When I started fashion university, I was so far from the person that I would become today. Like many people of university age, I was searching for my true identity – the me who carried a big “Animal Are Not Ours to Use” banner at the London Animal Rights March this year was in there somewhere, but she was overshadowed by the me who melted at the sight of a Gucci Indy bag (remember those?). I still wore leather boots despite being pescatarian, bought my makeup from the big brands without a single thought to animal testing, and allowed myself to buy one new item of clothing every month – as long as my student finance could afford it, I had no other concerns. Environmental impact was the furthest thing from my mind. In theory I was in favour of anything eco-friendly – but I failed to see how my everyday habits and preferences fit into that picture.
Most of my classmates weren’t as into animal rights as I was, but their ambitions when it came to fashion were similar to mine. They coveted leather bags from Louis Vuitton and Gucci. They dreamed of the day when H&M and Primark would open in Florence, where we lived, so we could buy cheap throwaway clothes for a fraction of our monthly budgets and get rid of them after one season. Our main concern was getting the look – and replacing it as soon as the next look came along. We didn’t know where we were going yet, but we knew one thing: we were going to look good while getting there.
I remember once one of my teachers asked if any of us were anti-fur. My hand instinctively shot up. For a few seconds, it was the only raised hand in the classroom. Then, another one was raised. Then another. Then even more. I learned that day that if you dare to speak up, others will often follow.
Last week, I returned to fashion university. Not my own, but another university in a part of the UK that I had never visited before. And this week I got on another train to visit yet another fashion school. I would stand in front of fashion students just like myself ten years ago – only this time I was a guest lecturer, and my lesson was simple: animal skins harm the planet, animals and humans, and there are better ways of setting and following trends.
My lecture includes examples of how animals suffer for fashion and the environmental harm of animal-derived materials, plus the new materials that will replace leather, wool and fur in fashion. My message is clear: the fashion of the future is animal-free.
Fashion students are the designers of the future. They might just be wide-eyed twenty-somethings now, but they will be the ones deciding what we all wear in just a few years, and I believe it’s up to ethical fashion professionals like myself to spread the word about why we all need to change the way that we produce and consume fashion – for the sake of the planet.
Also, if we don’t speak to those students, we cannot ignore the fact that the fur industry will. The organisations that promote fur often arrange competitions for students, offer them materials to use in their collections and otherwise create relationships and bonds with them based on sponsorship and support. It’s crucial that proponents of cruelty-free materials do the same. When I sat down to a coffee with one of the professors who invited me to speak at her university, her feedback was that students are very interested in alternative materials – but have no idea where to find them. It’s high time that the creators of apple leather, orange silk, and coconut wool establish relations with the tastemakers of tomorrow.
I can’t help but imagine how my future would have looked if someone like me would have stepped into the lecture hall at my university and held a guest lecture like the one I presented to these students. If someone would have shown me that a future in fashion without promoting animal skins was possible, I would have turned my career to animal rights and vegan fashion a lot sooner.
I know I won’t change everyone’s mind – but the best I can hope for is to show some of the next generation of trendsetters that respect for the planet is crucial, and the use of animal skins is dated, cruel and unethical, but especially that it is possible to create a successful career for yourself while exploring new, natural and sustainable materials that aren’t made from the bodies of dead animals. The future belongs to those who believe in the safeguarding of our planet, and all that lives on it – and that goes for the fashion industry as well.
This month I am watching…Bohemian Rhapsody! Can’t wait to go.
This month I am listening to…Christmas music. Just try and stop me.
This month I am reading…Guilty Feminist by Deborah Frances-White (loving it!)
This month I am planning…a New Year’s celebration in Paris!