Ready to Make a Real Fashion Statement? Dress Cruelty-Free

Who knew recycled bottles could look so fine?

Stephen Ferber did.

A legacy menswear designer with an eye for the cutting edge, he partnered with PETA not long ago on a traffic-stopping, all-vegan runway show outside his Stephen F flagship store in New York City. Cotton fabrics and velvet carried the day, but the showpiece was a gorgeous gray suit crafted from WonderFelt, a wool substitute made from—bingo!—repurposed bottles.

The collection, Ferber said, was “all about education and showing the possibilities.”

With teachable moments in mind, then, let’s start with wool. The industry wants us to believe that when sheep are shorn, they’re just getting a harmless haircut. That’s a lie.

When PETA investigated shearing sheds in the U.S. and Australia, workers were seen punching sheep in the face, stomping on their heads and necks, and beating and jabbing them in the face with electric clippers and a hammer. Workers left some to suffer with gaping, bloody wounds; others they stitched up with a needle and thread—and no painkillers.

In China and Mongolia, frightened cashmere goats cried out in pain as their hair was ripped out with sharp metal combs. Those deemed no longer profitable were hit in the head with a hammer and slaughtered. In South Africa, workers roughly handled, mutilated, and slit the throats of angora goats to produce mohair. And on angora farms in China, rabbits’ fur is yanked out every three months for as long as five years.

Leaves you cold, doesn’t it? So will this:

More than a billion animals—most of them cows and calves—are slaughtered every year so the leather industry can turn their skin and hide into jackets and shoes. They are forced to endure extreme crowding and confinement, denied food and water, and subjected to tail-docking, castration, dehorning, and branding. The leather bosses don’t spring for anesthetics, either.

But the industry isn’t content with just cows. Leather is also made from the skin of sheep, lambs, goats, and pigs. And wild species, including kangaroos, elephants, and ostriches, are hunted for their skin.

That leather jacket in your closet could also be made out of a dog’s skin. In China, workers were recorded grabbing dogs’ necks with metal pincers and bludgeoning them with a wooden pole. Those in line to be slaughtered were hit so they would move faster. Some were still conscious after their throat was cut and their skin torn off.

Products made from dog leather are shipped worldwide and sold to unsuspecting consumers.

Farmed alligators may be beaten to death with mallets and axes. Sometimes, they’re still conscious after being skinned. Snakes are often nailed to trees and skinned from end to end, in many cases while they’re still alive. Ostriches are restrained and electrically stunned, and their throats are slit. Kangaroos are killed by the millions—orphaned joeys and wounded adults are decapitated or hit over the head to shatter their skulls.

Down producers ravage the bodies of geese and ducks already exploited in the meat and foie gras industries, but often, their throats are cut and they’re dumped into scalding-hot water to remove their larger feathers while they’re still conscious. Their soft chest feathers are also ripped out so violently while they’re still alive that their skin is torn open.

And then there’s Canada Goose, a soulless operation whose jackets are trimmed with coyote fur and stuffed with down. Coyotes are caught in bone-crushing steel traps and can suffer for days before trappers return to bludgeon or shoot them—mothers desperate to get back to their pups even try to chew off their own leg to escape. Geese and ducks are grabbed by the neck, shoved into crates, hauled to the slaughterhouse, and hung upside down before their throats are finally slit.

There’s a kinder way, and recycled bottles are just one of the many possibilities.

You can’t go wrong with organic cotton or linen, but compassionate designers and brands are also using hemp, beech tree fiber, recycled polyester, wood pulp—and even soybeans, seaweed and coconuts—to create looks that have all the cool without the cruel.

Today’s lesson? You are what you wear.

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