ASOS Is Becoming More Mindful of Animal Welfare & Here’s Why That’s Crucial for The Environment Too

Recently, ASOS, H&M, Primark and several other clothing retailers pledged to make their companies more animal-friendly. These respective business decisions to gradually dissolve inventory that contain mohair, cashmere, feathers and various other animal byproducts obviously help reduce animal-cruelty in the fashion industry. However, this move doesn't solely impact animals and fabric farming, it can promote eco-conscious practices within ASOS and the fashion industry as a whole.

Animal welfare and sustainability often intersect, here are just a few ways that eliminating cashmere, mohair and other similar animal byproducts could contribute to environmental health. 

 

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Overall, fashion-based animal farming can contribute to land erosion and desertification.

PETA reports that, because animals within fabric farms are natural grazers, they can deplete the grass and brush in local landscapes, which can make that area more susceptible to floods and mudslides during the impending rains. The volume of the animals within these farms can lead to overgrazing because the animals need to eat, but this can leave the typically lush grasslands barren and can have an adverse effect on the land’s well-being.

Vegetative roots can help prevent floods within wetlands and surrounding floodplains; however, vegetation, particularly grass, is critical in preventing floods and runoff regardless of how susceptible that area might be to flood-like conditions. Because the plant roots systems naturally absorb water, grass roots act as a subterranean buffer for water whenever there’s a rain to both slow down water that seeps through the ground substrate and to act as an anchor for any malleable soil, sand or clay that could move during a significant rainfall. Seeing each individual grass plant has the ability to grow in close proximity to one another, their root systems collectively act as a natural levee to hold the ground in place during a heavy rain so it doesn’t run off and cause a mudslide.

Regardless of how minor or catastrophic mudslides are, mudslides actively move the ground substrate from one area to another, with leaves a soil deficit wherever the water initially jettisoned that ground from. If grass doesn’t have enough time to replenish in between this time, this soil erosion can become increasingly more noticeable and physically alter the terrain in that area and cause a flood plan or water basin. (Which obviously can have harmful results for the wildlife in that area, and the people who live near the region.)

Without vegetation to physically hold the ground in place whenever it rains, it subjects the land to cyclical soil erosion unless that soil is continually replenished and new vegetation (i.e., native species of flora, especially grasses) begins to grow. Conversely, over-grazing and excessive farming—whether it’s animal farming or crop-based farming—can convert the natural biome of the farm area into a completely new biome.

As History notes, over-farming of any kind (whether it’s with vegetation of animals, in this case, sheep) can induce desertification, where a once supple vegetative location transforms into a desert or leads to an extended drought. And desertification isn’t uncommon of a new concept, seeing as early Mesopotamian farmers cultivated the once lush soil of the Fertile Crescent until it turned into the infertile desert it is today.

Even though cashmere is an expensive style to afford and cashmere is taken from very specific Hircus goats, cashmere can have a devastating result on the landscape where these goats naturally flourish: Mongolia, China and certain parts of Australia. According to a Nov. 2015 report by the Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) and Kering obtained by the Business of Fashion, harvesting pure cashmere can strip the grasslands of places like Mongolia and alter the landscape itself, which can have damaging results on the local biome.

Because Hircus goats need a very specific geographic location to survive, cashmere farmers can’t rotate their farming locations and manage an environmentally and financially sustainable operation. Making up nearly 40 percent of Mongolia’s global exports, according to the NPR, restricted cashmere sales could have a negative impact on the country’s trade economy. Although choosing between one of Mongolia’s most successful trade labors and conserving the grasslands—which NPR notes have been depleted by 65 percent as a direct result of the Hircus goats overgrazing, alternatives to pure cashmere do exist.

This fabric-induced catch-22 could be resolved if pure cashmere farmers transitioned to cropping synthetic blends of cashmere. The transition could combat the naturally fine fibers all while avoiding any potential animal cruelty and degrading local environments in the process.

 

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Cashmere’s innately soft texture can be replicated with polyester and other artificial fibers, such as cotton and acrylic. Since polyester fibers can be created with a controlled chemical reaction, these lab-made pseudo-cashmere products could help Mongolia’s landscape recoup from its land erosion and subsequent climate change. However, polyester isn't known for its biodegradable properties, so its impact on the environment can be troubling as well.  Cotton could serve as a replacement for the cashmere niche for fashion-forward consumers, but cotton isn't common in Mongolia's agriculture and could take time to replace the currently prevailing cashmere industry. 

Nevertheless, phasing these countries’ pure cashmere farming into an imitation cashmere industry can take extensive time and training. Ultimately, imitation cashmere blends could be the future of fashion anyway, seeing as it can take one Hircus goat about four years to produce enough wool to make a single cashmere sweater, according to The Nature Conservancy.

As well as water and air pollution.

Generally, the variety of flora and fauna in a region increases the biodiversity of the habitat, which better supports the health of that habitat.

According to One Green Planet, fabric farms can lead to excessive methane gas production (via, you know, animal farts and burps), but the carbon emissions from the production, transport and distribution of the animal byproducts is a more notable production of carbon emissions (which can lead to air pollution or lower air quality in that surrounding area).

However, local waterways can also be contaminated with animal waste from grazing herds. Normally, animal fecal matter is high in nitrogen, which harmful aquatic organisms like algae use as nutrition. Although certain fish and benthic macroinvertebrates feed on algae, too many algae (and algae rapid blooms depending on how much nitrogen and nitrate are available), can create a wall on the water’s surface and actively suffocate the other water-dwelling creatures by depleting the oxygen resources.

Any type of pollution has overt ramifications on local ecosystems, which can range from decreased biodiversity from species that physically can’t tolerate these changes in these changes in the air and water and thus lead to an imbalance in the local ecosystem.  

Beyond pollution and environmental changes, animal byproducts in the fashion industry (and in other applications) can contribute to your carbon footprint.

Your carbon footprint basically assesses how much carbon dioxide the things you do and use emit. While using fossil fuels and electricity are basic contributing factors to your carbon footprint, and otherwise act as indicators for how eco-friendly your lifestyle might be on a day-to-day basis, some parts of your carbon footprint might not be so obvious. After all, it can be difficult to calculate the amount of water and carbon dioxide emissions when into making your wool socks or the plastic around your water bottle.

Silk, cashmere and wool might be popular for the extra style-cending fashion aficionado, but there are ways to integrate sustainable fibers into the fashion industry that have minimal carbon emissions. For instances, hemp has a minimal greenhouse gas emissions. Throughout the commercial lifespan of hemp—which includes the planting, growth, crop upkeep, harvest, production and distribution of the product, hemp products emit minimal environmental side effects. Since hemp can be used to create clothing, it could be used as an alternative cloth fiber. 

Allocating efforts toward fibers that are more sustainable and cruelty-free can breed a new generation of fashion trends that can literally change the world, or at least prevent the planet from turning into a global desert.

So what should you do if you want to don some eco-conscious apparel but you might not know if your favorite labels have animal-friendly and sustainable labels?

Shopping for vegan apparel and accessories can help protect the environment and the animals, plus synthetic clothing is typically more financially-friendly. If you aren’t sure how to avoid animal byproducts in your wardrobe, PETA has a brief reference sheet on some potentially problematic ingredients and why you might want to avoid them.

If you’re uncertain if your favorite brand sources sustainable fabrics, you can always contact the company directly and ask them what fibers they use in specific products and where they get these fibers from. Ultimately, ASOS’s animal welfare initiative could (hopefully) persuade larger animal farmers to alter their vocations—but it never hurts to inquire about your fave company’s products.