Words Drude-Katrine Plannthin
Illustrations Ann Vilhelmsen
The past 25 years of environmental problems and accelerating consumerism have emphasised the urgent need for integrating sustainability in fashion and lifestyle. It has been an uphill journey, one that is comparable to the Myth of Sisyphus, the absurd hero, who was condemned by the Gods to ceaselessly roll a giant rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back down, repeating this action for eternity. Likewise, the present sustainable movement in fashion and lifestyle seems at an impasse. For more than two decades strategies and arguments have been raised to mobilise the public, businesses and governments in the hope of changing production methods and the overall approach in the fashion world. What is missing to fulfil this ambition?
Through the 1990s the word ’sustainability’ had to be explained when used. Rarely anybody understood the actual concept and meaning behind sustainability, especially in the fashion industry. Before our current use of the word, ’sustainable’ referred to something being organic or ecological. Now, it has become a buzz-word employed in all contexts. The notion of sustainability has gone from focusing on the procurement of goods and the wise use of resources to sustainable development with multitude concerns. The word seems vague, and it can be frustratingly difficult to pinpoint its exact meaning.
”If we learn to make a product or service more sustainable, all we’ve probably done is figured out how to make the wrong thing last for a longer time. What we need to learn is to make not just anything, but the right thing and make it last as long as possible.” - John R.Ehrenfeld
Through the last decade, sustainable has become a widely accepted term to cover subjects as CSR, “cradle to cradle”, recycling, redesigning, and zero waste among other things making the subject more comprehensible and tangible. However, In the understanding of sustainability something still seems to be missing. Every attempt made to work with sustainability in fashion focus on making the world better – for human beings. But what about ’non-human animals’? Non-human animals are creatures with characteristics similar to humans, but not enough to be considered as such.
Our worldview is mainly human-centered. We discuss pollution, natural products versus synthetic humanmade and conventional products, recycling and labour rights. Human beings, earth, water, sky, and heaven are mentioned and noticed, described and fought for. These are subjects we can accept, comprehend and understand. The world is ours, and everything in it is a personal resource. But one subject is still missing from this equation. The welfare and position of the millions of animals used in this industry are not addressed. Within the field, textiles and fashion, are we doing enough research about the non-human animals?
Growing up in a western country, society and culture, I found that what is considered most beautiful is natural materials - very often made from other living non-human creatures. In Denmark, the Queen wears fur. So did the royalties before her, and as a country, we are one of the world's biggest producers of mink fur. Some of the most recognised and acknowledged Danish furniture architects use hides from animals in their designs. This is considered not only normal and acceptable but also fashionable and as a means to exhibit a higher social position or ranking.
As a fashion designer, an activist, a social entrepreneur and an ethicist, I feel obliged to question what we take for granted in our everyday life. When I design, I aim to inspire people to ask what products are made of, where they are made and by whom. Products within fashion and lifestyle are often not made in Denmark. Therefore, it is easy to lose track of how they are made and to turn a blind eye to whatever problems might be inflicted in the production process. But what if the products are made locally, and the process can be witnessed more easily? Would we then allow the same kind of production or would the process prove so critical it spark a need to legislate against it?
Many fast fashion companies operate to oppose the good prospects of future generations it seems. There certainly is room for improvements. On the one hand, it could seem the development in finding solutions is stalling. On the other, interest and willingness to solve this enormous challenge appear to be growing as information and knowledge are being shared between designers, students, businesses, shareholders, and consumers. Research is done at many levels ranging from grassroots experiments to large corporations researching and investing in more sustainable production methods.
I believe the next step in the fashion, textile and lifestyle industry is facing up to this challenging and uncomfortable subject. It is a very delicate matter, with as many opinions as people in the world. Nevertheless, it should have a place at the very top of today’s sustainable agenda. We all need to consider what production methods we choose to support, and that can be done through carefully deciding what we consume.
Historically, the use of non-human products stemmed from the point of necessity. Now, the use of these animal products, like fur has evolved into something we wear in the name of luxury, pleasure and status. At the same time, we find a counter movement in the food industry where more and more consumers are raising awareness of the overconsumption of meat. It is based on facts about animal cruelty within the production industry, but also environmental factors such as water consumption, pollution and deforestation.
”These global trends are truly catastrophic, dwarfing the modest victories achieved through animal welfare reforms, and there is no sign that these trends will change. For the foreseeable future, we can expect more and more animals every year to be bred, confined, tortured, exploited, and killed to satisfy human desires.” - ZooPolis 2011
This subject is difficult because we are forced to challenge our history, culture and traditions and take a personal stand. Without proper instructions or guidelines on how to make sense and justify behaviour, it is hard to even initiate this process. We can roughly divide people into three groups concerning products made from non-human animals: Those against, referred to as ’the extreme activists’ by governments and medias. Those who might be willing to pay a little more for human products, but who are often not entirely willing to give up animal-based foods or clothes. Finally, there are those who have chosen to turn a blind eye to the problems. They often use tradition, culture or market forces as an argument to not obtain information about the realities.
This is why I wrote the article: ”Animal Ethics and Welfare in the Fashion and Lifestyle Industries” in Green Fashion volume 2. It deals specifically with the ethics of the animals we use in the fashion and lifestyle industry and how to make this more intelligible to those who work within the field of fashion and lifestyle.
Lastly, change and development seem to be key elements in the never ending progress of sustainability and animal rights. Therefore, it is essential to add to our understanding. We cannot distinguish ourselves from nature, the planet we live on, nor the animals that live surrounding us. Our world view needs to change from an anthroposophical point of view where man is superior, to ’reinstalling’ ourselves in a circular context where everything is linked together in a more holistic environment for major transformations to flourish in the future.
“The problem is that humans have victimized animals to such a degree that they are not even considered victims. They are not even considered at all. They are nothing. They don't count, they don't matter, they're commodities like T.V sets and cell phones. We have actually turned animals into inanimate objects - sandwiches and shoes.” - Gary Yourofsky