TIR-Library Newsletter: Our Book Recommendation
With this year's third issue of its newsletter, the library of the Stiftung für das Tier im Recht (Foundation for the Animal in the Law; TIR) once again presents selected and current new acquisitions. Books, articles, and films on animal-related topics will be highlighted in this issue. Our special book recommendation addresses the exploitation of animals in the fashion industry, its devastating ecological effects, and our contradictory relationship with animals.
July 16, 2021
While there is at least some controversy surrounding fur, the leather industry is still selling its products largely unhindered and without much public backlash. Like fur, leather is essentially animal skin minus the hair. Leather processing companies supply not only the shoe and clothing industry, but also, for example, the furniture and automobile industry. No less than fur products, this multi-billion-dollar market is a source of immense animal suffering.
In general, it is impossible to trace the conditions under which the animals were kept. In Switzerland, there is a declaration requirement for fur products but not for leather. It is often assumed that leather is a waste product of the meat industry, but leather production actually fuels an increase in slaughter numbers. Much of the leather sold in Switzerland is imported, including loads of cheap leather sourced from countries like India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and China. More than 60 million animals are slaughtered in Switzerland every year. The bulk of this is processed by the Centravo company in Lyss for the purpose of food production, pharmaceuticals, and animal feed. The hides and skins are processed into leather, of which more than 90 % are exported – mainly to specialized tanneries in the EU, according to Centravo's website. This amounts to approximately 850,000 hides and skins of large and small animals annually. Leather processing involves the use of toxic chemicals like chrome III, which can turn into mutagenic chrome VI if handled improperly. Residues containing these chemicals can be found in many leather garments and shoes. The term "organic leather" (in German "Bioleder") used for marketing purposes does not, as one might assume, refer to organic or species-appropriate free-range husbandry of the animals used for these leather products, but rather indicates the tanning method. Organic leather is made using vegetable tanning agents such as mimosa bark, quebracho, or sumac leaves. The Zurich-based fashion label "Fin Projects" is the only company to market leather goods made from organically reared cattle. A transparent supply chain has been set up for this purpose in collaboration with the company Centravo, ensuring the traceability of the hides sourced from cattle raised in so-called suckler cow husbandry systems (mother cows and calves are kept together until slaughter) by the Swiss label "Knospe".
"Fashion Animals" shows the exploitation of animals in the fashion industry from its beginnings to the present day, from their extermination to large-scale industrial captivity and the killing of animals. Using historical and modern fashion imagery, author Joshua Katcher addresses our contradictory relationship with animals. The images show models dressed in fur, skins, and feathers, often scantily clad, shot alongside live animals. These images suggest a desire for intimacy with nature and animals by portraying animals as coerced ambassadors who are seemingly giving permission to use and advertise fashion pieces made from animals and for which animals had to die. A sacred human-animal relationship is implied here, one that, at the same time, violates the dignity of the animal. The author also describes the living props as anthropomorphized agents that consume, wear, or sell fashion.
Alternatives to leather, fur, wool, and other animal materials already exist. They often score significantly higher in terms of ethics, ecological impact, and sustainability compared to traditional products derived from animals. Research into alternative materials is making significant progress across the board. Consumers can play their part by increasing demand for – and thereby reducing the cost of – substitutes, which could eventually drive out animal materials. Visionary ideas and innovations are not new. Records of alternatives for leather, wool, ivory, feathers, and fur exist from as early as the Victorian era (1837 to 1901). Images of earlier advertising posters show examples of non-animal fashion with titles such as "Humana Footwear" or "Fur Substitutes for Humanitarians."
Revolutionary inventions like spider silk, which does not involve the use of spiders, or leather substitutes made from mushrooms (mycelium leather), pineapple fibers, cactus and fruit waste, and keratin fibers grown to replace horn, aim to end animal suffering and save particularly endangered species, such as the rhinoceros. The durability and environmental footprint are impeccable, as it is an organic material and leaves little to no waste. However, the most common artificial leather is made of polyurethanes (PU for short), a plastic that is not recyclable or degradable, and leaves a suboptimal ecological footprint because it is usually derived from petroleum.
The preface was written by Canadian photojournalist and animal rights activist Jo-Anne McArthur. She is known for her evocative photo project "We Animals", which vividly documents our ambivalent relationship with animals. She describes her work in a touching manner and explains how she is trying to communicate the difficult images to the world in a way that people will not look away.
Joshua Katcher hopes to bring about a shift in the fashion industry, pointing out that it is not a matter of how animals are used in fashion, but of them being used in the first place. The violence inherent in the fashion industry is kept hidden, while the animals' sentience is ignored, or worse, romanticized. These facts should longer be kept a secret. The author remains optimistic and assumes that materials derived from the body parts of animals will soon be entirely replaced by substitutes from bioreactors or bioprinters that are both ethically and ecologically acceptable. Joshua Katcher is a fashion designer, activist, author, and teacher. He teaches at Parsons School of Design, The New School, and LIM College. He lectures internationally on sustainable and ethical fashion. Katcher launched the first vegan menswear label, Brave GentleMan, in 2010 and was voted "Menswear Brand of the Year" and "Most Influential Designer" by PETA.
"Fashion Animals" by Joshua Katcher is available in stores and can also be consulted with advance notice during opening hours in the TIR Library, which offers reading and working space. The latest additions to the TIR library are introduced in the TIR library newsletter.
- Book "Fashion Animals" by Joshua Katcher
- Website Joshua Katcher
- Website We Animals
- Recent additions to the TIR library: TIR library newsletter
- Book recommendation: "Hidden – Animals in the Anthropocene" von McArthur Jo-Anne, Wilson Keith (Hrsg.)