I am excited that Josh Katcher has a book in the works about the grisly intersection of fashion and animals. We got a sample of materials he's collected and some of his writings on the subject at the event and the photos are jarring. The slides started out with current-day examples of animals in editorials -- often with a live animal being used in the spread next to clothing made of animals. Or, as Josh words it "whatever item that animal disappeared into" which I think is a great way to describe that practice. The question he asked through all of those magazine spreads featuring both alive and dead animals was, "who do we love...and who do we wear?" And why? You know...how does one animal get pulled through the compulsory fashion machine and end up as a clothing item with all the unseen abuse...and others get hugged, petted, walked, played with and so on?
^ cover of the preview booklet ^
Whenever I see pictures of animals (alive or as apparel in fashion photos, in vintage circus pictures, people riding camels, swimming with the dolphins, as rugs, as trophies, etc) I always think of the animals' experiences. It's why I am such a bummer to be around even if you're showing me a picture from 1950 where a bunch of show cats are dressed up in costume or there's an orangutan in a movie and so on. It's just where my mind goes. I'm hardwired to think about animals. So when I see those fashion spreads with live animals and animal-derived apparel it always dumbfounds me -- because of the very question Josh posed. Why does the magazine or brand think that one animal is adorable or exotic but the other one is fine to be dead and dismembered now, to wear? It seems like you wouldn't even want them in the same picture. Like when people who have pet potbelly pigs get asked if they eat bacon around their pets. But I feel like it happens so often that for the general public there must not be a disconnect. They must not see the dead animal in the picture.
So the really interesting thing about some of the older illustrations and photos in Josh Katcher's collection is the really clear connection between how that dead animal was once alive and dies to make this fashion item. Pictures of dogs with offers to have it made into a hat or a fur muff for a nominal fee. Trading cards featuring the animal on the left, and the coat or accessory that can be made out of it's skin on the right. Full birds, taxidermied, sitting atop society ladies' hats. Stuff that's not all that common any longer. We're much better at divorcing ourselves from the animal's body that makes the clothes nowadays.
^ Josh Katcher addressing the
misinformation that leather is eco-friendly ^
Besides not thinking about that animal's life before it became just a "thing" (the breeding, the housing, the handling, the harvesting, the absence of enrichment or medical treatment and, finally, the method of killing, including transport if not done on-site) we also do a bang up job of not considering that animal's life in the impact that item has on the earth. Many people insist wool or leather is environmentally friendly because it's "natural" and not chemicals -- but a recent study on mink fur vs faux fur shows that mink is 3x worse for the environment than faux fur products, or more. No one seems to want to factor in the resources that come with raising, housing, feeding and dealing with the waste management of animals into that footprint.
While the topic is pretty grim, it was satisfying to hear someone talk about seeing the same thing I do when they look at these images -- to see expired animals and not clothing. To see the whole chain of events and impact and not just the end product. To see the big picture of what happens when animals are used as commodities behind the scenes in the fashion industry's dank underbelly. And to try to thoughtfully posit how others who don't see it as we do might reconcile this information for themselves. What's the narrative for people who love animals but buy leather, wool and fur?
I don't have the answers but I'm glad Josh Katcher is tackling this topic and I look forward to reading his thoughts and seeing what he unearths in his research.