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image: Michael Kors
image: Michael Kors

In early 2016, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (“PETA”) announced that it had acquired a single share in French luxury goods conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

While a single share seems virtually meaningless, it is not. That small ownership stake grants PETA access to LVMH’s shareholder meetings, which the group has already taken to attending in order to further pressure the conglomerate – parent to Louis Vuitton, Dior, Givenchy, Celine, Loewe, and Marc Jacobs, among other brands –  to stop using alligator and crocodile skins to make its products.

This is hardly the first move of its kind from PETA, which is famous for its shocking media campaigns. 20 years ago, when the animal rights organization began expanding its operations, it “realized the fashion industry was an area that could attract a lot of media attention,” Racked noted in 2017. 

With that in mind, PETA “started by focusing on fur, which involved a lot of literal letter-writing in the days before email and protesters trying to land themselves in front of TV cameras. While a few retailers caved before Calvin Klein, the brand was the first marquee name to stop carrying it.” 

Fast forward 20 years, and PETA” is still relentless,” but its efforts have evolved. While activists can still be found holding signs and picketing outside off fur-selling companies’ stores, PETA rather recently adopted a new tactic. Small-scale acquisitions. In addition to LVMH, PETA acquired a single share in Hermèsin 2015 for $360, after which a representative from PETA confronted Hermès’ chief executive officer at the company’s annual general meeting that year. Isabelle Goetz, a French spokeswoman for the non-profit animal rights organization, attended the brand’s annual general meeting in May 2017 and asked CEO Axel Dumas if Hermès planned to stop using exotic skins, including those of ostriches.

Dumas responded to PETA’s concerns by reiterating that Hermès, which is best known for its pricey Birkin and Kelly bags, ensures its suppliers respect international regulations in addition to its own rules of ethical conduct.

His exact response: “You have a number of concerns regarding the treatment of animals. We respect them, but we don’t necessarily share your position regarding farming. Farming conditions strictly comply with international regulations because we want to apply the best practices in this field, and I think that Hermès has always been at the forefront of wanting to pay attention to ethics and the treatment of animals.” Hermès continues to make use of exotic skins to this day.

LVMH was reportedly far less welcoming. Reps for PETA claim that they were refused entrance to an April 2017 LVMH shareholder meeting after announcing that it would challenge the use by the conglomerate’s fashion brands of crocodile and ostrich skins for their accessories. The luxury goods giant, which owns Louis Vuitton, Dior, Givenchy, Loewe, Fendi, and Marc Jacobs, among others, has refused to budge on its use of fur and animal skins.

“From demonstrating on the street to speaking up in the boardroom, PETA will push LVMH to stop selling any bag, watchband, or shoe made from a reptile’s skin,” says PETA President Ingrid Newkirk.

In addition to stakes in LVMH and Hermès, though, PETA similarly took a small stake in Prada in 2016 in order to pursue its protest over ostrich leather handbags from within the luxury fashion group. According to a statement from the activist group at the time, “PETA USA is taking the fight against cruelty into Prada meeting rooms where it will able to ask the company to end forever the use of ostrich leather in its bags.”

As recently as this week, Prada announced that it will cease use of fur in its collections beginning next year; it has not sworn of using other skins, though. PETA Senior Vice President Dan Mathews said on Wednesday, “For years, PETA has pushed Prada to reject cruelty from the inside – as a shareholder at the company’s annual meetings. This follows over a decade of protests by PETA and our affiliates – including crashing catwalks and organizing street demonstrations – calling on the label to shed its skins. Its decision to ban fur is a triumph for animals and activists.”

“While PETA applauds Prada for joining the ever-growing list of fashion houses that are dropping fur,” Matthews continues, “we now urge the brand to follow in Chanel’s compassionate footsteps by also removing cruelly obtained exotic skins – including crocodile, lizard, and snake skins – from future collections.”

Also in 2017, in addition to protesting at down jacket marker Canada Goose’s initial public offering, PETA acquired a stake in the company, as well, and a sizable one. PETA said it had bought $4,000 worth of stock — roughly 230 shares — at $17.15 a share in order to submit shareholder resolutions and speak at annual shareholder meetings.

“PETA’s first order of business as part owner of Canada Goose? To pressure the company to stop using fur from cruelly trapped coyotes and down feathers from slaughtered geese,” the company said in a statement.

Its likelihood of success? Well, it is pretty high. Just ask the those that formerly used angora rabbit wool in their products. After releasing a harrowing video in November 2013 of Angora rabbits being tortured, China’s exports of the wool products dropped by nearly $20 million dollars and retailers (from $23 million in 2010 to just over $4 million in 2015), and more than 120 brands and retailers ranging from Nasty Gal and H&M to Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. 

While old-school picketing and red paint may still work in some cases, it is 2017, and PETA has obviously seen a need to incorporate new protest tactics into the mix, including good old fashioned luxury retail therapy. PETA, however, does its shopping on the stock market and in the name of animal rights.