With so many wonderful alternatives to wool, fur, and leather, there's simply no need to use animal skins to cover your own skin. For every wool sweater, leather belt or jacket, or bit of fur trim, animals are tortured and mutilated in ways that would make any compassionate person's skin crawl. Sheep, cows, foxes, rabbits, minks, and other animals used for their fleece, fur, or skins feel pain and suffer just like the dogs and cats in our own homes, yet chunks of their flesh are hacked off, they are electrocuted, their necks are snapped, and their throats are slit open, often without any painkillers. Join kind people everywhere and shed your skins-wear only compassionate, animal-free clothing.
Alpaca farms are a growing business in North America, though these gentle creatures naturally reside 14,000 feet up in the Andes Mountains of South America. Alpacas stand about four feet tall, grow to approximately 150 pounds and are undeniably adorable; envision Bambi with shaggy fur and a mop top.
Removed from their natural habitat and forced into confinement, alpacas face a host of health issues compounded by intolerance to moderate weather; loss of appetite due to warm temperatures often leads to fatty liver disease, and the stress of living in confinement can lead to ulcers. Alpaca are prone to parasites and respond poorly to overcrowding, travel and improper diet.
Prized for their soft, delicate fur, most Alpacas are unnaturally shorn, but many are also killed for their fur and meat. Some companies claim their products are derived from Alpacas that "died of natural causes." This is extremely unlikely.
These docile rabbits are gentle, sociable animals with long, silken hair. Though angoras are not killed for their fur, they are shorn regularly and kept in cramped cages for the duration of their eight-year life span. Since males generate only about 75% of the wool that females produce, males are considered an industry byproduct and most are routinely killed at birth. The surviving females are treated much the same as rabbits raised for meat and endure confined lives of loneliness and boredom. Rabbits require regular exercise, and angoras confined to cages can develop painful bone deformities.
A valued and expensive fiber, cashmere is the fine hair that originally came from the underbelly of the Asiatic goat. Today, cashmere is derived from 68 breeds of goats in 12 countries. Cashmere goats generate fine hair with a diameter below 19 microns (in contrast, human hair has a diameter of 75 microns). These goats are kept in conditions that vary from extensive grazing to factory farm-like conditions. In some countries, the goats are hand combed to remove the fibers; in most, the terrified animals are shorn months prior to their natural shedding, leaving the goats exposed to cold temperatures and the chance of illness and death. Cashmere goats are often ear-notched and de-horned, and males not suitable for breeding are castrated without anesthesia and sold for meat after their first fiber harvest.
There are varying qualities of cashmere: At 12-14 microns thick, pashmina, which comes from goats in Kashmir and Tibet, is classified as the finest cashmere. Shahtoosh shawls, popular fashion symbols throughout the world, come from the endangered Tibetan antelope, Chiru. Referred to as "shawls of death" by the government of India, the burgeoning worldwide demand for shahtoosh shawls is leading to the extinction of the Chiru, which is always killed for its fur. At least five animals are slaughtered to produce a single shawl.
Down and Feathers:
If you look around your home, chances are you will find items filled with down. Many jackets, vests, coats, comforters, pillows, and sleeping bags are down-filled, and manufacturers boast of its insulating qualities. They neglect to tell you that down, the very soft feathers from the breasts of geese and ducks, is either purchased as a slaughterhouse byproduct or violently plucked from live animals. The geese unlucky enough to be plucked alive are later slaughtered or force-fed to make pate de foie gras.
Feathers from ostriches, peacocks and other exotic birds frequently adorn hats, handbags and other fashion items. Contrary to what you would like to think, these feathers do not fall out naturally; the feathers are either plucked while the bird is still alive or removed after the bird is slaughtered.
Ostriches, raised for their meat, leather, eggs, and feathers, naturally roam the open plains and live upwards of 75 years. Farmed ostriches are confined to small spaces, often indoors, and slaughtered at only 12 to 14 months.
The horrors of the fur industry are far-reaching: Farmed fur animals are imprisoned in tiny wire cages, raised under brutally cold conditions (to thicken the coat) and anally-electrocuted or gassed to death. Some are skinned while they are still alive. Larger fur-bearing animals are ensnared in the wild in steel-jawed leghold traps and left to await their trapper. In a desperate attempt to flee, some animals chew off their own leg or paw to escape. Since the traps do not discriminate, up to 50% of the trapped animals, many domestic cats and dogs, are discarded as "trash animals."
Leather is more than just a byproduct of the meat industry; it's a manufactured good essential to the meat trade, so buying leather directly supports the meat industry. The animals on the leather industry hit list include cow, deer, sheep, snake, alligator, crocodile, ostrich, lizard, kangaroo, and toad. The more desirable soft and supple leathers come from baby animals-calves, lambs and even unborn calves.
The environmental implications of processing leather are devastating: The production of leather requires the use of formaldehyde, lead, zinc and cyanide-based products. Leather products are 'tanned' with chemical agents that stabilize the fibers so that the leather is no longer biodegradable. Over 95% of all leather produced in the U.S. is chrome tanned, and all wastes containing chromium are considered hazardous by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
If we care about the environment, we'll forgo leather for the wide selection of faux leather shoes, belts and coats available in most stores. And if we don't eat animals for ethical reasons, we shouldn't wear them.
Mohair comes from the white Angora goat, a small and delicate animal prized for its soft and lustrous fiber. The original Angora goats came from Asia Minor, in what is now modern Turkey. The goats were even smaller than they are today and were crossed with larger, meat-type goats to increase body size and fiber production. Very large herds of Angora goats are isolated on farms, purely for mohair production. Intolerably sensitive to cold and parasites, the goats need protection from the cold and chills for several days after their fleece is removed.
Silk comes from the caterpillars of the silk moth, which protect themselves by spinning silk strands to form a cocoon. Each worm may produce up to a mile and a half of continuous thread. When metamorphosis is complete and the moth is prepared to exit the cocoon, a naturally secreted chemical eats its way through the silk strands, freeing the moth. To retain a single, unbroken thread, the moth is killed before it is ready to emerge, typically by boiling, baking or steaming the worm alive. Nearly 1,500 pupas are killed to produce just 100 grams of silk.
The very fact that sheep are sheared for their wool is an unnatural act: Left to themselves without human interference, sheep would grow just enough wool to protect themselves from the weather. Scientific interference, however, has created wool-producing machines with an unnatural overload of wool that often encompasses half their body weight, bringing misery and death from heat exhaustion during warmer months.
At just a few weeks old, lamb's ears are punched, their tails are amputated and males are castrated with no sedative. Most wool comes from Merino sheep, bred to have excessive, wrinkly skin. More skin means more wool, but the wrinkles attract urine, moisture and flies, which lay eggs in the folds of skin, called 'flystrike.' The hatched maggots literally consume the sheep alive, sometimes eating down to the bone in the hind legs or even into the abdomen. Using no anesthetic, farmers carve out large folds of skin from the sheep's back and legs to discourage flystrike, an operation called mulesing.
Sheep are shorn before they would naturally and slowly shed their winter coats. Shearers, paid by volume, work quickly and often carelessly, frequently shearing off the flesh of terrified sheep. Once shorn, many sheep die of exposure. Aging sheep are transported long distances to slaughterhouses without food or water, and spent Australian sheep are sent to the Middle East in ships much like those used during the slave trade. The sheep who survive the trip have their throats slit in Moslem ritual slaughter.
Wool pulled from the skin of slaughtered sheep and lambs is known as 'skin wool.'
Felt is an extension of the wool and fur industries and is produced using a technique that compresses and hardens the wool or fur fibers into pliable material. Fur felt hats are made from a blend of tame and wild rabbits, but "better quality" fur felt hats also include some beaver hair in them. Historically, X markings were used in fur felt hats to indicate the blend of fur incorporated into the hat: The more wild fur included in the blend, the higher the X marking for the hat. Generally, 2X was the lowest rating and 100X was the highest.