear we stock by brands such as Paul Smith.

The importance of the Responsible Down Standard

Down feathers are known for their ability to provide warmth and insulation in freezing weather conditions and is often used in outdoor clothing and gear. Duck, geese and even swans are used to gather down and are often plucked while still alive or after they have been killed. Live feather plucking has become common practice as it helps farmers meet large demands for down as the feathers will continue to grow back. As you can imagine, live-plucking is extremely painful and distressing for the birds and causes bleeding from the follicles.

With up to 80% of the world’s down being produced in China, where there is no animal welfare laws in place, many brands now use Responsible Down Standard (RDS) certified down which aims to ensure to the highest extent that down and feathers are from animals that have not been subjected to unnecessary harm such as live plucking or force-feeding. RDS hopes to influence the down and feather industry to incentivise practices that respect the humane treatment of ducks and geese. Through education, RDS drives the demand for strong animal welfare practices and provides consumers with a tool to know what is in their products. Many brands we stock are committed to using traceable RDS-certified down and feathers. Innovative synthetic insulation materials such as PrimaLoft® Insulation Eco made from post-consumer recycled waste is a fantastic thermally efficient alternative to down. Helly Hanson, an iconic brand in the ski and sailing industry, has been rightly praised for its partnership with PrimaLoft. This partnership allows them to produce high performing athlete level apparel in a sustainable manor.

The Essentiality of the Responsible Wool Standard

Considered a winter wardrobe essential, wool sourced from sheep does provide warmth and comfort, however, it isn’t always produced under ethical and safe conditions. Wool farms throughout the world, including in the UK, have been found to abuse, hit and mutilate sheep. The process of shearing live animals is often completed with little regard for their welfare and causes stress, discomfort, injury and pain to the animals. In Australia where much of the world’s merino wool is produced, sheep are subjected to a painful process called ‘mulesing’, where chunks of flesh are removed from their breech and tail area to prevent flies from laying eggs there. To enable more sheep to be crowded in housing during winter, farmers will sometimes shear pregnant ewes which may potentially leave them cold and at risk of contracting disease and miscarrying.

Wool product certification such as the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) ensures wool has come from farms that have a progressive approach to managing their land and practice holistic respect for the welfare of the sheep and respect the Five Freedoms of animal welfare. RDS aims to provide the industry with a tool to recognise the best farming practices and addresses the welfare of sheep and the land they graze on. The RWS prohibits mulesing, dehorning, and ensures procedures such as tail docking and castration are only carried out based on a welfare risk and benefit analysis rather than routine and are complete with pain relief. Certified organic cotton, bamboo, hemp, and linen are also great alternatives to wool without compromising comfort. Aligne is a brand, cherished by Country Attire, that produces chic, timeless wardrobe staples. Many of Aligne’s garments are cut from great alternatives to wool such as organic cotton and innovative EcoVero™, that are produced in a clean, sustainable manor.

Our Commitment to the ‘Fur Free Retailor’ Group

Foxes, rabbits, minks, goats, alpacas, llamas and even dogs and cats are used and coveted by the fashion industry. Commonly marketed as ‘luxurious’, animal fur and fibres including the likes of cashmere and angora are produced in extremely unethical conditions such as battery cage fur farms and are often killed through beating, gassing, electrocution or being skinned alive which is a common practice in China. Fur that is not produced in farms is often sourced through trapping and killing animals in the wild which is highly distressing and painful, a far cry from the ‘natural and ‘humane’ method it is often marketed as. As faux fur has become a popular alternative, unfortunately major fast fashion brands have recently been found mislabelling garments as faux when in reality they are genuine. Faux furs are also not exactly sustainable if made with non-renewable, petroleum-based materials, however faux furs made from recycled materials are a suitable option.

Committed to the journey towards stopping the use of unethical furs in fashion, since the 27th of August 2020, we have stopped buying fur and we have now joined the ‘Fur Free Retailer’ group. Using the same tactics as our successful sustainability drive, we are working with the brands that create real fur products to look at ways they can reduce their dependence on fur and encouraging them to always offer non-fur alternatives. Many of the brands we stock such as Johnstons of Elgin have also partnered with the Sustainable Fibre Alliance who work with the end-to-end cashmere supply chain to improve animal welfare, reduce environmental impact, and secure herder livelihoods.

We are committed to offering our Country Attire consumers a sustainable site to shop luxury products with the highest of animal welfare certifications. Buying any animal-based product second hand is also one of the best alternatives to purchasing uncertified animal-based products and is a direct way to minimise your carbon footprint. 

The certifications mentioned are just a few of the many we must look out for as consumers. Other important certifications include; Sustainable Fibre Alliance, Zque, Down Codex, Vegan and Allied- Track My Down. Shop these certifications through our Sustainable & Organic Clothing edit.

To learn more about Country Attire’s sustainable journey, check out our blogs here.

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