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Sustainable and vegan fashion with the Director of Corporate Projects, Peta UK

Earlier this month,
FashionUnited reported on in the
collections of all its brands, which include Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein.
Around the same time,
while China seems to be opening their market soon to “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’ 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 and
it’s a nation that doesn’t seem to prioritize human or animal rights. How
does Peta plan on tackling this issue with the fashion industry when China
is 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.

Yvonne Taylor, Director of Corporate Projects, Peta UK

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

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