Helsinki Fashion Week Goes Leather-Free

Photo by Henry Marsh

Following multiple investigations into the animal cruelty and harsh environmental impacts of the fur industry, high-end brands such as Gucci, Armani, Versace and Michael Kors have implemented bans on real fur from their collections. Fashion weeks and festivals such as Oslo Fashion Week and Perth Fashion Festival have gone fur-free. But Helsinki Fashion Week, an event with a strong sustainability focus, has now taken their commitment one step further and committed to a ban on leather during the event, starting with Spring Summer 2019.

Photo by Kaisa Syrjänen

Sustainability for the new generation

The creation of Helsinki Fashion Week is the answer to a demand from a growing, consciously minded audience in Scandinavia and beyond. Its founder, 26-year-old Evelyn Mora, who launched the event in 2015 aged just 23, is a former stylist, sustainable designer and fashion photographer who created the event to highlight sustainability in fashion and promote a circular economy in the fashion industry. As the millennial consumer base is increasingly expressing interest in ethics in fashion, Evelyn is tapping into her generation’s priorities to firmly cement Helsinki’s place on the fashion calendar.

Photo by Tom Rollich

Leather-free: a step further away from cruelty

It was a letter from PETA that highlighted the negative environmental impacts of the leather trade that prompted the decision to say no to leather. And with good reason: PETA’s letter illustrated the devastating cruelty behind an industry that claims over one billion lives every year (including those of cats and dogs in China’s thriving dog and cat leather industry). Investigations into this disturbing trade have seen dogs skinned while still alive for accessories that later could have made it onto the European market – the difficulty of tracing the provenance of leather makes it entirely possible that you are in fact wearing a dog or a cat. But you don’t have to travel as far as China to find cruelly produced leather – in European factory farms, animals used for their skins are held in cramped and unnatural conditions, are subjected to mutilations (their tails and teeth are cut without painkillers) and many of them have their throats slit while still conscious.

Photo by Henry Marsh

The environmental damage of animal skins

When you take into account the climate impact of raising cattle, you can’t escape from the fact that leather can never be an eco-friendly choice. A lucrative co-product – not by-product – of the meat industry, leather is responsible for pollution of the waterways and soil, along with fossil fuel use at every stage of the production. Tannery toxicity cannot be overlooked as a hazard to human health – 90% of Bangladesh’s leather workers die before the age of 50 due to exposure to toxic chemicals. Many of those workers are children, and Bangladesh is one of the world’s most prominent leather-producing countries. But from a strictly environmental point of view, “vegetable-tanned” is little more than a useless buzzword, considering that the Kering Environmental Profit & Loss report from 2017 established that 93% of the environmental damage connected to leather production takes place before we even arrive at the tannery stage. 

Photo by Mercedes Cosco

Evelyn Mora: “It’s time to write the next chapter in the fashion industry”

The commitment of Helsinki Fashion Week is the first of its kind – while other Fashion Weeks in Scandinavian countries (such as Oslo Fashion Week) have committed to banning fur, and other events like London Fashion Week are facing public pressure to commit to a ban, Helsinki takes the commitment one step further by refusing to use leather. Founder Evelyn Mora says in an official statement: “It is time to write the next chapter in cross-collaboration in the fashion industry worldwide. We need to innovate and collaborate to create alternatives and commercialise already existing options.”

Photo by Sohvi Kinnunen

In a time where animal skins in fashion are causing controversy and sustainability is more than a buzzword, Helsinki Fashion Week is setting the tone for a brand new era of cruelty-free style. By taking a stand like no one has before, Evelyn Mora and her glam squad of forward-thinking minds are leading by example, and it’s a bold and compassionate one.


Photos courtesy of Helsinki Fashion Week

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Sascha Camilli

Founder and Editor

A passionate changemaker, Sascha Camilli is the founder and editor-in-chief of Vilda Magazine. Born in Moscow and raised in Stockholm, she has also lived in Los Angeles, London, Milan and Florence, before landing in her current hometown of Brighton, UK. She was selected as one of GLAMOUR UK's Most Empowering Nu-Gen Activists and is a frequent public speaker on the topic of vegan fashion and material innovation. Her book Vegan Style is out now on Murdoch Books.

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