The fashion industry is one of the largest in the world and it is at the same time a reflection of society and an agent of socialization capable of influence public opinion and standards. Animal materials are vastly used inside the industry, but the process behind this use and its implications are rarely discussed. Ethics, sustainability, animal well-being are now gaining presence in our society, which is slowly inlfuencing the fashion industry. This topic needs to be explored and analysed, since there is a strong difference between the theories approaching it.


This literature review involves the analysis and research of different authors regarding the use of animals inside the fashion industry. By doing so, it aims to fully understand it, determine if it is a problem and how should it be address. Identify which theories can be a helpful tool for companies and producers that want to follow an ethical and transparent approach towards consumers.


Bárbara Ferreira follows three main strands:

  • The historical evolution of the use of animals as clothing and of the ethical approaches regarding this use.
  • The consequences that it entails for farm and raw materials workers, for the environment and for the fashion industry itself.
  • The way animals are used by the industry, analysing how raw materials are obtained, case studies of how the issue is treated by different companies, the market dynamics and emerging trends linked to the use of animals and the consumer perspectives gathered through interviews.



The literature review analyses five different authors’ publications about the historical beginning of the use of animals and the main ethical theories regarding to animals:

  • Grant, C. (2006). The No-Nonsense Guide to Animal Rights. New Internationalist.
  • Owen, M. (2009). Animals Rights: Noble Cause Or Needless Effort?. Twenty-First Century Books.
  • Plannthin, D. (2016). Green fashion. 2nd ed. Hong Kong: Springer, pp.49 to 123.
  • Roleff, T. and Hurley, J. (1999). The rights of animals. San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press.
  • Tortora, P. (2015). Dress, fashion, and technology. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Barbara Ferreira organises the study of these works around three main questions:

When did humans start to use animals as clothes and when did it become a fashion statement?

What are animal rights and when did they start to interfere with fashion?

How do animals relate to ethics?

This first chapter concludes with the compilation of the drawn conclusions.  The main ones are that:

-The first form of fashion is related to accessories made from animals that were intentionally used, not due to necessity.

-Fashion was first identified during the Middle Ages and was connected to wealth.

-There are clear differences between animal welfare, that allow animal use as long as it don’t violate animal welfare, and animal rights, that advocates for the abolition of any use.

-Animal rights started to interfere in fashion during the late 70’s.

-There are three main theories regarding animal ethics (descriptions from S. Muthu & M. Gardetti, Green fashion vol. 2):

UTILITARIANISM. (Bentham 1748-1832) “Critical with the use of animals but, in practice, allows anything as long as welfare is maximised and does not care about the individual but see them as containers for welfare”.

RIGHT ETHICS. “Rejects all use of animals because it violates their rights not to ebe used as mere means and rather to have their freedom”.

VIRTUE ETHICS.  (eudamonia): “Points out that humans have the responsability to give animals the oppotunity to live a good life and that this can be seen as an expression of the virtues that also help to ensure man a thriving life”.



She continues studying the different ethical viewpoints regarding the use of animals held by the actors inside the fashion industry. Designers, journalists and activists’ positions are clasified into utilitarianism, right ethics and virtue ethics. An example of each one:

UTILITARIANISM. “There is no more honest barometer of public opinion than the cash register. And, as fur sales continue to rise and more and more designers integrate fur into their collections the trends are clear.” (Keith Kaplan, The Business of Fashion, 2015)

RIGHT ETHICS. “Through our sustainability, humanitarian and philanthropic actions, we would like Gucci to not just be synonymous with Made in Italy, but also made with integrity (…) the precise history of the chain of supply, from the birth of the cow to the beautiful final product.”(Gucci Group, about eco-ethical bags) 

VIRTUE ETHICS. “Isn’t the year 2015 an odd time for fur to be such a major trend? Aren’t we a bit too enlightened? Fur production often involves animal cruelty, not to mention environmentally harmful processes. Its growing presence in the luxury market just doesn’t jibe with our era’s emphasis on social and ecological consciousness.” (David Dietz, founder of Modavanti, 2015)


This chapter puts the focus on something that, despite its importance, has been poorly explored, the effect of the use of animals on the life of the workers.


What are the psychological consequences of being obliged to deal with the killing of animals on a daily basis?

The thesis refers here to an interview done to an exemployee of a Spanish mink farm by Animal Equality. He claims that workers need to adjust to the process until it becomes bearable. He explains that the brutality of workers towards animals, including situations where the animals are skinned alive (…) can be justified by the use of drugs during working hours. According to the source, in case of diseases, employees would kill the animals by placing them alive in plastic bags, and no medical care was ever provided.

The review goes on to quote the results of an undercover investigation conducted by PETA to American and Australian wool producers that revealed a similar situation of animal abuse and also identified the psycological state of employees as the core of the problem. PETA recently created a campaign to encourage farmers to conduct drug tests to their employees to improve animal and human life conditions.

What are the physical consequences of working with animal materials?

Inside the leather industry, for example, workers are exposed to toxic gases, unsafe water, and dangerous machinery.

Employees from tanneries lack laws and regulations to protect their rights and interests, and most are liable to get in contact with chemicals such as lime, tanning liquor, acids, solvents or chromium that, when inhaled, create lung irritation, obstruction in the airways and can increase the chances of developing cancer, asthma, bronchitis or pharyngitis, among others. When in contact with skin, chromium can cause erosive ulceration and allergic dermatitis.



This chapter starts pointing out a premise held by the authors of Green Fashion, Xenya Cherny-Scanlon and Kristin Agnes: the fashion industry is one of the least regulated and unsus­tainable industries and although the growing social conscience and demand of transparency, no new regulations have been developed to control certain brands, which has led to an abuse, overuse and mistreat of resources. Two main questions arise from this premise:

Is fashion suffering from the consequences of its own mistakes? The production of fashion products with animal materials is often associated with the over breeding of a certain animal, organic and toxic waste and extreme use of resources. The role fashion plays in environmental problems limits its capacity to evolve.

Are humans able to risk the planet for fashion products? Consumers need to become conscious of the pollution fashion industry is causing in order to make wiser decisions in the future. Not giving the full spectrum to consumers inhibits change and puts in risk the life of thousands of people and future generations.

Companies, organisations and researchers have not been providing the most accurate infor­mation for consumers, which increase misinformation regarding how damaging certain products actually are. These corporations want the subject to be so private, that their actions give the idea of premedi­tated actions designed to cover malpractices.

From that starting point, the chapter goes through specific data about what and to what extend environmental destruction is done by the fashion industry.


Due to the overconsumption of products derived from livestock and the increased growth of human population, industries have been struggling with the lack of land to grow, feed and kill these animals. This makes animals to be confined in deplorable conditions and limits change towards a more ethical treatment. The fashion industry uses certain exotic endangered species as well, which corrupts eco­systems.

”Livestock production uses one-third of the world’s fresh water and the 30% of world’s ice-free surface, the developing world accounts the 75% of the global emissions from cattle and other ruminants and the 56% of the global emissions from poultry and pigs” (Walsh, 2016).


One the most important environmental problems. It is defined by “the persistent degradation of dryland ecosystems by human activities”. This includes farming, mining, overgraze -“Too many animals in a specific space for too long and during wrong seasons”,, 2016-, and clear-cutting of land -when trees are uniformly cut down-.

The UN predicts that at least 50 million people may be displaced during the following ten years due to desertification. It also sug­gests that through reforestation, water management and soil treatment, the issue could be resolved. (, 2016).


Factory farming releases over 400 different toxic gases. Sustainable Table states that the main ones are hydrogen sulphide, methane-ammonia and carbon dioxide, which are related to global warming and health problems (NRDC, 2016).

“Illegal discharge of waste in clean water and soil also increases the risk for humans and animals. Nitric oxides are released in large quantities from farms and are among the leading causes of acid rain. The gases in livestock facilities can also pose other risks to workers; methane, for example, is highly flammable.” (GRACE, 2016).


The fashion industry also has been facing certain problems when it comes to the control of species. For instance, goats are one of the least rentable animals due to their tendency to graze the soil and damage crops with their paws.  Certain animals do not provide the results in the short time that the industry expects, leading to unethical practices such as mulesing.



One of the most polluting facilities owned by the fashion industry. Leather, fur and feathers are treated with chemicals such as lime paste, chrome or acids. The majority of fashion brands have closed many European, Japanese and Amer­ican tanneries and run this process in countries where labour is cheaper, which led to the opening of unregulated tanneries that contaminate the water and soil of these re­gions. (Plannthin, 2016).

“A large portion of the world’s tanning industry operates in low- and middle-income countries. Many of them are clustered together, creating heavily polluting industrial areas in many countries. In Hazaribagh, for example—a region of Bangladesh that has over 200 tanneries—it is estimated that 7.7 million litres of wastewater and 88 million tons of solid waste are disposed of on annually. (…) South Asia, and in particular India and Pakistan, has the highest number of tanning industries, with South America also at risk of large populations being exposed to chromium contamination.” (Worst Polluted, 2011)

So, being a biodegradable and renewable resource is not sufficient to claim that fur is eco-friendly, since, against faux fur, real one requires a toxic dyeing process, much more energy and produces enormous quantities of animal waste. Even so, it can be more sustainable than faux fur. Made from petroleum-based materials, the cruelty-free version of fur is unsustainable, since it re­quires gallons of petrol for a small quantity of product, is not biodegradable or durable, and requires a number of unsafe and toxic chemicals. (McCutcheon, 2013)

Another material that has been considered sustainable is wool, but its overuse of resources is already conditioning its own and other industries’ growth. A typical scouring facility can consume up to half million litres of water per day. (Beven, 1999). This water becomes highly polluted with chemicals and is disposed of in the environ­ment. (O ECOTEXTILES, 2009)


The third part of the thesis investigates the relationship between the animals and the fashion industry, how are they used, treated and showed by the different actors of the fashion industry? This issue is commonly not a discussed subject and most consum­ers are unversed of the process behind their clothes and accessories.


The first chapter of this part explores the different materials -leather, fur, wool, feathers and silk- that animals can become and the ways they are used inside the industry, including being used as props in photo shoots and films.


-The most common animals used are foxes, rabbits, minks, chinchillas and otters.

-Most of the fur is obtained through farming. We Are Fur, dedicated to the pro­motion of the industry, claims that although countries have different laws, international regulations prohibit animal cruelty and ensure minimal care such as “cage size and enrichment” and “a personalised humane slaughter”. According to this source, fur-farming “provides an efficient use of animal by-products” since it feeds the animals with food inadequate for human consumption and after slaughter  the animals can be used for other farming industries, biofuel or oil, and cosmetics. (WeAreFur, 2016)

Europe holds 58% of the fur farming around the world.

-The big volume of production reflects the different needs of the industry. Depending on the animal used, a different quantity of animals will be required.

-The fur industry sales have increased significantly in a short period of time.

-The legal methods used in the slaughter of these animals are gassing with carbon monoxide and anal electrocution, causing painful cardiac arrest without the animal being fully unconscious. (Humane Society International, 2011)

-Most of the wild animals hunted for their fur do not die immediately from the traps or hunting methods and become seriously injured, some try to escape by amputating a limb. Hunters also suggest shooting animals in the face or gut not to damage the fur, which create extreme pain if it doesn’t kill immediately. The steel-jaw trap is banned in some countries, but is still a favourite method in Canada, USA and Russia. (Plannthin, 2016)


-Leather is the most important and used animal skin.

-The leather industry relies on animals such as calf, buffalo, hides, sheep, deer and kangaroo.

-Some exotic and endangered species –mainly snakes, lizards, crocodiles and elephants- nearly went extinct due to the high demand for their hide. The list of animals use by the leather industry also includes frogs, sharks, dolphins, camels, mules, cats and birds. (Plannthin, 2016)

-The industry global trade value is approximately 100 billion U.S. dollars per year. (UNIDO, 2010)

-A large number of consumers from developed countries owns at least one ac­cessory made of leather. (Plannthin, 2016)

-Hides are portrayed as a luxury material, being more expensive than products made of synthetic materials.



-The meat and dairy industries are the fuel of leather, providing for over 95% of its raw materials. The consumption of meat and dairy is increasing due to the growth of the population. More population means that more space is required for people to live. These people also have other basic needs that rely mostly on products of animal origin. To grow these products, sufficient land is needed to inhabit the an­imals and grow food for them. So, this growth both promotes and threatens meat and leather industries, since most areas around the world have already been exploited. (UNIDO, 2010)

-The number of chemical processes that raw leath­er has to go through makes the material to lose all of its “sustainable” natural and organic properties.



-Has always been used by several cultures as a personal adornment, and until today does not hold any relevant function besides decoration and warmth.

-Animals such as ostrich, peacocks, doves, geese and turkeys are some of the few species that have been involved in the feathers trade.

-During the late 19th century and beginning of 20th century, feathers were one of the biggest trends among women. The demand of the material led to the creation of farms, where birds were bread and plucked alive.

-Unfortu­nately, nowadays a percentage of the world’s supply derives from birds plucked alive. The plucking of feathers is painful and damaging for the animal. The animals go through this process every six weeks. The brutality in which these feathers are plucked can lead to serious wounds that are usually taken care off without anaesthesia and dirty materials.

Synthetic feathers and feathers derived from a by-product of the poultry are considered ethical and more acceptable and are used in the lifestyle and fashion industries, but, although new measures are being implemented, the the of lack of regulation, vigilance, record and proper labelling makes it impossible for the consumer to determine the origin of the feathers. (Plannthin, 2016)

-Another considerable issue that the industry needs to address is the illegal trade of feathers from endangered species. Strict measures and laws are applied regarding more than 1000 species, which helps companies to choose the most appropriate ones.


-Wool fibre production involves shaving, washing and yarning of the fibre.

-Wool is known for its qualities such as moisture absorption, warmth, water resistance and durability. Any man-made fibre created so far has been unable to be as beneficial as wool. (Plan­nthin, 2016)

There is not a global orga­nization that tries to regulate and control the different processes and conducts. Animal rights organisations have pressured the industry to address the main problems and create parameters for what it is ecological wool. (Plannthin, 2016)

© Patty Mark / ALV

-One of the biggest issues that animal right activists address is mulesing (“the cutting of flaps of skin from the breech and tail of the lamb with a scalping to create an area of bare and stretched skin”), a painful method used to prevent infections that is carried out without anesthesia. Selective breeding and modification to overproduce make the animal unable to shed its fleece, which can provoke death from heat exhaustion, and make them completely dependent on humans, which leads to mulesing. (Plannthin, 2016)

-When compared to leather and fur industries, wool is considered more ethical, since it does not involve killing. Although this makes the practice of extracting wool ethical, not all companies use wool that derives from farms where animals are treated correctly.

-The demand for organic wool is rising, but, apart from the possible mistreat of animals, the main question that arises in this situation is if there is an actual need for so much wool since a large number of humans doesn’t live in so low temperatures. (Plannthin, 2016)


-Although silk doesn’t usually come to somebody’s mind when thinking about animal materials, it has a great importance in costume and fashion history, being first produced in China during the Neolithic period, inside the Yangshao culture.

-Apart from the most known species, the Bombyx Mori, other animals such as spiders also produce silk. Silk from spi­ders is used in telescopes, weapons, and optical instruments. (, 2016)

-Sericulture consists of the mix of ancient and modern techniques that are de­pendent on the metamorphosis of these insects.

Silkworm On Stick (Cooper, 2012)

-Due to the extensive breeding of Bombyx Mori, it is believed that the moth is not able to survive in the wild since it has lost its ability to fly.

-The techniques used consist on placing the cocoons in hot air, steam or boiling water in order for the silkworm to die without damaging the silk thread. After that, the thread goes through a series of processes to obtain the fabric known as silk. (, 2016)

-Each cocoon produces very small amounts of raw silk, and the industry requires at least 2500 silkworms to pro­duce approximately 500 grams of silk. (Plannthin, 2016)


-The use of animals as props is probably the topic with less awareness but it has a huge impact, since it employs animals to hide the animal cruelty behind the and focus on what is attractive and pleasant for consumers’ conscience, which turns these commercials into an exercise of hypocrisy and lack of transparency.

-When researching the topic, the sources available are very limited, only a few articles and some independent petitions against magazines can be found.

-Christina M. Russo explores the subject in an article entitled Why are so many animals in fashion ads? In which she writes that humans have a natural attraction for anything unusual, prohibited and dangerous, and certain animals fall into these categories.

-Joshua Katcher, the editor of the ethical blog The Discerning Brute, explains for the article that this use is not just aesthetic, but designed to trigger emotions in consumers. (Russo, 2014)

Natalia Vodianova in a Paco Rabanne fur coat in Numéro #37, October 2002 (photo: Jean Baptiste Mondino, styling: Franck Benhamou)

-PETA’s media department claims in the same article that “Many wild animals used by the entertainment industry—including great apes, elephants, and large cats— usually live in deplorable conditions in animal-training compounds and are routinely beaten or shocked during training sessions. Even the best-known trainers are frequently cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for violating the federal Animal Welfare Act, which establishes only minimal guidelines for animal care.”

-It is up to brands and fashion magazines to show the truthful side of the issue. Animals that are proper taken care of should be the only ones being used, to ensure that companies are not supporting trainers and organisations with malpractices.

-Studies by Stephen Ross with chimpanzees have shown that majority of people thought that these animals were not endangered since they often appear on commercials. Magazines and brands should notify consumers about the species situation, give more value to the animal, and not simply use it as an object.


The review continues with the case study of three brands – Stella McCartney, H&M and Hermès- to understand if brands are willing to make an ethical change or a sustainable one. If a brand chooses to change ethically, this means that by no chance animal materials will be used. In the other hand, if a brand is changing due to environmental reasons, this can be a consequence of the global “green” trends (veganism, organic, fair-trade), and a total abstinence of animal materials may not be necessary.

F/W 2015 Campaing (Stella McCartney, 2015)

Founded: United Kingdom, 2001

Segment: Premium


-Stella McCartney is one of the few vegetarian brands inside the luxury universe. The company does not use fur, feathers or leather and does not conduct any type of animal testing. It is committed to keeping animal materials usage to the minimum, except for wool and silk.

-It is committed not just to ethics, but also to sustainability, taking into consideration the consequences of the overproduction of animal products.

-In their website they provide data regarding the negative impact that meat and leather production have on the environment, the different toxic chemicals used for the treatment of leather and the risksboth for people and the planet. (McCartney, 2016)

-The development of sustainable alternatives is a complex process. The brand uses materials free of PVC (most damaging plastic), usually mixing natural and synthetic fibres. Due to the limited development of this industry, more than 50% of a product, needs to be produced manually. (McCartney, 2016)

-The company is aware that both leather and synthetic are equal when it comes to damaging the planet, but its commitment to use renewable and natural sources is clear:

Eco Alter Nappa is an alternative to leather made with vegetable oil, enabling the brand to use less petroleum.

-Most of the polyester used in Stella McCartney’s products come from recycled plastic.

Bioplastics, based on plants of non-food sources that do not cause “land conversion”, are also commonly used. (McCartney, 2016)

Fur Free Fur (Stella McCartney, 2016)

Founded: 1947, Sweden

Segment: Mass Market


-On the official website, H&M explains the partnership with different associations or organisations to achieve its sustainable goals. In partnership with Textile Exchange, Control union, Humane Society International and other brands, H&M is improving its standards and ensuring traceability on their wool products, sourcing feathers from farms that do not practice live-plucking or force-feeding, and using leather only from animals that have been bred for meat consumption.

-H&M also provides a list of other policies regarding the use of animal materials and their welfare:

-The brand does use real fur in any products.

-H&M prohibited the use of hair from angora rabbits (a very polemic material due to live plucking).

-The wool sourced for H&M does not come from farms that practice mulesing.

-The company does not sell skins from exotic or endangered species.

-The Conscious Fashion collection uses either organic or recycled animal materials. Both leather and silk are organic and sourced from farms where animals are not fed any hormones and have a fair life. The line also includes pieces made from recycled wool.


Founded: France, 1837

Segment: Luxury


-Hermès is one of the leading luxury brands and it is specialised in high-quality accessories.

-Still holds a strong connection with its essence and roots: equitation. The horse, an animal that is loved and owned by a certain class of people, gave the possibility for the brand to be developed and grow. (Les Ailes d’Hermès, 2016)

-Although Hermès launched and developed apparel collections, the high-quality leather products were the key point to make the brand unique. (The Richest, 2016)

-Since leather craftsmanship is part of Hermès DNA, the use of different types of skins and animal materials is highly prominent for the company.

F/W 2014 (Hermès, 2014)

Provides less information about how the materials are sourced and what actions are practised regarding sustainability. A complementary source –a stockist store that sells the products of the brand- will also assist in completing the list, but it must be taken into consideration that Hermès does not publicly share a full list of all the materials, and how these are sourced

Silk (silkworm), calfskin (young calf), mohair (angora goat), cashmere (goats) merino wool (merino sheep), standard wool, crocodile skin (saltwater crocodile and Nile crocodile), goatskin, rabbit, lambskin (young lamb), buffalo horn, alligator skin, horsehair, ostrich skin, young bull leather, mature cow leather, goose feathers, lizard skin (Nile monitor lizard), fur. (Bragmybag, 2014)

In the annual report from 2014, there is a whole chapter dedicated to sustainability. The brand displays extensive information on how the main commitment is to reduce water waste and energy, and which sectors of the brand use more resources. The graphic from the brand demonstrates that the largest consumption of resources comes from textiles, leather goods and tanning. (HERMÈS 2014 ANNUAL REPORT, 2015)

But when it comes to explaining what measures are applied to the animals used, the information is scarce. The brand assures that it obeys the intended laws regulating the use of endangered species; and that their sheep and cowhides only come from Europe. No more information apart from the stated is available.

Hermès also included recently a new project called Petit H that aims to reuse of all the storage materials from previous years, to produce new products.

Hermès shows a mismatch between word and deed. The brand old and strong relation with equitation does not connect with the use of animal skins and hair. One could argue that the brand always used leather and that the main focus was always on the rider, and not on the horse, but this idea will soon be in conflict with social awareness and the evolution of perspective. This can be seen in the design of the official online shop, the image on the right, for example, where cows wear earrings made of buffalo horn as eyes, show the extreme disconnection between the animal and the object.

Hermès Jewelry Campaign

Both, mass-market and luxury brands, heavily use animal materials. But is there any difference in how they use it? This chapter exposes data to answer this question.

-Regarding production, it is difficult to make a definitive statement. The lack of sources that give proof of which market uses more animal materials limits the possibilities. Through analysing the largest producers of the cattle herd, it is possible to determine that countries such as India, Brazil and China lead the market. Fast-fashion brands usually source their products on countries where labour is cheaper while luxury brands source their products based on the necessity. Hermès for instance, sources their cattle skins from Europe.

-With this small analysis, it is possible to presume that mass-market brands produce more leather products, since it sources most materials from the countries of higher cattle herd production, and have a wider consumer base to assist, meaning the overproduction of leather. Additionally, luxury brands use a wider variety of animals and play a heavy role in the fur industry.

-When it comes to wool, Mass-market brands such as H&M and Inditex prohibited the use of wool from angora rabbits and from sheep that go through mulesing. Due to the lack of information about how most materials are sourced in the luxury market, it is difficult to affirm that luxury brands sourced from ethical farms that ensure animal safety. Angora and cashmere are highly used by this market.

-Both industries use animals as one of their main materials. Although mass-market only uses certain animals, the production of fast fashion products is higher. Both markets are unethical and unsustainable as long as animals are still incorporated in their products. Even though the number of animals used is lower inside the luxury industry, there is still a chance for them to be quite similar. Considering that luxury brands produce articles that follow high standards, some might require a higher number of animals, due to patterning or design.

-The main divergence are the types of materials used. Inside the luxury market, the use of exotic skins such as crocodile and ostrich is something ordinary, while mass-market brands use skins that come from animals that are domesticated and slaughtered for food.

-Apart from a small number of luxury brands that abstain from this practice, most companies use fur in products. Inditex, like H&M, do not sell the material and is involved with associations that aim to protect the animals involved and abolish the practice. (, 2016)

Luxury brands give little information about the use of animals. Both Prada and Hermès, for example, only mention the use of animal materials on annual or social responsibility reports. Mass-market brands manage to provide more detailed and clear information on the used materials. The information is also easily found on corporate websites. In addition, luxury brands do not refer to “animal welfare” or any concept of the sort, like mass-market brands. They talk about “sustainable use of raw materials” or “preserving biodiversity”.

-While fast fashion brands try to inform the consumers, luxury brands keep a more neutral position. The information is available for the consumer that it is willing to know and research, yet the lack of involvement with transparency makes the statements regarding an ethical use of animals incredible.


Nowadays, most people are aware of the vast list of environmental issues affecting Earth’s biodiversity and ecosystem. With the rapid access to information, consumers have more accessibility to know and learn about the brands they purchase from. What is the consumer perspective on the use of animals?

A report on consumer trends regarding sustainability shows specific data about what consumers are looking for in brands and how they are dealing with sustainability. This data applies to all products and sectors: (SolarCity and Clean-Edge, 2013)

  • 72% of consumers want to learn more about corporate sustainability initiatives.
  • 75% of consumers would be more likely to buy a product or service if the company is making an effort to be sustainable.
  • 82% of consumers are more likely to purchase a product that represents Corporate Social Responsibility than one that does not.
  • The majority of consumers have a strong interest in sustainability and “green” products and want more information.
  • The majority of consumers indicate they’re unwilling to pay more for green.
  • Given a choice between green and non-green products of similar quality, consumers choose green by a large margin.
  • The younger generation is showing even stronger green consumption trends.
  • There is strong interest by consumers in green products but also strong scepticism.
  • Consumer action is unpredictable. Attitudes don’t always translate into purchase decisions when it comes to green products and services.
  • There are big information and awareness gaps with regard to new technology and products.
  • Social media and online reviews are creating a heightened level of brand transparency, an opportunity for reward or punishment from consumers.

Is possible to see a change in consumer behaviour when it comes to the use of animals as well. For example, in the Labour Behind the Label website, a press release titled EU citizens demand transparent and fair production of shoes and leather explains that European consumers “want more transparency in the supply chains of shoe and leather industries, strict criteria for incoming goods and better information provided by labels on our shoes” (Labour Behind the Label, 2016)

-This new approach can have a huge influence. If the demand is a transparent approach, brands might need to be truthful regarding the real impact that the production of leather has in its employees and environment. This could lead to different scenarios: from the demand of leather goods dropping to the exclusive use of brands that are actually sustainable and ethical. Brands need to adapt to the situation.

-In the U.K. over a period of ten years, the number of vegans has increased more than 360%, around half-million people (Quinn, 2016).

-Certain brands are reacting. The most recent and popular situation was with Armani, that just recently quit fur in all its fashion clothing and accessories lines. The brand explained that the pressure of animal activist groups and the increase of social and sustainable responsibility helped in taking the decision. (the Guardian, 2016)

-The pressure from animal rights activists and organizations is growing and with a deeper and more intelligent strategy. The animal rights organisation, PETA, has recently purchased shares from both Hermès and Prada, in order to have access to annual meetings. (The Fashion Law, 2016). It will give the opportunity for animals to have a voice inside the brand, and influence a more ethical behaviour. (Wahba, 2015)

-The research of alternative and sustainable materials that have similar properties as the animal version is a growing trend, both for consumers and brands. For instance, leather made from tea is a new sustainable possibility. Fake fur, for example, is less sustainable than real fur, but if the fake material is from natural or reusable materials, it has more value. This specific market still needs to be highly explored and developed, but if the demand grows, an increase of substitutes for animal materials is possible.


The demand for fashion products made from animal materials increases annually. Not only leather and wool, but other materials, such as fur, have been performing positively into the market.

In the case of fur, for example, there are different factors that influenced the increase in demand. The anti-fur movement lost its credibility from the moment its vocal leaders started to wear fur again, such as supermodel Naomi Campbell. Other celebrities and role models to the consumer (millennial generation) such as Kate Moss, Rihanna, Cara Delevingne also wear fur. Not only celebrities influenced consumers to accept fur again, but it also became more available (Licata, 2014). In 2014, 70% of designers used fur on their runway shows. (Fisher, 2014)

A study conducted by YouGov also revealed that only 58% consumers between the ages of 18 and 24 years believe that wearing and buying fur is incorrect. Fur companies have also been sponsoring competitions for fashion students, by supplying all the materials required (Licata, 2014).

In certain situations, consumers find a lack of transparency and labelling regulations from brands. Kit and Ace had recently a scandal with the use of fur from raccoon dog (animal from canine family). The brand responded by denying all the accusations (CBC News, 2015). Customers were unsatisfied:

Consumer 1: “I will support a #Boycott until your fashions are animal fur free. The activist community will also spread the word far and wide. Please do the right thing.”

Consumer 2: “Whether or not the raccoon dog is a raccoon (which it is not) or a canine (which it is) is beside the point. A quick google search will show videos of these animals being skinned alive in China. I don’t believe for a second you ethically source your products.” (McSheffrey, 2015)


To support this research, Bárbara Ferreira conducted seven interviews with different fashion consumers between the ages of 20 and 25 years old.

In order to have a wider perspective, two different interviews were as­sembled, the first for interviewees that wear and support a lifestyle that uses animals or people that follow a lifestyle that ensures minimal animal suffering and the second for interviewees that follow or try to follow a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Both interviews include eighteen questions that focus on themes such general buying behaviour, lifestyle and choices or awareness about the industry. Below you can read a summary of some of these questions. 


-Some consumers go shopping from one to three times every month.

-Others buy less, usually every two months or during sales seasons not having a specific buying pattern.

-The rest are not impulsive when buying, and strictly do it when in need of a certain item.


-Most consum­ers were unable to give a concrete answer.

-The two consumers that follow a vegan and vegetarian lifestyle are not truly aware of the brands that they purchase from, only having a general idea about a specific topic, such as child labour or low wages. Interviewee Filipa complained about the lack of transparency from brands, and the lack of information available, which difficult the process.

-Two other consumers admit that they have a general idea about the fashion industry, but that they cannot speak for individual or specific brands.

-The last group of interviewees consider themselves aware of brand’s actions, due to social or pro­fessional reasons and are aware of the unethical conditions and pollution production.



-Four interviewees follow or try to follow a green trend. Two consumers follow a vegetarian and vegan lifestyle, for ethical, environmental and personal rea­sons.

Andrea follows a vegan lifestyle. “There should be a way where peo­ple explain veganism in a more in-depth way because I think right now people don’t take it seriously, they make fun of it… Is for the better not for worse, so I don’t know why they make fun of it.”.

Despite the fact that some interviewees follow a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, they still own products that are made from animals and wear them occasionally. The only consumer that ab­stains the possibility of ever buying animal products again is Filipa.

Joana and Andrea state that although they try to avoid it, they haven’t fully commit to this lifestyle. They tend to buy animal-free products, but make exceptions when it is a very desired product or for a “special occasion”.

The rest of interviewees state that they do not follow any of this greens trends and state that they all wear animal products, having a preference for leather, and using fur or wool more occasionally. In conclusion, all of the interviewees own leather accesso­ries (shoes and bags) and most of them also own fur or leather outerwear (coats, jackets and vests). Wool is also found in interviewees’ sweaters and jackets.

Natalia: “(…) I’m not a follower of any of these trends. (…) Because for example H&M sells organic cotton products, but it’s incoherent, as producing 1,000 tons of organic cotton products is also contaminating (…) and they are not providing good working con­ditions even though they say so. Also, Whole Foods sells “organic” and “fair trade” products and recently an article came out proving that their products are not organic and so on. Therefore, I think that these trends are kind of a “lie” and marketing strategies (…), because in the world we live on now, unfortunately, it is impossible to be 100% sustainable as there are billions of people so production needs to be in mass, making it inevitable to contaminate or affect the ecosystem.”


Since both interviewees mostly consume fast fashion brands, they do own clothing and accessories that are made without animal products. The materials that the interviewees are aware of are linen, polyester, and cotton, and do not have any preference.


Seems low. Filipa: “I actually have no idea how the things are sourced or manufactured. I don’t think I have a clue. I could try to say something, but I’m very misinformed about this. (…) companies are not transparent about it.”

This lack of knowledge also applies to sustainability. Both consumers were unable to affirm that they have knowledge about the environmental impact of man-made materials.


Both consumers hope that the fashion industry takes measures in the future and reduces the use of animals. Filipa: “(…) this industrialization needs to be rethought for the future, for sure, because the generation now is completely different. (…) And it will change. People want to know what they are eating, what’s behind the fashion industry, all the products that they buy. They want to see transparency in companies and maybe it’s just me, but I see it as a generational problem. I hope that this will happen.”


Filipa: “I would say, just stop using that fur, it looks stupid. But it’s like, just think about it when you buy something. Go watch the video about Bangladesh, go watch a video on YouTube, try to educate yourself, and then, after you see those things, go do your shopping.”

Joana: “Don’t eat animals. Reduce your shopping, and buy fake leather next time. Research about what is happening, because we all need to keep informed.”



-João feels fierce, powerful, warm and fabulous.

-Natalia feels a sense of exclusivity, when wearing materials such as fur or crocodile.

-Ricardo demonstrated a neutral position: “There are no feelings that I can possibly have while wearing these products. I can’t feel an animal through a material, and I don’t even think about it when I get dressed. If our consciousness were absolutely analytic, it would be impossible to exist in the world.” 



All interviewees generally disagree that animal products are ethical, but there is still a belief that culture and history can justify these practices. Since humans have been using such materials for thousands of years, and culture and beliefs can be hard to change.


three consumers demonstrate a general awareness. Natalia: “Yes, I know the process is really mean and shocking and the animal suffers a lot as I’ve seen videos where people ripped off the skin from the animal while they are alive and then leave them skinless on the floor to death. But it is something I try to avoid on my mind.” 

Interviewees think that the use of leather is ethical, considering it is a by-product of the meat industry. The death of the animal, or wearing the product are not the main issue, but the poor conditions for animals and unstainable ways of production.

When it comes to the use of endangered species, most consumers are not fully aware of how the industry works and don’t fully support this practice. Consumers believe that the animals in question should be preserve and protected. 

Consumers don’t agree that the use of the animals is sustainable. Ricardo: “ The consumption is undue, is too big, the industry follows wrong con­ducts and ideas. (…) even sustainability is involved in the propaganda of capitalism’s web and corrosive reality”.

Greta: “Some players are trying to embrace the con­cept of sustainability, however (…) sustainability should be incorporated into the core of businesses and their managements, as all processes and activities should follow the same vision of accomplishing a sustainable impact (…).”


The consumers are asked to watch a video produced by VICE titled Toxic Tanneries Poisoning Workers in Bangladesh, and give their opinion. The video explores the damaging effects that tanneries have in India, and in the communities involved.

Natalia – “Watching this video made me realize the horror that is happening in the fashion industry. (…) I don’t think that the use of animals is something extremely bad, the negative aspect of it is the conditions in which such products are made. (…) It is horrible to think that brands cannot increment maybe a 10% of their budgets to provide employees with proper conditions, the proper uniform to protect their skin and their health, and the proper medical treatment for them not to get intoxicated. (…) What I’m trying to say here is that (…) if they are willing to do so, they can.”

Filipa – “I was completely shocked because I had no idea how Bangladesh ac­tually looked like. This information should be in front of everyone’s eyes before they buy leather. Well, I think brands could take action because it is hard to believe that this is the only way of making a profitable product.”

Greta – “After watching this video I truly feel some kind guilt for purchasing animal-related products, however, I fell even worse when thinking about the horrible conditions that all those people are liv­ing in, especially while risking their health and lives to simply survive. The fact is that, as consumers, most of the time we are not aware of the process behind the product. If we were, we would be more conscious of our purchasing decisions.”

Ricardo – “This situation is absolutely catastrophic and heart-breaking. I’m absolutely aware and conscious of this reality that makes me feel shameful and wish it has never happened. For me, it is absolutely absurd, and humanity keeps a hypocrite position, destroying itself and the planet. Even though I can’t change the world, for me is still essential to be conscious of reality and to contribute with what I can”.

Joana – “This is terrible and sad. This is why the industry needs to reduce its production and balance it. Producing so much only in one place destroys the land and the people. I hope more people see this video. I hope the industry takes measures quickly.”

Andrea – “People think that they are only going to help animals. That’s why many people say “I eat meat, why don’t wear animals”, but I think it is because they don’t see that is not only damages the animals, but it damages the employees, the people. And if they knew more about this, because making this kind of products involves a lot of chemicals, I think it would be a way of making the fashion industry more sustainable. Making this known to the world, because people are dying because of this.”

João – “It’s ridiculous, this process and this new form of slavery. Those acts need to stop.”


Barbara Ferreira (Portugal, 1994) graduated  from Fashion Marketing and Communication (BA) in 2016.