The VF Corporation (VF) -- the owner of iconic brands like North Face, Timberland and Wrangler -- is out to change the way that trend-setting clothes are made. And if it's successful, the shift will likely be felt across the fashion industry.
This week, VF announced that it is partnering with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the Humane Society International (HSI) to develop a universal humane welfare policy for its brands. The policy not only bans the use of angora, fur and exotic leather, but, according to the corporation, takes steps to ensure humane treatment is a standard in all of its clothing brands.
North Face made headlines some years ago when it tightened its down supply chain and banned the use of feathers from geese raised and killed for foie gras. By restricting its supply of down to ethically-raised and -treated geese, it, and other clothing companies like Patagonia sent a strong message to its consumers: The way animal products are sourced matters just as much as the trends they set.
That's the message VF is now attempting to broadcast across all of its clothing lines, said Letitia Webster, VF Corporation's vice president of global corporate sustainability.
"As we continue to promote the development of viable commercial substitutes to animal materials, this policy will help to ensure that the materials we use today are procured from sources that prioritize animal welfare and responsible business practices,” Webster said in a press statement.
"VF’s policy sends an important message to the industry that animal suffering has no place in fashion, said Kitty Block, HSI's vice president.
The policy will address how materials are sourced for all clothing and footwear. It bans the use of methods that cause animals suffering, such as the often under-publicized "mulesing" technique some wool producers use, in which the wool-bearing skin is peeled off of the animal without anesthetics.
VF has also been behind efforts to develop synthetic down fill called Thermo Fibre, Developed for its European subsidiary, Napapijri, Thermo Fibre is reportedly lighter than conventional goose down, but just as effective when used as insulation in cold-weather clothing. The new fill has helped VF companies overcome a major hurdle, which was finding enough dependable sources for ethically-sourced down and, at the same time, keeping the price tag within reason.
VF's policy decision follows a trend that has been emerging for some years in the fashion industry. Consumers have indicated loud and clear that they want ethical sourcing built into companies' bottom lines. And for some consumers, that means moving away from animal-sourced materials altogether. Companies that have signed on to that movement include Armani, whose products are now are fur-free, and a long list of fragrance and cosmetic companies that have felt the pinch from consumers who want humanely-sourced products.
For VF, the company says, going fur-free and developing a welfare policy that addresses how clothing and footwear materials are sourced and used is just part of a larger effort to be sustainable -- and one that it will continue to develop in the years to come. At the present time, its sustainability report suggests that effort is far-reaching, extending beyond the actual materials they source to deep within the sustainable practices of its suppliers.
"While we do not directly purchase conflict minerals from any source, we are working closely with our suppliers to determine the origin of conflict minerals in our products," VF notes in its Sustainability Report, adding that it expects its suppliers to adhere to the same ethical principles that it sets for its own companies.
More information about VF Corporation's welfare policy and global ethical sourcing initiatives can be found in its 2016 Sustainability Report.
Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.