The iconic French high fashion house that is Chanel S.A., famous for revolutionizing women’s high fashion and everyday fashion from the restricting-silhouettes of the 19th century to more functional and flattering garments for a woman’s figure, has made another revolutionary move. Chanel recently announced they would no longer use exotic skins in any future creations. This makes Chanel the first luxury brand to halt their exotic skin business joining brands such as Asos, Nike, H&M, Puma, Arcadia Group, and L Brands.
Bruno Pavlovsky, president of Chanel fashion and Chanel SAS, told media it was becoming difficult to source skins that met the house’s quality and ethical standards. The exotic skins in question were crocodile, lizard, snake, and galuchat (skin from stingrays and sharks). Chanel has used very little fur historically, but fur is included on their list of animal materials no longer being produced. Pavlovsky stated that Chanel would instead focus their research and development on textiles and leathers created by agri-food industries.
Although Chanel’s python skin bags were reportedly taken down from their website shortly after the big announcement, it will take time for existing exotic skin products to be removed entirely from stores. The official new policy is slated to begin in May of 2019.
The information given to the media by Chanel was direct but didn’t go into great detail about why it was difficult for them to source skins that met their ethical criteria. The exotic skin trade has quite the controversial reputation and a reputation that is, more often than not, known for being inhumane. Two well-known organizations in opposition to the trade in exotic animal skins include Humane Society International and PETA. Both institutions provide a surplus of information about the exotic skin trade on their websites and PETA even has footage exposing some of the horrors these animals experience.
Cruelty at the point of slaughter is often brought up as one of the most substantial concerns in the exotic skin trade. To put the description lightly, thousands of animals used for this industry experience severe abuse and inhumane, long, agonizing deaths according to Humane Society International. Aside from inhumane deaths, the quality of containment for these animals in farmed facilities is another point of concern. Reptiles like crocodiles and alligators have been found crowded in desolate concrete pits for months and sometimes years before being killed for fashion. The methods used in the farms that exist all over the world for this industry, with a majority of them being in SE Asia, are very inadequate and designed to maximize profits all at the expense of the animals.
Knowing these facts about exotic skin farms around the world Kering, the company owning Gucci, Saint Laurent, and Alexander McQueen, decided to build their own python farm in Thailand to help meet the increasingly high demand for luxury patterned snakeskin while being sustainable and humane in the process. The farm is said to have breeding stock and that the snakes will be raised in the best conditions for animals, farmers, and the ecosystem. Kering has goals of producing adult skins from the farm by 2018 and having a significant number by 2020.
The current farms in existence in SE Asia and China are known for laundering illegally caught wild pythons and for being uneconomic since snakes like the reticulated python and Burmese python take nearly three years to mature and are challenging to care for and breed in captivity. Marie-Clair Daveu, chief sustainability officer for Kering, plans to change this with their farm. She stated this process would certainly be a long-term commitment for developing the sustainable and responsible sourcing of Kering’s python skin and they understand this will take time and continual effort since this type of method has never been successful in the past.
This farm idea for Kering got started back in 2014 when they got involved with the Python Conservation Partnership, a group that exposed the $1 billion made in the illegal annual trade in snakeskin. More exposure of the illegal trade was brought to attention by the Chinese government in 2016 when they recovered 68,000 smuggled python skins worth $48 million. The legal trade of python skins is protected by CITES but is not banned. About 500,000 skins are imported legally from SE Asia to Europe each year. Even though Kering is developing their own farming system, they still plan to source some of their skins from the wild under CITES. They believe the legal trade supports local communities by providing jobs and leading to the protection of the habitats in which these wild snakes are found.
What Kering is working to overcome is not an easy task and that is why many critics of this notoriously inhumane trade believe it is best for companies just to stop the use of the skins. Regardless of other companies trying to keep the exotic skin fashion going, what Chanel did by announcing their halt of exotic skins showed they were willing to risk a decline in business for the sake of these animals.