The results of PETA’s investigation into Mallkini, the world’s largest privately owned alpaca farm, featured graphic scenes of screaming animals being slammed onto tables, roughly shorn and bleeding from open wounds, which the animal-rights group said were crudely stitched up without pain relief.
“Uniqlo’s decision will go a long way in helping to prevent vulnerable alpacas from being abused and shorn bloody for their wool,” Tracy Reiman, executive vice president at PETA, said in a statement. “Kind consumers can do their part to reject this cruelty by opting for vegan clothing, which no animal had to suffer for.”
It’s not clear if the Japanese retailer sourced fibers from Mallkini. Fast Retailing, Uniqlo’s parent company, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Equally uncertain is what Uniqlo plans to use in place of alpaca wool, which it sometimes blends with acrylic and nylon to make its sweaters, including a jacquard Ines de La Fressange-designed number that was still available on its website Tuesday morning.
Synthetic yarns, which have chemical, rather than animal, origins, contribute to problems of their own, including microplastic pollution, which has permeated the air, soil, water and food chains. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, more than one-third of microplastics currently deluging oceans, rivers and lakes stem from laundering synthetic textiles.
PETA’s investigation led Esprit to phase out alpaca wool from its collections. Two other brands named by PETA, Gap and H&M, have cut ties with Mallkini’s parent company, the Michell Group, which has disputed PETA’s claims that the treatment of alpacas in the video “constitutes established practices.”
“The vast majority of alpacas are quite docile and allow themselves to be sheared with great ease,” a spokesperson previously told Sourcing Journal. “They are kept together with their families and taken to the workspace without any further effort. A small proportion of alpacas do show nervousness and require a little more restraint, but the process still takes a few minutes and is subject to a rigorous handling protocol, to take care of them and not cause them any further stress.”
PETA’s revelations prompted Gap and H&M to assist Textile Exchange in the creation of a Responsible Alpaca Standard, currently in draft form, that will verify and identify alpaca fiber produced in farming systems that prioritize animal welfare and the environment.
“Through this effort, we are helping bring together stakeholders across Peru as well as globally including auditors, suppliers, workers’ organizations, brands and animal-rights groups to shape these standards and the monitoring and due diligence protocols to help implement the standard,” a Gap spokesperson told Sourcing Journal. “In addition to this, across our family of brands, we remain committed to sourcing more recycled materials as well as investing in new and innovative alternatives to animal-derived fibers.”
Textile Exchange also operates the Responsible Wool and Responsible Mohair Standards, which manage the welfare of sheep and angora goats respectively.
“We are proud to add alpaca to this family of standards,” Ashley Gill, director of standards at Textile Exchange, said in a statement in June. “The industry has a responsibility for ensuring strong animal welfare throughout their supply chains and we believe that standards are an effective way to show unified demand. We are grateful for the contribution of Gap Inc. and H&M for making this work possible and look forward to seeing the positive results of this work.”
While Uniqlo joins Esprit, Overstock, Marks & Spencer, Maison Numen and Smith & Caughey’s in nixing alpaca, PETA’s campaigns against other sheared animal fibers—mohair, in particular–have been more successful. In 2018, the group’s fusillade against mohair led 320 companies, including Topshop owner Arcadia Group, Asos, Gap, H&M and Inditex-owned Zara, to outlaw or pledge to outlaw its use. Uniqlo, too, nixed the fiber.
Sheep’s wool has proven more resistant to PETA’s salvos, though not for lack of trying. In April, the organization announced it was taking “advantage of the COVID-19 market slump” to snap up stocks in nearly two dozen companies, including Capri Holdings (which operates Michael Kors and Versace), Guess, Ralph Lauren and Urban Outfitters to negotiate bans on wool, mohair and cashmere.
“We frequently buy the minimum number of shares necessary in clothing companies in order to attend annual meetings, liaise with shareholders and influence management decisions from the inside,” the organization explained.
Fast Retailing recently lowered its outlook for 2020, forecasting a 50 percent decline in annual operating profit due to COVID-19 woes despite a strong rebound in Uniqlo’s domestic same-store sales for June and what it described as a faster-than-expected recovery of its Chinese market.