Fight the good fight15 May 2015
Though Sam Setter will take to task anyone who lambasts the leather industry with misinformation, he is not afraid to issue a challenge when sustainability is tarnished by those operating within the industry but outside of best practices.
By now, the readers of Limeblast will understand that I am not an admirer of Stella McCartney, who I believe is ignorant in terms of the leather industry and tries to bully it with unproven statements to 'educate' her audience and convince them to follow her lifestyle.
McCartney has always categorically rejected leather as a material for her collection. So it came as a surprise to read an article in the Huffington Post that reports on an interview with McCartney by the Business of Fashion magazine in which she admits that it is a challenge to find and use precious fashionable materials that are not of animal origin. She was quoted that real leather is an extraordinary material, being elastic, washable and real. McCartney went on to say that it is difficult to design something that is attractive without making use of conventional methods.
She did not say she would consider the use of leather in her collection from now on, but nevertheless it is something of an admission. Acknowledging that leather is a great material is quite something, and even if she doesn't use it now or, indeed, ever, that does not diminish the recognition of the 'special characteristics' of leather.
All in the details
McCartney did of course mention that each year 50 million animals are killed for the fashion industry and that the exploitation of animals, whether we wear their skins or eat them, is damaging our planet. I wish she would explain how the commercial use of animals for feeding and clothing damages the planet. I do not know if she has pets, but having a pet is also an exploitation of an animal for egotistic reasons, without which one lives just as well.
Dogs and cats, hamsters, fish and birds, and exotic reptiles were living in the wild until humankind domesticated them and forced them to live in a closed environment, alone, castrated, shampooed and taught to sit up when it pleases the master or mistress. From the view of the domestic animal, can't this be seen as a dictatorship? Oh yes, the animals are declared happy and grateful to their personal dictator, but only for one reason: they have forgotten how to provide their own food as their 'owners' feed them at set times and, in the case of dogs, train them when to pee and walk them on a leash.
Not just leather in the doghouse
McCartney also says that she cleaned-up her products in 2008 by banning PVC. That I can understand because PVC is derived from oil and oil is not a renewable resource, contrary to leather, which comes from animals, which, unless castrated by their animal-lover owners, reproduce periodically.
Avoiding using leather creates production challenges, McCartney stated, because making shoes from synthetic materials is a challenge as these are less elastic than animal-based materials. According to McCartney, shoe-making machines are not developed for materials other than leather and therefore 70% of her collection is made by hand from artisans.
The billions of plastic and fabric shoes worldwide contradict this of course. Considering her statements about the animals being killed for the hides and the non-leather shoes needing to be made by hand, makes one wonder if she really knows what she is talking about. She has decided to make her products in one way or another because she has found a niche market that attracts a certain clientele who are prepared to pay a handsome sum for the McCartney signature. She is an excellent businesswoman and what counts for her is the bottom line - even if she disguises that through clever advertising.
According to McCartney, designers should "look at things differently" and not just change each season's style, but also answer questions on how a product was made, what materials were used and where they were procured. She says that she wants to create sustainable fashion. That is something we have heard from the whole Kering group, to which McCartney belongs, and Gucci got themselves in the news (see April's Limeblast) with their 'sustainable' production in Italy.
The true meaning of sustainability
The principle of sustainable production is absolutely valid and a reasonable approach, not a sales gimmick to increase profits; it is definitely something we have to work towards, and the support of brands and distribution chains to help enact change, not prohibition or refusal, would be a great step forward.
A large part of the meat industry is terribly lacking in socially responsible behaviour and has a bad record for animal welfare. Sure, in farms in the developed world, animals are treated more or less properly, transported to the meat production facilities and processed in an acceptable way, but they are also a profitable commodity and sold to the highest bidder. So, it happens that the western-bred animals are being shipped out to buyers in countries that have a totally different outlook on life in which the treatment of citizens is at its best questionable, whereas the treatment of animals is absolutely outrageous.
Protests here are justified, and the norms and legislation must come into place to oblige buyers of live animals to treat them according to the laws of the exporting country. An NGO called Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), has released a video, which is absolutely mind-blowing. The video shows European cattle transported from Romania and Hungary by land-sea-land to Gaza and adjoining war zones. Food and water are distributed just to make the animals survive; they arrive at the destination barely functioning and suffering from hunger, thirst, fear and stress.
Infrastructure for processing animals is totally missing in Gaza, but also in Arab or African countries where I have seen animals being beaten senseless with chains when they don't move fast enough, and pulled up by their front legs to display their throats for cutting, after which they are dropped on a heap of other bleeding animals in their death throws.
The video from Gaza shows animals on the hoof, tied to a wall where their throats are cut, dropping to the ground from loss of blood, where the urine, faeces and blood that liberally dirty the floor contaminate the meat.
Time for change
The European Union makes life difficult for the industry in its territory, even to the extent of focusing on minor details that make no difference at all in safety, security or quality, including the meat industry and its treatment of animals, but refuses to impose these rules on importing countries of animals in order to abolish the scandalous treatment of European-bred animals.
The export of live animals should only be allowed to places where European norms and regulations are in place and guaranteed; otherwise, these countries must buy carcasses. The often-heard requirements for ritual slaughter is not a valid reason to refuse carcasses because in Europe, unknown to the population, large quantities of meat is halal, whether they like it or not.
This kind of episode gives the meat and leather industries, which are already in a delicate position when it comes to sustainability perception from the part of the public, a bad image and I think it is about time that both, which have a common interest in terms of image, move together and make demands from the EU, to which they pay taxes, so that norms and regulations come into place to impose the proper treatment of animals outside its territory.