The Angora Boycott: What Happens Next?

Just before Christmas an animal cruelty story gained an unusually (and pleasingly) strong reaction after hitting the news when PETA revealed that the majority of the High Street’s favourite fluffy winter yarn was forcibly plucked from the backs of live screaming rabbits in Chinese angora farms. PETA released a shocking video documenting the torturous conditions under which angora wool is produced, leaving rabbits raw, bloody and semi-bald.

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Angora goats and an Angora rabbit….thats a rabbit, honest!

I have to admit angora is something that has always confused me about mainstream fashion. Angora is produced from rabbit hair, yet there is also the Angora goat whose lustrous fleece produces mohair: no one ever said that fashion made sense! You would imagine that angora should be seen as an absolute luxury yarn, as it comes from a very small animal that does not easily lose its hair, so it should be very far away from gracing the rails of the likes of H&M, Marks and Spencer, Zara and Topshop at reasonably affordable prices, yet as always the fashion machine is demanding and with the economic situation as it is affordable luxury has become a big deal.

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H&M’s high profile campaign from last winter featuring Lana Del Ray, this year they have had a swift change of heart leading the way in a wide spread boycott of the controversial fibre.

China produces 90% of the world’s angora, which equates to 4,000 tons of hair from 50 million rabbits with Argentina, Chile, The Czech Republic and Hungary sharing the remaining 10%. In comparison there is little angora production in the UK and certainly nothing on a commercial basis with a few small-time owners producing approx 1kg of wool per rabbit per year, which when blended with lambswool could make 3–4 garments per year. Whereas British and European producers must comply with higher welfare standards, the Chinese farms —despite their barbaric method of angora production— do not, making their production considerably cheaper. This means that there is little possibility of Britain or any other European country rising to meet the commercial challenge to fill the gap in the market left by the boycotting of the Chinese product as it is simply not profitable.

As a result of the PETA exposé major High Street brands ranging from Topshop, H&M and Marks and Spencer to All Saints have all agreed to boycott the use of Chinese angora until the issue can be resolved. This an admirable display of ethics, however I’m left wondering what will happen to the 50 million rabbits that have been bred for angora production each year. In addition I wonder whether the boycotting brands’ ethical and environmental policies have consideration for the fate of the yarn (that has likely been dyed, spun and knitted already) previously destined for the High Street: now they are unable to sell it, how will they dispose of it? My concern is that ‘ethical’ policy decisions by major brands may be token gestures made in the interest of PR and not considerate of effects further along the supply chain. It is incredibly hard to determine whether or not this is the case, as this kind of information is rarely made publicly available.

We probably shouldn’t forget that although some brands have agreed to cease selling angora products, many have not and the Chinese domestic market is growing all the time, so the initial problem hasn’t necessarily disappeared, we just won’t hear about it.

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Ambika Boutique, rabbit friendly angora products. Rabbits are combed or shorn every 3 months in line with their natural molting cycle.

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Friendly Fur, gently shorn from a happy rabbit. Rabbits are combed or shorn every 3 months in line with their natural molting cycle.

So what does the future hold for angora products? Will they never return to our shops? H&M have “permanently” ended production of angora products, but it seems unlikely that all High Street brands that have shunned angora will do so forever due to it’s enduring popularity. It’s conceivable that the ethical issue could be sidestepped by using non-Chinese angora, the links below show some examples of the opportunities as well as the price points required to make it feasible. However the gap between the scale of Chinese production and the rest of the world is simply too big for a humanely-produced product to reach stores and still be affordable any time soon. Thinking positively it would be great to see some innovation to fill the rabbit-shaped gap with a sustainable fibre bearing similar characteristics. Or perhaps even persuade the Chinese angora farmers that torturing rabbits is unreasonable? We can dream.

Some friendly angora products:

http://www.shoperibe.co.uk/products/ski-fairisle-cardigan-fortune

http://ambikaboutique.bigcartel.com/category/friendlyfur

Some very unfriendly images of the torture suffered by angora rabbits:

http://action.peta.org.uk/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=5&ea.campaign.id=23870

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