PARIS — While it might be too ambitious to encapsulate the fashion industry’s entire impact on animal welfare in one film, filmmaker Rebecca Cappelli attempts to do just that with her documentary “Slay.”
The film, which premiered in Paris last week, shows the effects of the fur trade – known as hides and furs – in a wide-ranging investigation that touches on everything from animal welfare, workers’ rights and the environmental devastation it causes. passing through the supply chains of fashion and luxury goods to end such as handbags, shoes and jewellery.
“We all know that for most luxury brands, a lot of their profits come from leather, especially leather, and so when we say that, it’s just a fact,” she said. “But this is not an anti-fashion film. It is not about a particular brand. It’s about finding solutions.”
The film takes him around the world. In Brazil, she explores the deforestation that is taking place to make way for cattle that end up as hides, and in Italy, she shows how the hides are sanitized and washed. In China, she explores the industrial fur industry as well as the illegal trade in endangered animals, and she highlights the unregulated trapping industry in the US, among other points of contact.
The title “Slay” is a play on the slang definition of the word, as well as the darker origins of its original meaning. The film was an independently financed effort that took Cappelli three and a half years to complete. Covering seven countries, it takes a deeper look at the impact of the fur, leather and fur industries on animals, the planet and people.
And while sustainability may be a buzzword used by brands in their marketing, the film shows that the issues are interconnected in ways that are often hidden. Cappelli tries to demystify those connections.
“When it comes to sustainability and ethical fashion, there is a blind spot – we don’t talk about the animals used in fashion and we don’t talk about the impact that animal use has on the planet and the people who work in the supply chain, or live in the communities that are affected by these industries”, she said.
Cappelli said very few brands have animal welfare policies, and a 2020 report by the welfare organization Four Paws found that only 21 percent of brands had traced their animal-derived materials. The film argues that sustainable fashion should include animal ethics, as animals are the origin of most of the fashion and luxury goods industry’s most profitable products.
Citing UN figures, the film notes that one leather bag equates to over 10,000 square meters of cleared land and that 80 percent of Amazon deforestation has been for cattle grazing. It also dispels the myth that leather is a by-product of the food industry, when this is often not the case with high-end luxury lamb and calf skins.
Traceability is an issue, as cows are often bought, sold and moved several times, and their skins can change hands, obscuring the supply chain before export.
“Due to the lack of traceability the conclusion we have come to Through my work and with some non-profit organizations, it’s actually impossible to guarantee that this leather doesn’t come from deforested land,” she said.
Eighty percent are sent abroad to be processed into a commodity, with the second largest market being Italy. Cappelli follows the trail as it goes to tanneries, which are then sold to fashion brands for bags and shoes. Behind the scenes, tannery owners name-check many mainstream high-street and high-end brands that publicize their sustainable credentials but supposedly buy from untraceable sources.
These are just some of the first scenes dealing with the fashion industry’s supply chain woes, before it moves on to the illegal trade in endangered animals and dog fur farming in China, and the feral trapping of foxes and raccoons in the US in several scenes that put impact – and cruelty – at its heart.
The film also touches on the health implications for workers in and around tannery chemicals, particularly focusing on India and Italy, as well as the treatment of migrant workers who primarily staff the facilities in Italy.
“From my perspective, it’s about connecting stories, sharing facts and information that may not be available to the general public, and also telling and connecting with individuals. That individual could be an animal or that individual could be a worker in an Italian tannery or a tannery in India,” she said of the film’s different points of view. “It’s more about making visible what’s not visible today so we can start a dialogue and a conversation in the industry.”
One touch point is her personal journey from an animal-loving child to a grown-up fashionista who wore fur without making a conscious connection. After all, consumers don’t see the material impact when animals are neglected and abused, she argues.
“We have to look at it. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but I believe we need to be able to have uncomfortable conversations to move forward and evolve. We have to sit with this data, the science, this information, but also our feelings about it,” she said.
The documentary features scenes of visits to fur traders with queues of cat skins, as well as footage of trapped and beaten animals and Cappelli’s visit to a fur farm with hundreds of dogs in cages. Europe is not left off the hook. Although some countries have banned fur farming, Cappelli visits mink farms in Poland, where it still occurs, and explores how the fur is often mislabeled on the European market.
“My goal with the film is also ultimately to operate a cultural shift to understand that skins are not a ‘material’ – they are the skin of an animal,” she says.
The film also examines wool production and the impact that industrial agriculture has on Australia and New Zealand, including being a major source of greenhouse gas emissions for those countries even though it is often considered a sustainable fabric.
“Slay” concludes by examining alternative materials, including corn- and sugarcane-based polymers that can be turned into new textiles, including Ecopel faux fur.
It’s a big picture of the very detailed issues that are environmental and ethical in the fashion industry. The film, which is now streaming on documentary platform Waterbear, is not only focused on talking to the industry, but also to consumers.
“Essentially we are talking about massive issues involving countries and we have to be realistic about what is feasible in the short term,” Cappelli said. “We tell the truth without accusing anyone and without judging anyone, but saying these are problems [in our industry] and let’s see it together.”