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Jean Paul Gaultier Owner Sheds Exotic Animal Skins

Puig no longer wants to have any skin in the game.

The Spanish owner of Carolina Herrera, Dries Van Noten, Jean Paul Gaultier and Nina Ricci told animal activists Tuesday that “steps have been taken” to eliminate the skins of alligators, crocodiles, ostriches, pythons and other exotic animals from its bags, shoes and belts.

“Given Gaultier’s unconventionality and Herrera’s elegance, they are signaling that no matter your taste in fashion, the skins of exotic animals have no place in fashion today,” Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), said in a statement. “This wise decision marks a major victory for PETA and an even bigger one for the animals who won’t face a violent end.”

Puig did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While some experts argue that the reptile skin trade can incentivize animal conservation and support local communities, others insist that the animals’ dark, cramped and unsanitary conditions can create breeding grounds for diseases that might spill over to humans, such as Covid-19.

But brands were already shedding exotic skins before the pandemic. Like fur, they’re simply becoming unfashionable, whether because of animal welfare concerns or sourcing challenges.

In 2018, Diane von Furstenberg ditched exotic skins—along with angora, mohair and fur—because it wanted to promote a more ethical and sustainable fashion industry filled with “innovative and sophisticated” alternatives. Chanel followed suit the same year, explaining that it was becoming difficult to obtain skins that “match [its] ethical standards.” It, too, said the move was an opportunity to devise a “new generation of high-end products.”

Last year in May, British bag maker Mulberry, which already has a fur-free policy, jettisoned exotic skins from its lineup.

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“[We] have spent a lot of time determining and then continually reviewing our sustainability metrics and targets,” Rosie Wollacott, sustainability manager at Mulberry, said at the time. “At an early stage of this process, we decided not to use exotics in our collections, and this remains our position.”

In December, Nordstrom pledged to scupper the sales of both fur and exotic skins by the end of 2021 as part of the department store’s “ongoing product evolution.” Its private-label brands, according to chief merchandising officer Teri Bariquit, “haven’t used these materials for years,” so extending the policy to all the brands it carried was a “natural next step for [its] business.”

“As a leading fashion retailer, we’re committed to delivering the best possible service and merchandise for our customers,” Bariquit added. “Delivering on that commitment means continually listening to customer feedback and evolving our product offering to ensure we’re meeting their needs.”

PETA, whose motto reads, in part, “animals are not ours to wear,” is now urging luxury nameplates such as Louis Vuitton, Hermès and Prada to nix exotic skins.

PETA models carrying a handbag-shaped signs lead a protest against the use of exotic skins in fashion accessories, outside a Hermès boutique on New Bond Street, central London, on March 31, 2016.
PETA models carrying a handbag-shaped signs lead a protest against the use of exotic skins in fashion accessories, outside a Hermès boutique on New Bond Street, central London, on March 31, 2016. Lauren Hurley/PA Wire

Some brands have established their own reptile farms in a bid to safeguard the sustainability and integrity of their stock. Kering, the conglomerate behind brands such as Alexander McQueen, Gucci and Saint Laurent, for instance, operates its own python farm in Thailand, where snakes are raised in the “best conditions for animals, farmers and the ecosystem,” it has said. In 2019, LVMH Moët Hennessy, which owns Louis Vuitton, took what it called a “pioneering role” by launching the first responsible crocodilian leather sourcing standard, which it piloted at three farms belonging to Singapore’s Heng Long tannery.

Animal activists, who have described the treatment of animals in such facilities in only the most graphic terms, aren’t convinced by these efforts, however.

“No matter what ‘standards’ a company touts or where the products are made, suffering is rampant in the exotic-skins trade, and it’s nearly impossible to trace the origin of leather to find out who was killed for it,” PETA wrote on one petition page.