By Juliana Di Leonardo
New York City Fashion Week includes over 36,000 square feet of space, multiple runways, hundreds of vendor spaces, and a range of exciting events for people interested in leading fashion designers, entertainment, and production. This year, activists with PETA jumped on the runway alongside models with Coach with a message urging the company to drop the use of leather, making headlines around the world.
But PETA wasn’t through. A few days later, I dressed in satin, heels and makeup, and joined the organization in confronting designer Michael Kors at a post-runway show VIP meet and greet and urged him to end his use of both angora and cashmere—hair torn from tied-up, crying bunnies and goats, respectively.
While hundreds of top designers and retailers—including Burberry, Gucci, Versace, and even Michael Kors—have banned fur, most people do not think twice when it comes to leather, angora, cashmere, or wool.
The leather industry, fueled by the dairy industry – which abducts baby cows from their mothers and kills them so humans can drink milk meant for them – is booming, with India being the largest exporter of leather in the world despite an admiration of cows by so many of its residents. The USA is no better, being one of the major countries importing these skins. This cruel industry not only harms animals, but the use of strong chemicals in tanning pollutes the environment and causes sickness to the underpaid and underprivileged workers employed by the industry. The wool industry has a shearing process that leaves sheep beaten, cut, and carelessly stitched up. Cashmere practices include slamming, binding, and pinning goats onto the floor to rip their hair out with sharp tools that often cut them in the process. These animals receive no painkillers and little to no medical attention. The rabbits used for angora fur are also bound as workers shear or rip their hair out. Prone to heart attacks from stress, these bunnies often don’t survive the process. Those who do live in their own filth in tiny cages with painful wire flooring. Farmers tell us that sheep need to be shorn. What they neglect to tell us that that they intentionally bred this disability into them and that since they get paid by the amount, not the hour, they often cut off flaps of skin, nipples, and even genitals, rushing through the process.
While protesting Michael Kors, I overheard a woman tell another that she once had an Angora rabbit and would simply just brush them implying that this was also the practice used to create Angora products. This observation reinforced my notion that it’s important to shake up the perspectives of others and correct the lies that the animal agriculture industry tells us or that our guilty conscience tells us.
Through our dollars, we are the creators of these unkind industries and it’s time for us to educate ourselves about the suffering of these animals. As more people learn what’s kept behind the closed doors of these industries, we can empower ourselves and make this world a better place.
For this week’s Anuvrat or small vow, I encourage you to reflect upon your wardrobe and stop giving your money to brands and designers that participate and use animal products to create seasonal looks. When you find yourself in need of a new clothing item, choose a kind and compassionate option that will look and feel good without the weight of knowing that you are responsible for another person’s suffering and tragic life. Peace may begin on your plate but it continues in the evaluation of the items we wear every day.
Juliana Di Leonardo is the Vice President of Humane Long Island. She is a yoga and ballroom dance instructor, model, and artist. Her advocacy for animals exploited by the fashion industry was credited in the 2021 documentary “The Face of Fashion is Fear” and was recognized by PETA with a Hero for Coyotes award.