Earlier this month, FashionUnited reported on PVH Corp. banning exotic animal skins in the collections of all its brands, which include Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein. Around the same time, Uniqlo became the latest brand to ban alpaca wool while China seems to be opening their market soon to beauty brands that don't test on animals. “Studies have repeatedly shown that sustainability and animal welfare were already at the forefront of consumers' minds before the coronavirus pandemic, and these values will only become more important once we emerge and look to have a more respectful relationship with the natural world,” Yvonne Taylor, the Director of Corporate Projects at Peta UK recently wrote to FashionUnited via email.
As the current fashion narrative shifts towards social consumption and sustainability, a career combining these values in fashion doesn’t seem as combative as before. Taylor shared in an interview with FashionUnited how she was able to build a career championing sustainable and vegan fashion while working together with top brands to build a more socially conscious fashion future.
You've been championing continued dialogue between Peta UK and fashion companies for brands who are looking to build a more sustainable future in their practices. Can you share your progress and achievements?
Whilst Peta is best known for eye-catching protests and celebrity ad campaigns, I'm part of the corporate team, which works behind the scenes. I engage with companies, share the findings of investigations, and look to find common ground to assist in the advancement of animal welfare policies.
Thanks to Peta affiliates' groundbreaking exposés, today's consumers are more switched on than ever before regarding the path products have taken to reach their wardrobes. Vegan is now one of the most searched-for terms in fashion, and companies are more receptive to taking a stand on animal issues and catering to this growing market. Marks & Spencer and Valentino are banning alpaca, Mulberry and Paul Smith announced exotic skins bans, and G-Star RAW and Ecoalf are feather-free. It's particularly exciting that so many high-street names now offer "vegan"-branded collections.
What did you study and how did you become the Director of Corporate Projects at Peta UK? Despite the unethical aspects of industry practices, do you like or enjoy fashion?
I studied business management. My two biggest passions have always been animals and fashion. Since I first interned with Peta US and assisted with its fashion-focused campaigns, I've never looked back!
Certain materials such as wool and cashmere are an integral part of British fashion, do you think that there is a way to ethically source these materials without entirely eliminating them?
Vegan materials – including bamboo, Tencel, hemp, modal, viscose, soya cashmere (which is a by-product of soya food production), and recycled synthetics – are the way to go and can be used to create luxurious, soft fabrics that are indistinguishable from their unethically obtained animal-derived counterparts.
Cashmere has the highest environmental impact of any animal fibre, as it takes one year's growth from four to six goats to make just one jumper. Producing animal yarns also has a devastating impact on the environment. Sheep are ruminant animals, so they generate large quantities of methane – a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat – in addition to massive amounts of manure, which pollutes the land, water, and air. We also continue to expose the failings of the various industry accreditation schemes that invariably spring up in response to Peta exposés. These seek to mislead consumers and retailers into believing it's possible to produce any animal material on a commercial scale without harming animals. It's not. All that such labels do is make shoppers and businesses feel better while animal abuse continues as usual.
China is currently the top exporter to the global leather industry, how does Peta plan on tackling the challenging issues of animal testing and animal rights in such an influential market?
China is a global powerhouse when it comes to fashion – it's a leading exporter of leather, fur, feathers, cashmere, and other animal-derived materials. In 2013, Peta Asia released its groundbreaking exposé of angora farms in China – the source of 90 percent of the world's angora. But no matter which country the animals are farmed in or what claims suppliers make, whenever animals are treated as commodities in this way, cruelty is always part of the process. Progress happens when consumers learn about such injustice and demand change – and today, more than 340 top brands, including Gucci and Burberry, have banned angora.
And let's not forget that there's a growing vegan movement in China too-particularly amongst millennials and Generation Z!
Young designers have a tremendous opportunity to make a powerful ethical statement and join the growing movement towards compassion in fashion.
For young fashion professionals that have recently graduated, what advice can you give them on helping to build a more sustainable, ethical and transparent fashion industry?
Fashion is renowned for a forward-thinking approach and contemporary designs – an image that's incompatible with endorsing the torment and killing of animals for vanity and status.
Young designers have a tremendous opportunity to make a powerful ethical statement and join the growing movement towards compassion in fashion by leaving animal materials out of their collections. It's also a business-savvy decision, given that veganism is the fastest-growing lifestyle in all developed countries – and the onus has expanded from what's in your kitchen to what's in your wardrobe.
What are some of your favourite sustainable leather brands and why?
After both the "Pulse of the Fashion Industry" (Global Fashion Agenda) and Kering's "Environmental Profit & Loss" reports identified leather as the most environmentally damaging material in fashion – with double the impact of synthetic alternatives like PU leather – it comes as no surprise that so many eco-friendly vegan alternatives are being released.
I'm particularly excited to see Vegea's wine leather – made from the skins of grapes used in the Italian wine industry – come to market. I was lucky enough to attend its launch in 2017 and was thrilled that so many luxury accessory and automobile brands were wowed by its beauty and quality. It's also been great to see Piñatex by Ananas Anam – made using fibres from pineapple leaves – go from strength to strength. Modern Meadow is developing lab-grown leather, Zoa, made by fermenting yeast to produce a biodegradable, leather-look material.
Given the advances in innovative materials that offer the look of leather or other animal-derived materials, there's simply no reason to continue causing the severe suffering and environmental degradation associated with using the skin or hair of animals.
What's your go-to vegan/sustainable outfit?
I've been buying sneakers and other shoes from Good Guys Don't Wear Leather since the brand first launched, and I love their apple leather boots. My most recent knitwear purchase came from Dutch brand Hemp Tailor. For jackets and coats, I'm a fan of Germany's Embassy of Bricks and Logs, which uses a filler made from recycled PET bottles instead of feathers. My best investment pieces are Stella McCartney bags, which never fail to attract compliments.
I try to buy only items I really love and then take good care of them. My favourite T-shirt has only ever been hand-washed and still looks like new, even though it must be around 20 years old!
What's the best advice you've ever received?
When I first started volunteering for a local animal charity, I was given this advice: "Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life." Of course, my job is tough, but those words are very much how I feel after 16 years with Peta.
Photos: courtesy of PETA