Talking Shop, Drapers.
Taking stock of animal welfare.
The fashion industry is fickle. We know that. But even with the ebb and flow of seasonal trends, there are some things that remain fixed: the significance of consumer spending, for one, and the significance of consumer attitude is another.
We also know price, quality, design and comfort are all intrinsically important to the buying public. But so too is society’s tolerance of, or opposition to, certain practices. Animal cruelty, for example, is rightly abhorred by most people in the UK.
Knowing this, it’s unsurprising that an RSPCA commissioned poll this year showed 93% of consumers won’t wear real fur. So why it is so visible again – not just appearing as coats, but also as discrete trim and even forming pom-poms on boots? Retailers who stock fur seek not just the backlash from animal rights extremists, but risk offending most people. And who can risk offending 93% of their customer base?
We’re all aware of the ethical trend. Of phrases such as ‘Fair Trade’, ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘organic’, and many companies are now adopting principled trading with regard to people and their obligations to the environment. Yet fashion retailers are desperately lagging behind on getting animal welfare into their corporate practices.
And I don’t mean just saying you won’t stock fur. By all means adopt a ‘no fur’ policy. But crucially you must then police it. Do you, for example, have a traceability process to guarantee that the faux fur on products you stock is indeed fake? And do you know how and where the animal that provided its skin for your shoes or bags was reared or slaughtered?
If any of the animal-derived produce you source comes from animals that were not treated humanely while alive – or they were killed purely for fashion rather than as a by product of the meat industry – your ethical credentials are fatally flawed.
I would like to see it become a matter of course that animal welfare is an integral part of the business of anyone using animal-derived produce. Whether this is done because of a company’s high moral stance or due to public pressure becomes irrelevant if the objective is reached and more animals are treated humanely.
The pervading consumer attitude tells us it’s no longer acceptable to sell goods without proving their provenance, and worse still, sell goods that are produced by inflicting cruelty.
So the question is: can you really afford to keep burying your head in the sand while your competitors seize the welfare initiative, win the accolades and grab the headlines?
Wayne Hemingway is a designer and one of the judges of the RSPCA Good Business Awards.