The elephant on the catwalk

Article published in the Vegan Lifestyle Association

For a couple of decades, the luxury fashion brands have been looking at a new path to growth by increasing their activities in developing countries. They have been evolving to serve the rising demand from the affluent classes of Eastern countries, and specifically China. Indeed, since 2008, China has become one of the two largest luxury markets in the world, together with Japan.

With their huge purchasing power Asian consumers reshape the luxury market like never before. They impose their preferences. This influence became particularly obvious this winter through the remarkable comeback of fur on the catwalks.

Unfortunately, Asian markets feature a strong taste for products of animal origin and poor regulation regarding animal rights. The two fit well together for the misfortune of animals. You can learn more about China’s fur farms through PETA Asia’s investigation (warning: graphic content).

Accessing the Asian markets challenges the ethics of Western brands. The luxury fashion industry tends to believe that animal rights and the bottom line are incompatible. Many luxury brands, which had given up fur under pressure from anti-fur protests in the 1990s, have started to re-use it. In the same way, luxury cosmetics brands, which have so far been cruelty-free by European law, are now testing on animals. In fact, animal testing was until 2014 required by Chinese law in order to sell cosmetics in-store. However, this does not mean China is cruelty free; and none of the luxury brands have been transparent about their step backwards.

Luxury fashion brands should think about ethics, not laws. In a global market with instant communication, there are no hiding places for cruelty to animals. International media and animal rights organisations continue to expose cruelty to animals in the brands’ products, and vigilant consumers will respond as they did for inhuman working conditions in Bangladesh. A growing number of consumers want a say in how their clothes and their make-up are made, regarding not only people but also animals. When laws are not properly set, they will turn directly to brands to effect change.

Reputation is a precious asset that Western luxury brands should take more care to protect, for their sake and the sake of animals.

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