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PETA Targets Ralph Lauren, Versace Owner in Exotic Skins Clash

Animal activists are storming the boardroom to urge some of the world’s biggest brands to vote out exotic skins.

At Capri Holdings’ annual meeting on Wednesday, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals pushed the Michal Kors, Jimmy Choo and Versace owner to end the “egregious cruelty” of using alligator, snake, crocodile and ostrich hides.

Speaking on behalf of Emmy Award-winning actor Gillian Anderson, the animal-rights group praised Capri’s recent $6.2 million acquisition of a 30 percent stake in Desserto, a Mexican firm that makes a vegan leather using cactus fronds.

“Capri clearly understands that the future of fashion lies in animal-free and environmentally responsible materials that appeal to today’s informed and socially conscious consumers,” PETA, a Capri stockholder, said. “Given that Capri has pledged to do its part to make alternative, low-impact materials a reality for the fashion industry, the company must do more to uphold this pledge, starting with no longer sourcing exotic-animal skins.”

Capri did not respond to a request for comment.

On Thursday, PETA will be locking horns with Ralph Lauren. Its question to the Team U.S.A. outfitter will be the same: When will it join Burberry, Chanel, Stella McCartney and others in shedding exotic skins?

“Behind every alligator-skin belt or ostrich-skin handbag is a sentient animal who endured a horrific death for corporate greed,” the cruelty-free champion, which has purchased stock in the preppy purveyor, said. “PETA is calling on Ralph Lauren to get with the times and preserve wildlife, not pimp it out by selling exotic skins.”

PETA said that Halide Alagӧz, Ralph Lauren’s chief supply chain and sustainability officer, has “falsely claimed” that the use of exotic skins may support species survival, biodiversity and ecosystem conservation, though “nothing could be further from the truth.”

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From Southeast Asia to southern Africa, PETA operatives have exposed the “ horrors of the exotic skins trade,” it said. Last month, PETA Asia documented workers in Indonesia “bashing pythons in the head with a steel hammer, suspending and nailing them to a wooden bar, jamming hoses down their throats, and pumping them full of water until they swelled to nearly double their size, then slitting them open with a razor blade.”

The organization said it plans to reference in its shareholder question a 2020 study that named Ralph Lauren among brands that had more than 5,600 illegal wildlife products seized by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service between 2003 and 2010. Ralph Lauren was implicated in 29 percent of those products, the majority of which comprised exotic leather. The Cradle to Cradle collaborator said that more than 80 percent of the items linked to it were shell-related, however.

“Products made from exotic skins constitute an extremely small portion of our overall portfolio,” Ralph Lauren told Sourcing Journal. “When it comes to the sourcing of these materials, Ralph Lauren, with the support and guidance of relevant NGOs and scientists, engages in responsible practices that emphasize animal welfare, species conservation and the protection of biodiversity and ecosystems.”

In both cases, PETA is appealing to the brands’ bottom lines. Nine out of 10 Gen Z consumers, who, together with millennials, wield $352 billion in spending power, want companies to demonstrate environmental and social consciousness in their business practices, it said.

“Forward-thinking companies are meeting the growing demand for sustainable, animal-friendly products by offering vegan leather options made from pineapples, mushrooms, apples, cacti and more,” PETA added.

Some conservationists say that the exotic skins trade, when conducted responsibly, can help species flourish while creating sustainable livelihoods for rural communities. Gucci boss Kering, which operates its own python farm in Thailand, for instance, says its snakes are raised in the “best conditions for animals, farmers and the ecosystem.” LVMH Moët Hennessy, which owns Louis Vuitton, launched in 2019 what it calls the first responsible crocodilian leather sourcing standard. The alternative, their supporters say, is more plastic products.

Now that fur has all but ceded the cultural war, however, exotic skins have become fashion’s next animal-welfare battleground. Besides Burberry, the most notable names to strip free from the rarified materials in recent months include luxury e-tailer Moda Operandi and Puig, the parent company of Carolina Herrera, Dries Van Noten, Jean Paul Gaultier and Nina Ricci.