A slew of positive headlines sprouted this morning after online fashion giant ASOS announced it will ban silk, cashmere, down and feathers from the garments it sells by the end of January next year.
Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) immediately said it applauded Asos for "leading the charge for compassion in fashion", adding "this is how you make change for animals". This is partially true and a good start, but not the full picture.
Here's why I'm not completely sold.
Happy silkworms, dead fish
While this move is good for some animal species, in my opinion we're conveniently forgetting many others that suffer for our love of fast fashion.
ASOS is not replacing silk and cashmere with cotton, linen or hemp (these fabrics are not always ethically produced either, but that's another story).
ASOS knows there's a cheaper option for fast fashion — plastic fabric. And ASOS is one of the Goliaths of plastic clothing.
Don't believe me? Head to ASOS now and have a browse. I challenge you to find a dress or pair of women's trousers (or anything other than underwear and socks) that isn't made of plastic. Not even the expensive stuff is exempt.
As a person who is fond of clothing and animals, I have watched the rise and rise of polyester, nylon and viscose with growing dismay.
PR moves like this can lead people to think that their rayon dress from ASOS is somehow ethical, but I argue that that's not the case.
FYI: synthetic fabrics are not only horrible to wear (polyester really doesn't breathe), but they shed microfibres that end up in the ocean via the waste water from our laundry every time we wash them.
Washing a single garment can add more than 1900 fibres to waste water, according to recent research.
Fish and other aquatic animals eat these microplastics, and are sentenced to a cruel death from starvation. The microplastics never dissolve and can remain in the ocean forever.
Microplastic affects the fish at a cellular level, causing cell damage and inflammation. The fibers often bind to chemical pollutants, making them toxic. And when we eat fish the microfibers end up in us.
ASOS are also certified carbon neutral, although this is not the complete picture.
The largest consumer-facing database of brands, Good on You, report that ASOS don't count the use of hazardous chemicals in the production of materials, nor the ongoing impact of their clothing in the world, towards their "carbon neutral" certification.
It's not like there isn't other options for clothing suppliers at their price-point, either. In 2004 Wal-Mart began selling organic cotton women's shirts at its Sam's Club stores.
Now America's largest retailer is also one of the world's largest buyers of organic cotton, offering several lines of organic cotton apparel and bedding goods in its Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores, while presumably remaining profitable.
ASOS doesn't publish a list of direct suppliers on its website, so in my opinion they cannot claim to be looking after sapiens, either. Perhaps Peta should be thinking about those animals before rushing to endorse this drop in the exploitative ocean of fast fashion?
"Consumers are changing the face of the industry by demanding that designers and retailers ditch animal-derived materials in favour of cruelty-free alternatives that look great without causing suffering," said Taylor, a woman who appears not to know a lot about microplastic. Or factories.
"ASOS firmly believes it is not acceptable for animals to suffer in the name of fashion or cosmetics," its animal welfare policy reads on the website.
To which I say, please prove it.
- Eleanor Barker is NZME's social media producer.