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Fighting tooth and claw for welfare of animals

One privilege of being a fashion category judge of the RSPCA Good Business Awards is that I’ve become aware of just how many issues are involved in creating attractive, animal-ethical clothing.

Obviously fur is incompatible with the RSPCA’s founding principles. There are still factories in China that skin animals alive and it’s almost impossible to trace the provenance of fur. As one of this year’s entrants wrote, “there’s almost a deliberate lack of information by the mainstream fashion industry.” Courtesy of another applicant I discovered that some manufacturers mix dog and cat fur in with their fake fur. Nice.

Then there’s wool. Blameless, or so I used to think. But what about mulesing, the practice of removing flesh from the sheep’s buttocks to prevent fly strike (infestation by fly larvae)? It is still widely practiced in Australia, a major source of the world’s wool and merino wool. This summer, I learned of a new no-no: down (yes, the luxury filler in your duvet and ski jacket). The problem? Live plucking – making sourcing and traceability of feathers another important issue.

You’d think all this would be depressing. It’s certainly sobering. But the biggest plus of these awards is seeing public opinion slowly change. This summer, it was truly thrilling that many of the big players wanted to be part of the awards, which are now in their fifth year, and they’re coming up with some exciting innovations. This is the start of a long journey, but ultimately it’s the big chains that have the power to put animal welfare at the forefront of consumers’ considerations. The other terrific side of all this is the number of small companies who enter, who continue to dedicate their skill, tenacity and imagination to the cause. Power to you all.

  • Lisa Armstrong is fashion editor at The Times and a judge in the fashion category of the RSPCA Good Business Awards

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