Last week I went to Shanghai, on the invitation of ActAsia, a not for profit organisation who build + drive education programmes in China, with a focus on animal welfare + environmental responsibility. ActAsia was co-founded in 2006 by Pei Su - and is run with steely determination by Pei + her force of nature team from all over the world.
In the words of Pei Su:
"When I was a child in Asia, not many of us grew up with pets. It was unusual to show empathy towards animals, but more fundamentally, it was unusual for parents to openly demonstrate love towards their children.
This emotional reserve is common in parts of Asia, and tends to inhibit children from developing social and emotional intelligence, the kind of intelligence necessary to become a responsible adult.
As children, we learnt respect for our elders and for authority, we learnt etiquette too, but rarely was it suggested that we extend any feelings towards animals, or indeed that animals have feelings. And because of this, many children in Asia grow up assuming animals exist to serve us, feed us, entertain us and clothe us; animals are useful ‘moving objects’, a literal translation of the Chinese word for animal."
The forum was called Compassion in Fashion, however the focus was a combination of sustainability + ethics in fashion. The stage was shared with Dilys Williams + John Lau from London College of Fashion, Jun Li from Shanghai International College of Fashion + Innovation, Simon Collins of WeDesign + Kehua Hu of China Business Climate Action, as well as the ActAsia team.
My talk was centred around Sans Beast - and why I came to start this business. I have found through many conversations over the past couple of years, that animal welfare is not a subject people want to know too much about - so I focused instead on the environmental impact of the mass raising of animals for both food + fashion, with inherent exploitation as a subtle (but clear) back story. Maybe this lacked courage, I suspect so. However, I was told that there was not a word for animal welfare in Mandarin, so I took this as my guide as to how far things could be pushed.
I have found that if you talk to people about the fact our precious resources (like land + water) are being used to raise 70 billion animals for 7.7 billion humans, we're ruining the soil for future generations + all those antibiotics that go into keeping unhappy industrially farmed animals alive, is being ingested by the humans who eat said animals, you're more likely to be listened to.
In summary, this was my talk:
- The leather industry is intimately entwined with the food industry.
- To question (or challenge) the food industry is to question the noble pursuit of feeding the people. Hence, it's unpopular.
- Yet, we waste a third of world food production, every year.
- 18 million acres of forest is cleared yearly to make way for agriculture - we need trees for oxygen, so this is enormously concerning.
- We use inordinate amounts of water to raise industrially farmed animals.
- Already, more than a billion people live with critical water scarcity and 5 billion rely on polluted water. Food production uses most fresh water, with livestock using two-thirds of this.
- Producing twice the amount of food by 2050, is simply not possible without a major change in diet. Our world cannot support both the projected human population and current or future growth in livestock population.
- Of all the mammals on Earth, 60% are livestock, 36% are humans, 4% are wild mammals. There are too many animals on the planet + the methods in which we are farming them, is not sustainable.
- We're ruining the soil with monocultures - some analysts say we have no more than 60 harvests left in our depleted soil.
- Watch Cowspiracy - but also please watch Forks over Knives, What The Health, Terra, Dominion, and if you want some inspiration on climate change, 2040.
- So, taking it back to fashion - as that's why we are here - I started Sans Beast with a plan to build a design led, creative brand with a distinct aesthetic point of view, and NO animal parts as the building blocks.
- We do not profess to be perfect for the world, our bags will not biodegrade fast, they are made from an eco responsible polyurethane coated fabric. However it must be highlighted that leather handbags (and shoes) are not disappearing from the earth any time soon either. To think that the mass produced leather handbag that has been made from tanned + then coloured animal hides, is a noble + natural product, is a fallacy.
- In terms of environmental impact of cow leather compared to synthetic leather, the Global Fashion Agenda + Boston Consulting Group report of 2017 highlights that in three out of four key metrics, synthetic leather has a lower environmental impact than cow leather (which sits nearly at the top of the negative impact scale).
- Why should we care?
- The water footprint of raising cattle for leather is 17,100L of water per kg of leather. One cow produces on average, 6.1kg of leather. That's over 100,000 litres of water per hide. Then there is the tanning, which takes another 360 or so litres of water. So, if you're drinking 2 litres of water a day, 365 days of the year, you need 730 litres a year. Do the math, think about the droughts we're experiencing, and ask yourself - where should the water go?
- The world loves + respects some animals, and enslaves + tortures others. How is this humane? I snuck this one in, because #sansbeast.
- From my perspective, I couldn't keep doing business as usual.
- I wanted to continue to work in a creative space.
- I didn’t want to be a part of this environmental + ethical disaster.
- I didn't want to contribute to animal exploitation.
- I wanted us to give back to an animal based charity from day one (which we have done, with Edgars Mission).
- Sans Beast was incorporated in May 2017 + we launched to market in March 2018.
- We managed to get the brand ‘out there’ in an organic way quite quickly – the distinctive logo on our strap helped.
- We’ve rapidly expanded our customer base in 18 months - overall they're environmentally conscious style seeking individuals.
- They want style, quality, cruelty free + want it to be affordable.
- Importantly – the product MUST look good if we want people to buy it. Being vegetarian + cruelty free is not enough.
- Fundamentally, whatever your ethics are, consumers are demanding MORE from brands + they want us to show that we care. Genuinely care. Not greenwashed care.
- In my opinion, it’s not good business to ruin the planet. There are no jobs + certainly, no fashion, on a dead planet.
- We are supposed to live in harmony with animals - it's a kinder way to live.
- It’s unwise to ignore the tide of public opinion that will come with greater transparency in both environmental + ethical education.
- We hope you will consider going sans beast.
THANK YOU / XIE XIE 谢谢