ANGORA, LET’S THINK THIS THROUGH

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How many of us think twice when we see Angora labeled in the fabric contents of an item we plan to purchase? Do you stop and wonder, “was the angora farmed ethically?” Or like many, do you consider Angora a natural fibre like wool and skim past with approval or… perhaps you may not even think to look at the fabric contents and purchase it all the more blissful.

Admittedly I was guilty of the second infraction. I needed a few toques (beanies to my US friends) for the cold winter weather and I picked up a few H&M toques prior to Christmas.  This soft black Angora toque caught my eye. Although I always look at the fabric content and construction quality of everything… it’s instinctual! I ignorantly thought, “it’s not that different than wool” and so proceeded to purchase. Perhaps shamefully, I like the look of those soft angora toques and selfishly wanted one of my own… mind you the H&M one lacked the cache of designer styles I’d seen elsewhere, but I thought it would do. It wasn’t long after my beautifully ethical friend brought to my attention that H&M among other fast fashion companies (Zara, Forever 21, Asos…) have been linked with the unethical treatment of angora rabbits in China.

Unsettling to say the least; I quickly began seeing articles about this subject popping up online and did the research for myself.  In all reports (Telegraph, Refinery 29, The Guardian etc…) the rabbit’s fur was plucked, leaving the rabbit raw, many left with open wounds. They are kept in poor unlivable conditions where the animals suffered from shock and a string of unacceptable ailments caused by the mistreatment of the breeders.

Peta, which is known for their raw tug on our heartstrings, broadcasting horrific videos and photos of the mistreatment of animals, leaves us feeling devastated and ashamed.  I almost avoid the site because despite the truth in their message, I find their approach aggressive and at times spin-doctored. Having said that, ignorance is bliss but knowledge is more powerful. The footage taken from the Chinese Angora farm is heartbreaking and simply this practice is unacceptable.

Needless to say, 90% of Angora is from China… Regardless whether the recent viral videos and images of “plucking” is not normal practice versus shearing (which in theory should be faster), there are no standardized and legal ethics in China for the humane treatment of animals.

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As much as I liked my fast and fashionable find, I was unable to wear it without reminders that this was wrong. I returned the toque for a full refund without question. However I left the store irked by the cashier, who in short said the store never carried angora items to begin with. I looked at her with confusion and pointed out this wasn’t the case because this is where I purchased the item. Her reply that they didn’t sell many…  (in her efforts to defend the store), demonstrated a lack of cohesion and prepared response from H&M corporate to the retail store employees.

More so than anything, the state of consumerism in fast fashion/ mass production and this sense of entitlement we as consumers have been taught and now demand is destructive at a level that feels beyond repair. Or is it?

Let’s take a quick moment to understand the “Sense of Entitlement Syndrome” cycle, (as the topic generates huge discussions, which I plan to further research and share in a future post). Essentially, the industry has engrained a sense of desire among mass consumers that they were missing out on something that the “wealthy” coveted. Cashmere, Angora, Leather, Fur, (even Silks & and yes Wool, sequins & embellishment to a certain degree)… formally used in high-end design due to expensive development costs to produce. The efficacy involved wasn’t possible at a mass-market scale. Something would have to change. And that it did. The fast fashion industry found cost cutting solutions to deliver ’faux’ luxury to meet the average consumer desires- “You can and deserve “luxury” too!” was in so many words marketed.

Wait what? I can own a cashmere sweater or a leather jacket for a fraction of the designer price, no longer wandering aimlessly in my peasants clothes? Today you may walk into Zara, Uniqulo, H&M, Forever 21, Joe Fresh, Target and The Gap etc… to find such items and leave feeling like the luxury world is more equally balanced.

However at what sacrifice? Not necessarily any to you or I directly in our own lives… however what about the environmental, ethical or sustainable impact on the resources, albeit the animal, factory worker or plant…

In short there is a reason why it was a luxury item to begin with. The gratification and satisfaction of owning such an item comes with knowing you earned it and that it was produced in a positive way. This is the realization I’ve come to terms with in my own life. Understanding there is not anything luxurious or positive about owning an item or product that came at the sacrifice and impact of another.

Change is possible. Individually, this requires each of us to look at the fabric content, conscientiously consider the sacrifice and impact associated and make the choice not to support unethical manufacturers.  This is no different than the choices we make in health and food. Consequently, a decline in sales, paired with consumers vocalizing concern will bring positive change and integrity to this industry.

Ethical and sustainable resources such as angora and other fibres alike are possible. After writing this post, I found this article posted by Starre Vartan from Eco-Chick. By seeking and supporting designers who work with ethical farmers “who are raising animals for their wool (sheep, alpaca), goats (cashmere), or rabbits (angora) and who are doing it in a sustainable way [thus in tern giving] artisans incredible raw materials, results in high-quality, long-lasting—and incredibly warm—pieces, and preserves open space for farmlands”.

Starre, has also discovered such ethical designers as Ambika Conroy, the designer and creator of Ambika Friendly Furs.

“She cares for her flock of angora bunnies herself on her upstate New York farm, harvests their fur when they molt (which only happens on the bunnies own internal schedule, not on ours), spins the thread into fiber, and knits it by hand into hats, scarves, jackets, legwarmers and ear muffs.”

Ambika shares her careful and humane process “From Bunny to Fur” on her website and as I’ve shared the video on Eco-Chick, you can see how she gathers the angora safely.

For me at least, I’d rather put my “want” for an angora toque aside until I can happily afford one with the knowledge and integrity that this item was ethically produced.