At the annual Brit Awards this week Rita Ora and Adowa Aboah both walked the red carpet in what’s been touted as this season's must-have embellishment: feathers. While a refreshing break from spring’s usual floral craze, there’s a dirty secret history hiding beneath the wings of this exotic add-on.
The proximity to glamour (think Marilyn Monroe and Las Vegas) and the knowingly flirtatious wink to Mae West understandably make plumage compelling. It’s fabulously unapologetic. It’s a byword for uber-femininity and stands in salute to anti-pragmatism. While the trend dates back to Prada’s AW18 show, Saint Laurent, Roksanda, Rodarte, Maison Margiela, Chanel and more showcased the flutter of feathers for spring. The hot off the mark high street has been quick to oblige with accessibly priced interpretations offered by Topshop, Kitri Missguided and PrettyLittleThing. While we hope many of these labels are using synthetic feathers, we just don't know. Because for some reason fashion has a real blind spot when it comes to realising just how taboo the production of plumage really is.
Fur is a dirty word, the production of meat is viewed with a critical eye and yet feather's flutter in an unvetted space. ‘All feathers used for fashion are stolen property, whether they were ripped out of the rightful owners while they were still alive or removed from their bodies after slaughter’, believes Elisa Allen, Director of PETA. ‘Contrary to popular perception, feathers described as "marabou" don't normally come from marabou storks but rather from factory-farmed turkeys and chickens, who live in their own waste before being hauled to the abattoir. Wearing bits and pieces of animal's bodies is an archaic practice that carries echoes of their suffering’.
Some designers are already adopting vegan alternatives understanding the realities of plucking feathers is inhumane. Common thought persists that they are a by-product of meat production, but that’s not always the case for this trim. A few years ago, PETA released a video from inside the largest ostrich farm in the world, which supplies Prada. It’s graphic and not for the faint-hearted - footage shows young birds crowded into trucks, electrically shocked before their throats slit and their feathers torn out of their bodies before being dismembered.
Arguably, we can ask: What fashion is ethical? For as long as the system is unsustainable - be it because of factory conditions or its colossal environmental impact - the centre cannot hold. Until a time when plastics can decompose, or man-made fibres can be fully recycled, natural alternatives, as well as synthetics, will beg the question. However, we do know that for as long as real feathers are used as an embellishment there is no humane way to manufacture them.
This article originally appeared on The Debrief.