Real fur coats have been laughably out of style ever since paint-throwing activists drew attention to the suffering of the minks and foxes whose corpses provided the material. In recent years, however, fur has been far outpaced by reptile skin as a high-end fashion material. The trend is evident in this year’s designer lines, which feature exotic snakeskin accessories, such as Gucci’s spring 2012 python shoulder bag.
In the documentary The Medan Connection, filmmaker Karl Ammann and investigative journalist Bryan Christy have captured on hidden video the inhumane practices used to bring these decorative accents to the runway. Harking back to the colonial era when live turtles were stored upside down on transatlantic voyages, wild-caught snakes are “stuffed in sacks or wooden boxes, potentially going weeks or months with no food or water,” reports Animal Welfare Institute Quarterly (Fall 2011). “The snakes are then hung by their heads and a hose is used to fill each with water. . . . Some snakes are still alive as their skins are peeled from their bodies.”
Retailers often list their products as non-endangered species to soothe ethical consumers’ consciences, but with what AWI Quarterly describes as “virtually no meaningful regulation” of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, there’s no guarantee that the perfect peeptoe cobra flats or the must-have monitor lizard wallet you just purchased are made from sustainable species. The reptile-skin trade only adds to the threats reptiles already face, including climate change, habitat loss, pet trade collectors, venom seekers, and those who kill out of simple fear.
“While snakes and lizards slaughtered for the skin trade are unlikely to generate the human empathy reserved most commonly for more charismatic species, the vicious cruelties are hard to ignore,” writes AWI Quarterly. It’s true that a boa constrictor or a rat snake lacks the “aw, cute” factor that gets consumers worked up over a floor-length seal fur coat. But with this multimillion-dollar industry threatening the very existence of species essential to our ecosystem, it’s time for designers like Versace and Chanel to exchange real reptile skin for reptile-friendly faux heels.