In the last year we’ve seen major brand names offering customization tools to their consumers. US sneaker manufacturer Converse, for example, enables you to go online, to choose patterns and colors from their current snatch palette for each part of the sneaker. You can mix heart prints, floral prints, etc., along with solid colors. The parts are then printed, and your sneaker is then assembled and shipped to you.
Citing the use of modern technology for consumers to customize fashion products before they order them, Raymond Ong, owner of Thai-based RayFish Footwear, says we are going one step further to “bio-customization.” “We are moving,” he says, “from mass customized products [such as offered by Converse] to bio-customized products.”
If you’re wondering what that means, Ong says this: ”you can now get a uniquely personalized sneaker grown from a Stingray that you designed and that was especially bred for you.”
Frankly, it sounds more than a little creepy. It also throws up bio-ethics. Of course animal and natural products are used in apparel and many other fields, from the arts to the sciences. In regard to fashion and the arts, in virtually every case that I’m aware of, though, the materials used are byproducts. Leather is a byproduct of meat, which is sold for food. The exception is fur, a product that no longer has anything like the allure or status that it did 50 or even 20 years ago.
Customizable Converse sneaker with swatch palette.
Should we really be breeding animals solely as parts for fashion items (as Ong says, “one fish, one sneaker”)? The question is rhetorical, of course, and it’s going to stay that way. Leave aside the $1,800 price tag for a pair of Stingray sneakers, and the fact that this technique can produce only variations of bright color and abstract, organic patterns — an extremely limited look. Over the last few decades there has been a move toward more ethical products — from dolphin friendly tuna to cosmetics guaranteed not tested on animals. Companies using sweatshops are periodically shamed in the press. We don’t like such behavior, and we don’t want to financially support it.
That desire for ethical as well as beautiful products, is only getting stronger as the world gets smaller and we think more and more about its recourses.
It’s quite possible that we will, in a couple of decades or so, see new techniques in textiles ink production, with some being “grown” in a lab. But, we’re not going to see animals being bred for fashion on any kind of scale whatsoever. If anything, we’ll see a move to manufacturing new synthetic and eco-friendly materials and dyes. we’re seeing developments — most notably digital printing used by Converse and others — which limit waste (and therefore pollution), and which are environmentally friendly.
Fashion is becoming more and more ethical, not less. And, frankly, not a moment too soon.