This past fall, Ralph Lauren launched a new line of leather dog carriers. The proud owner of a bearded collie-sheep dog mix, Ralph Lauren himself adores dogs and, as he told Harper’s Bazar, “would do anything to save [one.]”
Lauren’s sentiment mirrors that of most of the western world. Dogs (and cats) occupy a special status in our culture—to many of us, they are beloved furry family members. We make them their own Facebook pages. Over the course of their lives, we shell out thousands of dollars on their daily needs and health care. And we dread the day they leave this earth. We can relate when Mr. Lauren says, “Dogs have always been a part of the Ralph Lauren culture.”
But let’s not forget that cows have been, too—albeit in a morbid way. Like many luxury designers, Ralph Lauren produces oodles of leather shoes, bags, and belts each season. If we simply consider leather’s high commercial value and the ubiquity of the raw material as a by-product of the meat industry, this is nothing strange. Surely the gargantuan leather industry intends to keep leather the norm in the fashion world.
When we think beyond commonly accepted fashion and market norms, however, placing one animal in a bag made out of another animal represents a contradiction of values—and is just plain bizarre. In “An Animal’s Place,” food writer Michael Pollan comments on this paradox:
“There’s a schizoid quality to our relationship with animals, in which sentiment and brutality exist side by side. Half the dogs in America will receive Christmas presents this year, yet few of us pause to consider the miserable life of the pig—an animal easily as intelligent as a dog—that becomes the Christmas ham.”
Granted, genetic evolution has rendered certain animals better human companions. For example, dogs have evolved to understand human facial expressions and finger pointing, and during our hunter-gatherer past, dogs were a hunter’s best friend. When we domesticated other animals as livestock, including cows and pigs, we kept dogs by our side. While this dichotomy was arguably crucial for civilization’s development, it’s no longer necessary in industrialized areas like the United States. While it may still feel unnatural (though not impossible!) to have a pet cow, there is no intellectual justification for declaring its life expendable and turning its flesh into our pet’s accessory.
I should stop here to acknowledge that Ralph Lauren is donating 10% of sales from his canine line to the ASPCA, which we all know could certainly use the funds. It’s unfortunate, however, that this contribution to animal shelters comes at the cost of another species.
As animal lovers, it’s our job to help the rest of the developed world catch up. One way of doing this is to strut your cruelty-free stuff. As a beauty junkie, it’s my mission to demonstrate that eco-friendly, vegan body products are even more chic and desirable than their non-vegan counterparts. The growing array of animal-loving makeup companies makes this job easy. The same is true for faux leather or leather alternative (i.e. canvas) clothes, bags, and even puppy pouches. Let’s show the world what vegans already know—we don’t have to trade quality, beauty, and luxury for non-leather items. Animal-free is always glamorous.
Photo: Ralph Lauren