I have grown up in a country, in a society, in a family and environment where the most beautiful and natural materials to use and wear were made from our fellow companions on this earth.
In Denmark, where I was born, the Queen wears fur as royals before her have and in Denmark we are one of the worlds biggest producers of minkfur. Some of the most recognized and acknowledged Danish furniture architects use hides from animals in their designs combined with wood or metals.
This is considered normal and accepted, but also fashionable, trendy and as a means of exhibiting a social position dependent on design.
’Non-human animals’ are creatures who show characteristics obeserved in humans but not enough characteristics to be considered a human. The term has been used in a variety of contexts.
As a fashiondesigner, an activist, a (social) entrepreneur and an ethicist, I have to question what we take for granted in our everyday life both as a maker but also as a consumer. I consider this to be a serious part of my job. To be curious and to see stuff, products, clothing from all possible angles. I must examine not only design and the outcome to make sure it is useable and meets its purpose but also examine the production behind the end product.
A part of my personal task includes the fact that I would like to inspire and encourage everyone else to make the effort to think about what they surround themselves with. What is ’this product’? What is it made from? Where and by whom? If it was made next door and this process could be witnessed, would you support it, put in the order or become the owner of that specific product?
Very early in my teens I decided not to participate in this world’s consumerism, which led me to take an active part in how we work and produce in the fashion and lifestyle industry.
After I graduated from The Royla Danish Design School, KADK in1994, my colleagues and I started a ’Sustainable Solution Design Association’ and a small brand called Paradigm (http://adrude.dk/?page_id=211&lang=en).
Supported financially by the Danish Ministry of Environment, the Green Foundation, our goal was to promote inspiration for sustainable fashion and organic products that targeted the lifestyle and fashion industry. We made fashion shows, lectured and gave talks, wrote articles and participated in several exhibitions to promote the subject ’Sustainable Fashion’.
We were among the few pioneers at that time who were trying to wake up a world and an industry which was swathed in a web of luxury dreams. But at that time the fashion world was not ready to take in the message -- not in Denmark nor in the rest of the world. The message was quickly turned into an economic gain for the fast fashion companies as a huge trend that dissapeared after only season and became a contra trend where all products had to be synthetic materials in psychedelic colors.
During these past 25 years we have seen a huge change going on in the western world. Though too many fast fashion companies are still operating against all odds for future generations to survive, more and more companies have taken their share of responsibility and recognize that the challenges within this industry must be taken seriously and changed. But to put it mildly let’s just say there is certainly room for improvements. The absolute contradiction is out there to be solved.
Anyway, the message is recognized and acknowledged, the information and knowledge is being shared and comprehended between designers, students, businesses, shareholders, and consumers. Research is going on at many levels ranging from grassroots experiments to large corporations researching and investing in future sustainable production methods.
Small steps in the right direction – or as we say, searching for some sort of eternal truth to lift the burden and responsibility from our own shoulders. But in all this we missed out on one subject. We talk about pollution, organic products versus manmade and conventional products, recycling and labour rights. Humans, earth, water, sky and heaven are mentioned and noticed. Described and fought for. These are subjects we as human beings can accept, comprehend and understand. But one subject is still missing out. The millions of animals used in this industry are not being addressed. Who within our own field has been doing research about the non-human animals?
Every five days approximately 619 million animals are being slaughtered, equivalent to approximately 55 billion animals per year. These are the animals being used in the food industry. The animals which are included only in the textile and clothing industry -- rabbits, mink, crocodiles, silk larvae -- are not being calculated into the aforementioned numbers. These numbers will be very hard to find.
So I believe, the next step in the fashion, textile and lifestyle industries has to be facing this very challaenging subject. It is a subject where it will be possible to find just as many opinions as people and cultures in the world. Nevertheless, it is a subject to be placed at the top of todays agenda on sustainability and in how to make people, nature and animals flourish.
As it turns out more and more consumers are surrounding themselves with and wearing products from animals, not only in a historical context of necessaity but also as something that is done all over the world in the name of luxury, pleasure and status.
At the same time, we find the opposite going on in the food industry where more and more consumers, exspecially young people are raising awareness regarding the consumption of meat. They are doing so - based on facts of the cruelty going on in this industry but also because of the problems related to environmental factors regarding water consumption, carbon emission and deforesting.
Bascically the battlefield within fashion and lifestyle products made from non-human animals could be divided into two obvious camps: Those against, who we can call ’the extreme activists’ and the majority, who have chosen to turn a blind eye to the problems and challenges faced philosophically. Those who use traditions, cultures or forces of the market as an excuse to not become informed on the level needed to actually make descisions involving products from other living beings are just such a majority.
The fact is that this topic has not yet been described or discussed at all as is the case with other environmental issues or every other subject related to the value chain within the fashion and textile industry. But this subject very challenging to access and also provocative in its context as it contains elements that affects our own history, culture and traditions, that without an introduction or set of guidelines on how to make sense and justify behavior, the challenge is even greater.
This is why I have contributed an article to the book Green Fashion (recently published by Springer Science) called ”Animal Ethics and Welfare in the Fashion and Lifestyle Industries”. This article deals specifically with the ethics of the animals we use in the fashion and lifestyle industry and how on access this subject. It provides an introduction to how some of the world's largest and most recognized scientists and ethicists relate to ethics and animal welfare in general. It also serves as a guide to deal with these issues as a designer and the choices that must be made when designing products that incorporate elements from non-human animals. These can range from skins for fur, feathers or insects such as the silkworm, which has been produced for a millennia and is considered one of the world's finest fibers.
Included in the article is a general review of all the animals that are a part of this industry, as well as a brief description of the environmental challenges that can occur within each topic. It suggests links and references, on a single topic or a single animal breed. My article does not provide definitive solutions or guidelines, but leaves it to the reader to decide what should be ethical choices should be for working within the field of sustainability.
“The problem is that humans have victimized animals to such a degree that they are not even considered victims. They are not even considered at all. They are nothing. They don't count, they don't matter, they're commodities like T.V sets and cell phones. We have actually turned animals into inanimate objects - sandwiches and shoes.” -Gary Yourofsky
During the last 25 years Drude-katrine Plannthin has been working to disseminate knowledge on the topic of sustainable and environmentally-friendly fashion design and production. She describes herself as a fashion activist, who has a sense, an attitude, and a thought behind her work. In recent years, she co-wrote the handbook Guidelines II with colleagues from the Sustainable Solution Design Association. She offers talks, lectures, counseling or teaching in Danish and English, and as a guest instructor, she targets secondary schools, colleges, design schools and private companies.