Thursday, December 18, 2008

What Really Is Vegan Clothing?

My father knows what he is getting for Christmas; he was there when I picked it out, or, more accurately, I was there when he picked it out. He loves these signature polo shirts that come in short and long sleeve versions. And that's what he's getting from me in his chosen color.

Should I feel bad about purchasing him a shirt from Orvis? The shirt itself is 100% cotton, so it's vegan. But Orvis, as a company, is not vegan by any means: it specializes in high-end fishing, hunting, and other sporting goods. It was founded in 1856 as a tackle shop in Manchester, Vermont. In addition to its vegan polo shirts, it not only sells clothing that incorporates wool, silk, and leather, it also sells pellet rifles, gun cases, and trout flies. Then again, it also runs a nationally recognized conservation program. Though this program undoubtedly advances Orvis' business model such that its continuation should not necessarily be taken as a reflection on Orvis' commitment to animal welfare.

Similarly, pre-vegan, I was apt to use Orvis as an example of how women can succeed in a male-dominated world. Fifteen years after its founding, Orvis was languishing. Mary Orvis Marbury, the founder's daughter, took charge of Orvis' main department -- the fly department. While running the department, she published the first ever encyclopedic reference book on fly patterns, Favorite Flies and Their Histories. The idea of standardization among fly patterns that the book introduced redefined fly fishing and allowed Orvis to dominate the fly fishing goods industry. Subsequently, Mary Marbury was inducted into the fly fishing hall of fame.

Is it wrong to bring attention to Orvis via discussing the success of Mary Marbury? Is it wrong to buy vegan clothing from Orvis? If so, am I similarly wrong to highlight vegan clothing that is made by designers who incorporate fur into their clothing, shoes, and accessories, such as Coach and Burberry? And if so on that question, is it wrong to highlight clothing made by designers who use wool, silk, and leather? And if so . . . what exactly should I blog about because if the last batch of designers are not vegan enough, I think it will be impossible to dress professionally as a vegan.

Perhaps Orvis is sufficiently unlike designers who use fur. Orvis' business model revolves around harming animals; the clothing that happens to be made from cotton is an ancillary by-product. If Orvis suddenly starts selling lots and lots of cotton clothing, it is unlikely to cut back on its production of sporting goods and related paraphernalia. Conversely, if Coach and Burberry see a spike in sales of their clothing and accessories that are vegan, perhaps they will decrease or discontinue their use of fur. Same with those designers who use wool, silk, and leather.

Thus, I don't think it is wrong to blog about designers who incorporate fur into some of their products . . . and I don't feel bad purchasing vegan clothing from them. These designers have sophisticated product tracking programs; they know who is buying what. I think purchasing certain items from them sends at least as direct a message as not buying anything. And I think it is appropriate and possible to protest their use of fur (and other materials) at the same time. Perhaps I am wrong. But I will continue highlighting their vegan clothing. As for Mary Marbury, I still think she's fabulous and I will continue to talk about her success in a male-dominated industry and world even if in doing so I bring attention to Orvis.

1 comment:

Suasoria said...

I completely accept most of your arguments. They would, however, fall somewhat short if we considered advertising, marketing, media, and other entities that drive commerce.

(If it were my blog, which it isn't, I might draw the line at companies that push fur.)

But I'm not passing judgment on Orvis. I'm curious, though, how Orvis' cotton clothing is an ancillary by-product. What's it a byproduct of, or what's the primary product?

And love the blog and blah blah blah.