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Coach Owner Defends ‘Right’ to Use Exotic Skins

The latest battleground in animal rights within the fashion industry is exotic skins, and PETA is its frontline warrior.

At Tapestry Inc.’s annual meeting on Nov. 15, the animal rights group—which owns stock in the Coach, Kate Spade and Stuart Weitzman parent—urged leadership to implement a ban on exotic skins companywide.

“Behind every ostrich- or alligator-skin handbag is a sentient animal who endured a horrific death for corporate greed,” Tracy Reiman, PETA executive vice president, said. “PETA is calling on Tapestry Inc. to follow the lead of numerous top industry players and ban exotic skins or risk being on the wrong side of history and fashion trends.” 

The animal rights group said it tried to show Tapestry that its claims of maintaining high animal-welfare standards don’t hold water, pointing out that a PETA Asia investigation in Indonesia revealed workers “bashing pythons over the head with a hammer and chopping conscious lizards’ heads off with machetes.” PETA entities have documented the gruesome ways that reptiles are killed for their skins worldwide through eight investigations in four countries on three continents.

But Tapestry claims to use a “very small amount” of exotic skins and products throughout its brands, though the exact percentage is unclear.

“It is our belief that each of Tapestry’s brands have the right to determine what materials they want to use, in the full creative expression of their vision and in line with customer expectations and demands,” David Howard, general counsel and secretary, said during Tapestry’s 2022 annual meeting of stakeholders on Tuesday. “We are committed to high standards of animal welfare and have adopted principals and practices that require all animals in our supply chain to be treated with care and respect. We will not knowingly use species listed in the convention on international trade and endangered species agreement or the IUCN red list categories.”

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Plus, through the Tapestry Foundation, the company established a $3 million partnership with the World Wildlife Fund to launch a “pioneering” leather traceability program in Brazil earlier this year, Tapestry CEOJoanne Crevoiserat told shareholders during the meeting.

PETA hopes to appeal to Tapestry’s bottom line, citing research that shows nine out of 10 Gen Z consumers—who, together with millennials, boast $350 billion in spending power—say that companies should operate with environmental and social consciousness in their business practices. And, with stock in the company—as well as various other brands—PETA is trying to agitate for change from the inside.

Many companies, including Jean Paul GaultierBurberry, and Stella McCartney, have banned exotic skins, and many more are meeting the growing demand for sustainable, animal-friendly products by offering vegan leather options made from pineapplesmushrooms, grapesapplescacti and other plant-based materials.

“Again, we are committed to corporate responsibility, including animal welfare,” Howard said.

Eliminating exotic skins isn’t the only battle PETA is fighting, either.

The organization launched a $1 million Vegan Wool Challenge, which offers a windfall to the first entrant who develops a vegan wool material that’s visually, texturally and functionally akin or superior to sheep’s wool and sold by a major clothing brand. Entrants have until the end of July 2023 to submit.

“From apples and hemp to kombucha tea and cacti, there seems to be no limit to what designers can use to create wonderful, animal-free clothing and accessories,” Reiman said. “PETA is delighted to offer innovative minds a big boost that will protect sheep, push fashion forward, and help stop the environmental degradation caused by animal agriculture.” 

PETA entities have documented cruelty to sheep in 117 wool operations worldwide, revealing in 14 exposés that “even on ‘sustainable’ and ‘responsible’ farms, workers beat, stomped on, cut up and slit the throats of conscious, struggling sheep.” While many durable, stylish, and warm fabrics are available that aren’t made from animal-derived materials, creating a viable, sustainable vegan wool could help alleviate suffering and fight the climate crisis as the wool industry produces massive amounts of methane, erodes soil and contaminates waterways. 

PETA previously attacked Allbirds for its use of wool after the San Francisco company went public. The sustainable sneaker brand ultimately prevailed in a separate lawsuit that questioned its animal-welfare standards.