What do you think of when you hear the phrase, “eco-fashion?” Supermodels that would “rather go naked than wear fur?” Perhaps the latest line of vegan clothing or shoes, or something made entirely out of hemp? You might be surprised to find out that eco-fashion was around long before tie-dyed tees and tire tread shoes; in fact, one of the oldest environmental non-profits was formed as a reaction to the outrage over using animals for fashion. In Redefining Eco‘s mini-series about fashion… we talk about the traditional use of animals for clothing, and discuss trending earth-friendly styles in the fashion world – after all, our sense of style is constantly evolving… shouldn’t the runways keep up with our fashion demands instead of the other way around?
Part One: Birds and their Feathers
In the late 1890s the American Ornithologists’ Union estimated that five million birds were killed annually for the fashion market. In fact, by the end of the 1800s, whole birds – not just their feathers – were used in dresses and hats. As a reaction to the carnage taking place in the fashion industry, the National Audubon Society, formed in 1905, worked tirelessly to inspire the New York State Audubon Plumage Law and other state laws to ban the sales of plumes of all native birds in the United States without a permit.
The “plume boom” wasn’t just a fashion craze in America. An exhibit in the Fashioning Feathers installation at the Royal Alberta Museum states that:
“(around 1901-1910) 14, 362, 000 pounds of exotic feathers were imported into the United Kingdom at a total valuation of £19, 923, 000. A single 1892 order of feathers by a London dealer (either a plumassier or a milliner) included 6,000 bird of paradise, 40,000 hummingbird and 360,000 various East Indian bird feathers.”
Unfortunately the use of birds and their feathers are still en vogue. In 2011, Jean Paul Gaultier rocked the runway sporting feathers plucked from chickens, swans, turkeys, pheasants and ostriches. “Feather extensions” are gleaned from roosters bred specifically for their plume and are slaughters and skinned for their fashionable tail feathers after spending their short lives crammed in cages. The National Audubon Society states that:
“One farm in Colorado reportedly kills around 1,500 roosters per week for hairpieces, and the farm says it still can’t keep up with demand.”
Fortunately, there are options for those that choose to stay fashionable but feather-free. Stay tuned to Redefining Eco in the upcoming weeks as we delve into the various ways that styles and designers has evolved over the years to become more eco-fashionable, as well as highlight humane and environmentally friendly options for your wardrobe.