In an attempt to avoid the wrath of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (“PETA”), Nasty Gal has agreed to cease sales of items made with angora rabbit fur. The Los Angeles-based fast fashion brand, known in recent years for its array of blatant runway copies and for the slew of employee discrimination lawsuits it has been named in, has reportedly joined more than 120 brands — including H&M, Topshop, Asos, Urban Outfitters and Forever 21 — in banning angora wool. PETA, which recently acquired a stake in Prada in order to fight its use of ostrich skin, recently conducted an investigation of the angora wool industry, leading to allegations of harsh and inhumane conditions in which the rabbits used for angora are treated.
We will certainly commend Nasty Gal for swearing off the use of angora products, some of which have included $28 berets and $88 mock-neck sweaters from its private-label line. However, we cannot help but suspect that there may be some greenwashing at play here. Much like H&M’s well publicized recycling efforts and its “Conscious” Collection, and Zara’s new eco-friendly stores, such green efforts – including those involving animals – tend to come with downsides of their own, such as alternative motives, aimed at creating a pretty picture in the face of significant problems at the foundational level of such business models.
As you likely know by now, fast fashion is a dirty industry – second only to the oil industry, according to recent reports. In order to keep costs low, fast fashion suppliers and even the big-name retailers, themselves, operate in ethically questionable ways. As we have seen in a number of recent lawsuits, they fire pregnant employees to avoid paying health insurance costs (hey, Nasty Gal). They discriminate against transgender employees (hey, Forever 21). They target shoppers based on race (that’s you, H&M) and employees based on religion (and you, Zara). Their suppliers routinely bypass important quality control and manufacturing health/safety standards because these practices are costly to implement and monitor and that would cut into their bottom line. Hence, the toxic chemicals in clothes, the frequent employee hospitalizations, and the increasing number of fires and buildings collapsing.
In short, fast fashion is an industry founded upon low wages, poor worker standards, chemicals and waste, and design piracy. In order to shed some of the bad press that comes with the aforementioned staples of the industry (which are, in fact, well documented), fast fashion retailers engage in easier, cheaper ways to rehabilitate their images. Enter: greenwashing, the promotion of green-based environmental initiatives or images without the implementation of business practices that actually minimize environmental impact (or any of the other negative effects of fast fashion). This often includes misleading customers about the actual benefits of a product or practice through misleading advertising and/or unsubstantiated claims. And swearing off the use of animal products.
So, while discontinuing the use of angora wool (even though it is also worth noting that angora products have never made up a large portion of Nasty Gal’s stock) is absolutely a step in the right direction, it is imperative that we do not allow such efforts to shield from our purview the ongoing human rights abuses, design piracy and unsafe work environments that run rampant in the fast fashion model.