Last week I went to a talk at the V&A on Fashion and ethics. When the conversation turned to leather an audience member voiced the question "How can fashion ever truly consider itself to be ethical when death is involved", to which one of the speakers answered that she was vegetarian and her company do not use leather. Unfortunately the discussion never went any further down that road but it did get me thinking.
As a committed longterm vegan, and in working with textiles a lot of questions come to me. For example; as a vegan I do not wear leather shoes. However most vegan shoes are made of a synthetic leather, which is made from a plastic. This is great in some ways - waterproof, smart looking etc, but dreadful in others - not biodegradable, not breathable, and this is asides from finding them made in a fair trade and ethical manner, as well as hopefully being durable and comfortable! So one question I often ask myself is 'leather vs pleather, which is more ethical'.
Similarly I do not work with wool, silk and other animal byproducts, I prefer not to use synthetics as I am not keen on their feel a lot of the time, but when I want the shimmer of silk or the warmth of wool I cannot always find a suitable cellulose fabric. I try not to mix material types as they are easier to reuse if they are not mixed but this is not always possible. And with a seeming prevelence of poly-cotton mixes at the moment maybe the future is mixed.
Questions about animal byproducts crop up all the time, glue, paint, brushes all have their own debates but when you then couple them with environmental ethics it becomes all the more complicated. Some find it ethically easiest to work digitally but I am a physical person, I am a maker. I am yet to marry my different ethical concerns with a suitably appropriate answer for an animal free, environmentally sound answer for most of them.