Fashion and Animal Welfare: Everything You Should Know Before You Buy - Good On You
01 Sep

Fashion and Animal Welfare: Everything You Should Know Before You Buy

Animal welfare may not be the first thing you consider when it comes to fashion. But if you love our furry, feathery and scaly friends as much as we do, then there are a few things you should know before you shop.

You’re standing in front of the mirror in your silk nightie and boots putting together an outfit for the day ahead. Do you wear the beige suede skirt with the grey cashmere sweater? With the black leather ankle boots and matching leather tote? Is it cold enough for a coat? Do you pick the trench with the fur trim or the woollen pea coat?

While it’s no secret these materials come off the backs of sentient beings, this fact can be lost in clever marketing devices and the appeal of the finished product. At Good On You, we rate brands based on their treatment of animals. We identify the use of fur, angora, down feather, shearling, Karakul and exotic animal skin and hair. We also consider wool use including ‘mulesing’ and whether and how the brand uses leather.

Let’s take a look at some of the key issues concerning animal welfare in the fashion industry.


Leather has long been a staple in our wardrobes, however, we often overlook the animals whose skins become our jackets and shoes. Every year large numbers of animals, including cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, crocodiles, snakes, stingrays, seals, emus, kangaroos, horses and more are killed for their skins by the leather industry. Many of these animals are factory-farmed, which can involve extreme crowding and confinement, deprivation, and painful treatment at the hands of workers.

The majority of the world’s leather comes from India and China, both of which are countries which lack animal welfare legislation. However, even in developed nations such as Australia, animals raised for leather do not have the same legal protection as pets, meaning they are often subject to painful procedures and even abuse. Contrary to popular belief, leather is a profitable resource, not simply a by-product of the meat industry.

What are some ethical alternatives?

  • Buy second hand or recycled leather. Hit up your nearest op-shop or vintage markets to find some sweet secondhand threads. Not only is vintage leather likely to be of higher quality than fast fashion leather products, buying secondhand is a great way to minimise your carbon footprint!
  • Buy vegan leather. Just keep in mind that not all vegan leather is created equally. Much vegan leather, or ‘pleather,’ is made from Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) plastic, which Greenpeace lists as one of the most environmentally-damaging plastics. Check out these ethical, sustainable vegan fashion labels for some eco-friendly alternatives. Eco-friendly materials like Pinatex (made from pineapple leaf fibres) are game changers when it comes to leather alternatives.


Wool is considered a winter wardrobe staple, but it isn’t always produced under ethical conditions. There are a number of concerns regarding animal welfare in the wool industry including pain and discomfort caused to the sheep by their handling and living conditions. PETA has revealed instances of mistreatment of sheep in Australia (which produces much of the world’s merino wool). Many Australian sheep undergo a painful and largely ineffective procedure called mulesing in which flesh is cut from the animal’s buttocks, often without anaesthetic. This procedure is used to prevent flystrike, which is a common problem in the hot Australian climate.

What are some ethical alternatives?

  • Buy from brands that use non-mulesed wool. The Good On You app rewards brands that have pledged to use non-mulesed wool in their products, including People Tree, We’ar and Howies to name just a few.
  • Buy secondhand wool. There’s no shortage of cute vintage sweaters and woollen coats in op-shops and vintage boutiques. With the right care, quality woollen coats will last decades.
  • Buy wool alternatives. Materials such as certified organic cotton and bamboo, hemp, linen and some synthetics are kind on the environment and 100% cruelty-free!

Fur & Exotic Animal Skins

Animals including rabbits, minks, goats, foxes, crocodiles, alpacas, llamas, and even dogs and cats are coveted by the fashion industry. Their fur and skins are used to make a variety of what’s marketed as ‘luxurious’ clothing. Fur also includes the fibres cashmere and angora, which are sourced from the Cashmere goat and the Angora rabbit.

Though the 90s saw fur become taboo for a short time due to PETA’s successful celebrity-endorsed campaign, it has seen a comeback on catwalks and red carpets recently. While you’re more likely to come across faux fur than real fur in the average fast fashion store, some major brands such as Missguided have recently been found to have mislabelled garments made out of real fur as faux fur.

Animals Australia found that “85% of the fur industry’s skins come from animals raised in battery cages in fur farms, where animals are deprived of quality of life.” In fur farms, animals are often killed through beating, gassing and electrocution. It is even common practice in China to skin animals alive. The World Society for the Protection of Animals revealed that up to 80% of fur is produced in China, a country that has no animal welfare legislation and protection laws. Fur that is not produced in fur farms is obtained either by trapping or killing wild animals. Though often considered a more ‘natural’ and ‘humane’ method of acquiring fur, trapping is highly distressing and painful for animals.

What are some ethical alternatives?

  • Buy secondhand or recycled fur. If you love the look and feel of fur but don’t want to support the horrors of the modern fur industry, there’s often a decent range of pre-loved fur coats at vintage boutiques and markets.
  • Buy faux fur. But we recommend that you avoid fast fashion faux fur garments, as they are often made from non-renewable, petroleum-based products including polyester and nylon. Look for faux fur crafted from recycled or other sustainable materials.


Down feather is prized by the fashion industry for its low carbon footprint and its ability to insulate against freezing temperatures. However, to gather down, feathers are collected from ducks, geese and swans. This is done either while the birds are still alive, or after they have been killed. Because farmers have to meet large demands, and because, like fur or hair, feathers grow back, most down is obtained by live plucking. This is a very painful process that sometimes causes the birds to accidentally break their limbs as they struggle to escape.

PETA estimate that a single farm can undertake close to 250, 000 live pluckings a year. They also found that some suppliers certified by the Responsible Down Standard (RDS) are still sourcing live-plucked down. More concerning is that up to 80% of the world’s down is produced in China, a country which currently has no animal welfare laws in place.

What are some ethical alternatives?

  • Avoid live-plucked down. Some brands such as Patagonia have vowed to not use live-plucked down in their products, instead choosing to use only recycled or traceable down from birds that have not been force-fed or live-plucked.
  • Buy down alternatives. Ethical brands such as Vaute offer a huge range of cosy vegan jackets and coats made for the chilliest of climates.


Silk has been revered as a luxury for thousands of years. Silk is made up of the threads that form the cocoon of the mulberry silkworm (Bombyx mori). The threads are extracted by boiling the cocoon with the pupae still inside. This method can be controversial. While Good On You does not currently rate brands based on their use of silk, for those who believe all animals, large or small, should not suffer for our consumption, it is worth factoring into your purchasing decisions.

What are some ethical alternatives?

  • Buy Ahimsa (Peace) silk. Aptly named, ‘peace silk’ is made from the cocoon of a silkworm after it has undergone metamorphosis and left the cocoon as a moth. As the cocoon is ruptured, the long, singular silk strand is broken up into smaller strands, which must be woven back together to create a premium quality silk. However, there are even some ethical concerns with peace silk, and there is no regulatory guidelines or certification for its production.
  • Buy from ethical brands. If you do buy silk, choose brands that are dedicated to sustainability and ethical practice, including Promised Land and SilkBody.

Animal cruelty in fashion is enabled when there is a demand for the product, so when shopping for a new item for your wardrobe, buy cruelty-free. The free Good On You app is a great tool for finding brands that share your values.

Want to know more about the issues Good On You rates brands on? Stay tuned, in the coming months we’ll be breaking down the issues of environment and labour rights in the fashion industry.

Editor's note

Images via Unsplash.

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