“Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” they each recite as they stand swaying from side to side in front of their dressing room reflections; the colours, shades, shapes, spots, stripes and textures exploding in front of their eyes. A hand peaks through the dressing room curtain; the rose carving wraps so delicately around the index finger; it beams brightly under the spotlights setting off the purity of the ivory ring. A pair of crocodile skin boots are placed at the client’s feet. They stare again at this wild reflection standing before them, contemplating a minute longer; “something still isn’t quite right?” Another pause as eyes dart up and down the contours of the garments and suddenly there it is, “Made in China, Born in Africa”. The label is quickly tucked back into the neck of the coat, the black credit card handed over to the cash clerk, a stylish turn with a Harvey Nichols bag in tow as hips strut through the glass doors, swiftly exiting the store.
It is without a doubt that we live in a society fuelled by consumerism and an intonating stock market, with the buzz word of many a conversation being ‘money’. You only have to look at a fashion magazine, which provides its readers with a step by step guide on how to look like their favourite celebrity by investing in the latest catwalk trends; either for a small percentage of the original price or by splashing the cash on one of a kind pieces from the recent Christopher Kane collection. Since 2013 many designers; such as ; Christopher Kane, Celine, Todd Lynn, Gucci, Versace, Prada and Birger Christensen, have been featuring animal products such as real furs within their Autumn/Winter collections, with globally recognised brands such as Harvey Nichols coincidentally reintroducing real animal furs back into their stores in 2014, after a 10 year ban.
The use of real furs has polarised the world of fashion most poignantly since the 1990s, with popular names such as Stella McCartney and Twiggy openly condemning it’s use and need in fashion, and instead voicing the realities of the cruelties these animals suffer all in the name of looking catwalk ready. By reinvesting and making space for these real animal furs in our wardrobes are we honestly turning a blind eye to the unimaginable and inhumane suffering we put these animals through for the sake of being or desiring fashionista status? I wouldn’t trust any designer that is clearly not informed or just simply in denial (I’m more convinced of the later) of the way their products are produced. Furthermore, shame on those who buy these products for creating any demand, as any business person would say, its demand itself that keeps the supply flowing.
Why do 80 minks have to die a slow, agonising death as their fur is peeled from their body whilst they are still alive, for the sake of making one coat? These animals use their furs, ivory, spots, stripes, colours to camouflage in with their environment, to keep warm, to adjust to hide or fend off predators, to keep nature’s eco-system in check, and here we are destroying it in the name of looking on trend. We don’t need animal products such as furs and ivory to decorate ourselves or our homes; unlike our Neolithic and medieval ancestors, we have central heating and naturally sourced fabrics to furnish and warm our homes as well as ourselves. If humans needed fur wouldn’t we grow thick coats of it? On the flipside, with more and more beauty parlours up everywhere and the sky high prices of hair removal treatment with an ever rising number of men and women pampering themselves with waxing and hair removal laser treatment, we have created somewhat of a dichotomy – on the one hand we want to remove hair, yet on the other there is a desire to see a real fur coat draped around our shoulders with the matching ivory bracelet strapped around our wrists.
Watching a tiger fur bouncing up and down the Champs Elysees doesn’t somehow have the same regal elegance as would observing a wild tiger majestically prowling the plains of the African Savannah, with its stripes blending into the long golden grains of grass and deep rich red sands of the rustic earth. Sadly, this is a sight we may no longer be able to see due to the rise in illegal poaching to meet the demands of economic markets such as in China as well as trophy hunting by America’s super rich. According to WWF statistics, between 2007 and 2013 the number of rhinos poached for their horns soared from 13 per year to a whopping 1,004 per year; that’s almost 3 per day. Furthermore, tiger numbers have plummeted to 3,200 wild tigers left in the wild with 1,537 tiger parts being seized in Asia between 2000 and 2013. When examining such shocking statistics one naturally can’t help but draw a correlation with the Chinese economy and it’s ever increasing trade with countries within the African continent.
In an article written for Forbes magazine in September 2014, Paul Young writes that from 2001 to 2010 trade between China and Africa augmented by 700 per cent with export – import surpassing $62.7 million in loans alone to African countries. He argues that, China may not necessarily intend on influencing any cultural change in Africa, but instead they may be more in pursuit of taking advantage of Africa’s rich natural resources such as oil and minerals. With 90 per cent of the world’s population living in the developing world, China is in a prime position to trade, offer foreign investment and provide aid largesse. Economically, I can see the logic in this approach, but at what cost and what are the side effects on the environment from which they are extracting all these rich natural resources? In 2012 alone, 22,000 elephants were killed for their ivory tusks with experts suggesting that they could be made extinct by the year 2020 if the illegal poaching continues. With the expansion of cyber-crime, it is a huge concern that this theory may soon become a reality. With a barren land, void of any life due to all the killing, all that will be left is a barren economy. Asia’s business strategy relies on creating short term results without looking at the long term effects of their actions.
Nevertheless, the story gets worse; by 2009, China had replaced the US as Africa’s prime trading partner, which could only lead to rivalry between the 2 economies vying for African business and ties. It is without a doubt, that more often than not the finger gets pointed at the Chinese or far eastern nations when talking about making money out of cruelty inflicted upon animals; you only have to look at the plethora of campaigns on social media. However, the West are in no way innocent and cannot hide behind the glass wall of democracy. Between 1996 and 2008, 5663 lions were killed, due to trophy hunting with prolific hunters such as Melissa Bachman, Jimmy John Liautaud, Sarah Palin, Kid Rock and Gerard Depardieu making the news for this tragic display of arrogance. I don’t know what they were thinking, but it came across more as a pathetic parade of insecurity rather than a prize to be won. Sadly, lions are already extinct in 26 countries yet such people are under the illusion that this doesn’t affect them, but it does. By killing these highly intelligent species they disturb the highly complex social spectrum between the animal kingdom and human sociology.
This is a story of truth – wild animals such as tigers, minks, bears, elephants and rhinos to name a few are born with these signature features as their story is one of survival. Their wildness is what makes them so beautiful. The human desire, however, for animal products such as furs and ivory, is a story of vanity and greed and in no way emulates the natural grace, elegance and beauty of our planet’s wildlife.
Organisations such as the Wildlife Conservation society are already working on banning the sale of animal products such as ivory in California, the US’s second largest market for the product, having already banned it in New Jersey and New York, so progress is being made slowly. But it’s important to emphasise that this is not just about making laws, but about informing people and helping them understand the cruel realities of their aesthetic decisions and the effects they are having upon our environment, and ultimately the comforts of the world they are living in. More importantly, we must recognise that this cruelty occurs in many counties globally, and is not just a headline restricted to China and the USA. We can’t just rely on wildlife conservation organisations such as the WWF and the Wildlife conservation society to make the changes for us. As Gandhi famously said, “Be the change you want to see in the world”.