It’s always encouraging to see giant global fashion players take a stand on ethical fashion. However, ASOS’s recent decision to blanket ban (effective January 2019) on all remaining animal-derived fibres within their online offering - including cashmere, silk and mohair, has raised the question: Is ethical fashion really so black-and-white?
Given the considerable impact that ASOS has on both the fashion industry and its consumers, there are concerns that this ban may turn buyers away from natural fibres, and inadvertently encourage the mass consumption of plastic synthetic fibres.
ASOS’s ban was announced following lobbying from animal welfare group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). And while prioritising animal welfare is important and admirable, the truth about sustainable and ethical fashion is far more nuanced.
Without naturally sourced fibres and textiles, designers increasingly turn to synthetic substitutes with hugely detrimental environmental impacts, including being made from non-renewable sources, failing to biodegrade in landfill, and producing toxic chemical by-products during manufacture.
For example, contrast the ethical soundness of a high-quality cashmere garment with traceable ethical origins – in environmental, human and animal welfare – and a long lifetime of wear, against a cheap, 100 per cent poly dress that is non-biodegradable, omits harmful toxins as a by-product of its creation, and which was designed to be replaced after not even a year of wear. Additionally, cheap clothes very often come at the cost of exploitative human labour.
Note: Mia Fratino supports a strict NO SYNTHETIC or polyester fibre content rule. They use only 100% natural fibres
When considering cashmere in particular, it’s important to understand that all cashmere is not created equal. Authentic, ethically sourced cashmere differs vastly in both quality and origin from the cheap ‘supermarket’ cashmere that has become available in recent years.
Around four years ago, cashmere became a hot fibre among big global retailers, with ‘big box’ stores launching 'affordable' cashmere knits retailing for around $50 - $100. The truth, however, is that quality cashmere, sourced ethically and responsibly, simply cannot be produced at these prices unless the supply chain is compromised. If it is being sold ‘cheaply’, you can be fairly confident that the source is not an ethical one.
This mass volume ‘supermarket’ cashmere placed huge pressure on spinners to lower their prices and offer affordable (read: ethically compromised) cashmere lines. And as a producer of ethical cashmere garments, Mia Fratino believes wholeheartedly that this has to stop.
“We think it is important to talk about the wider picture,” says Mia Fratino designer Amy Jones. “While there are companies who are mistreating animals for their own financial gain and absolutely need to be boycotted, there are also a huge number of companies who are working incredibly hard to deliver these natural fibres responsibly and ethically.”
For Mia Fratino, responsible clothing production meant finding a cashmere spinner who is devoted to the ethical and sustainable origins of the cashmere they spin. Mia Fratino’s spinner releases public statements outlining their ethical and sustainable compliance, and they are fully committed to using responsibly sourced raw materials, including the use of fibres derived from animals. This Animal Welfare Policy is a fundamental part of their core values.
Mia Fratino’s ethical values include running a chemical-free factory with 100% ethical working condition compliance as well as zero tolerance to animal cruelty in the supply chain. The brand also supports a strictly 'no feathers and fur' policy, with the exception of world recognised eco furs like possum down which is made from otherwise waste material.
Cashmere is collected during the spring moulting season when the Kashmir goats naturally shed their winter coat. Cultures in the northern hemisphere have been refining their methods of ethically collecting and using the cashmere goats shedding fibres for thousands of years. One of the reasons cashmere is expensive is that it is hand-combed from the moulting goats, a slow and delicate process in which the animals are not injured or killed.
Healthy goats raised in natural free-range environments produce long, strong, healthy filament fibres and a regular, even-finish cashmere. Goats kept in poor conditions create thin, irregular fibres – and because cashmere is characterised by its fine quality, raising animals in poor conditions and producing sub-par quality fibres would provide no advantage for a reputable supplier.
Ethical fashion can’t be answered by a simple blanket ban, but rather requires a more in-depth look at individual brands across a number of checkpoints, including animal and human welfare, and environmental responsibility.
Brands like Mia Fratino work diligently to ensure the ethical and sustainable soundness of their operations throughout the entire supply chain. This includes strict policies around fibres that do not meet its ethical or environmental commitments: 100 per cent responsibly sourced natural fibres, a strict no angora, features or fur policy (fails ethics test), and a strict no polyester policy (fails environmental commitments).
More holistically, Mia Fratino is committed to ‘slow fashion’, which honours the entire lifecycle of a garment. To encourage longevity of wear and avoid knits adding to landfill, Mia Fratino offers an online care clinic, complimentary cashmere care kit with every purchase, and revitalising and bespoke mending treatments for its products and the products of any other cashmere brand.
“We are incredibly proud of the product we deliver,” says Amy Jones. “We encourage other cashmere brands who, like us, are doing their due diligence when sourcing their fibres, to lead by example. Talk about your supply chain, talk about your ethical practices and the commitment you have made to slow fashion, and the wider need to move away from fast fashion.”
Ideally, Mia Fratino would like to see big global players focus on and support holistically ethical brands, instead of implementing blanket bans on fibres without any consideration of nuance, and the many layers of ethical and sustainable practices and impacts.
The truth is, you can wear natural and animal-derived fibres responsibly, but it’s important to make informed, well-researched and educated decisions regarding the ethics of fashion brands. And as long as dedicated brands continue the responsible production of natural fibres, we don’t all have to start wearing plastic!