In 2020, PETA US – the largest animal rights organisation in the world – celebrates its 40th anniversary. Over the last four decades, PETA and its international affiliates have left a lasting impact on the fashion industry – and we're not done yet.
This year, PETA US closed the book on its groundbreaking "I'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur" campaign after a three-decade run. The campaign, which featured stars from Pamela Anderson to Eva Mendes and P!nk, was part of a revolutionary anti-fur push that led designers such as Gucci, Burberry, Michael Kors, and Versace to refuse to work with fur.
But fur was just the beginning. Not many people were aware of the cruelty inherent in the angora trade until a PETA Asia investigation showed rabbits on farms in China tied down and screaming as their fur was torn out by the fistful. As a result of the exposé, over 300 brands, including Zara, Marks & Spencer, Tommy Hilfiger, and Ralph Lauren, banned angora from their ranges.
The exotic-skins industry tortures alligators, ostriches, snakes, lizards, and other animals – but thanks to PETA's campaign, brands like Chanel, Diane von Furstenberg, Victoria Beckham, and many others have made the socially responsible decision to leave exotic skins out of their designs.
So, what's next?
With fur in its death throes, PETA is dedicated to spreading the message that leather is just as harmful. Fashion week audiences in London, Milan, and Paris over the last few seasons have seen PETA activists pour buckets of "toxic slime" over their own heads to symbolise the toxicity of leather production. Our exposé of the leather trade in Bangladesh revealed that the industry is a living hell not only for animals but also for workers and the environment.
Our sights are also set on the wool industry. The landmark 2014 PETA US investigation into shearing sheds in the US and Australia revealed that sheep were being punched and kicked, beaten with a hammer, and slammed into the floor. As a result, shearers in Australia were charged with dozens of counts of cruelty to animals, the first charges ever filed against wool workers for abusing sheep. In February of this year, following a 13th wool-industry investigation, another Australian shearer pleaded guilty to cruelty and, after a PETA complaint led to criminal charges, so did a Scottish farmer who had been filmed punching sheep in the face.
Today's compassionate consumers value ethical fashion: a survey by Bain & Company found that animal welfare is a key consideration for millennials, and according to a Glamour survey, 73% of Generation Z consider themselves animal rights activists. And the industry is taking this to heart: material innovation company Modern Meadow is growing animal leather from cells in a laboratory, and a group of forward-thinking university students from Colombia have created vegan wool from coconut and hemp. We're moving towards a new era of fashion in which wool and leather no longer come from animals. Welcome to the future – it's vegan.
Elisa Allen is director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).