As much as I'm obsessed with all things Hermes, the fact they raise the source of their chic croc accessories in farms - as does LVMH - solely to end up as arm candy makes me queasy. Given the backlogged wait-list (as in years) for their beloved Birkins, it certainly makes sense from a bidnez perspective, after all, crocodile handbags can sell for 30 times more than their bovine counterparts. Plus, selling accessories crafted from rare, exotic skins elevates the perceived exclusivity of a brand. (image by Tyler Shields via source)
When fully grown, these creatures can measure up to 16 feet long (about 5 meters) and weigh over 1,00 pounds (700 kilos). Which represents a signficant investment of resources by the farmer, plus a lot of risk: Of the end product, buyers like LVMH and the Kering group - which includes Gucci, Stella McCartney, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta, Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, Sergio Rossi, Puma (and on & on & on) - reject all but 1 of every 10 skins. (cartoon)
At farms like South Africa's Le Croc, owned and run by former investment banker Stefan van As, his brood of African Nile crocs have their pens cleaned daily, are approached only by the same few handlers and are fed mostly chicken and selected oils to improve their skin. By reducing stess on his animals, van As encourages their growth and helps keep them from biting each other - which automatically ruins the final skin. “The bottom line is that one cannot expect to harvest a first-grade skin from an animal which has been abused,” says van As, who checks and stuns each animal twice before killing it with a targeted cut to the neck and brain.
Obviously not everyone is as humanely minded and many alligators whose hides are destined for the cheaper end of the market are killed cruelly. They are beaten and die in pain - something to keep in mind when eyeing lower-pricepoint croc shoes and accessories. And trust me, you don't want to know how the cheaper snakeskin is "harvested." So yes, I think PETA is 100% correct on so many issues, but their doctrine of all-or-nothing falls short in the being-realistic department. Showing gory photos just turns people off, deafening them unnecessarily to the message.
Sugar is more effective at getting the meds down. Like focusing on what we can achieve with the mighty power of our wallets by spending with intent. When I shop, I always intend for my fashion purchases to do good or at least less harm. So if I can't afford an exotic-skinned whatever from a reputable, humane source, I don't buy. Instead, I step down to an affordable alternative category and then buy the best I can afford. (illustration by Miss Lecroc via source)
Stella McCartney similarly doesn't believe in giving up entirely on luxury, just being luxurious in karmically-happy ways. "I think that millions of animals each year shouldn’t be killed for the sake of fashion," she explains about her avoidance of both leather and fur in her designs. "It’s because I also believe in the connection between fur and leather and the environment...It would be amazing if we were able to create luxury fashion out of 100% sustainable materials, and although that isn’t really possible today, I hope that suppliers will continue to move towards more sustainable options."
And they will, if it's profitable enough. Suppliers follow the money, which means change starts with us, the consumers. Of course you can certainly choose to ignore the costs to others, to the environment and to the animals involved when you vote with your wallet, but that mindset is so last year. "It seems to me that fashion is the last industry on the planet to address ethics," continues McCartney. "That’s something I hate about my industry. Sometimes you get the idea that all these designers are up on their high horses looking down on mere mortals, saying, Fuck it, it’s fur, it’s beautiful darling! Those people are out of touch."
(photo of Stella McCartney by Norman Jean Roy for Vanity Fair)
When McCartney launched her eponymous brand in 2001, its initial success was helped along by her celeb factor. But the fact it's still thriving after so many years speaks to her in-demand aesthetic and on-trend message. Your Regular Joe and Josephine would never consider shelling out almost $500 for rubber-soled snakeskin-print sneakers made from fancily-named plastic, but McCartney shoppers tend to hail from the well-heeled Supremium tribe*. Which continues to vote for her do-no-harm fashion. And in a world going increasingly nuts, I think that is kind of hopeful.
*NOTE: IF YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT EACH FASHION TRIBE, START HERE.
Podcast music: Kevin MacLeod, Incompetech.com
- Lesley Scott