He looks like a businessman or model with the friendly face of the guy from next door. Sometimes it’s difficult to believe that he is behind of many important decisions fashion industry has made – to go fur free.
He was raised in rural Ohio, between the cornfields and as his mother realized how animals are abused in a food industry, he and his sisters were raised as vegetarians. After studying writing and journalism he understood that he’s passion is somewhere else and as he says – was lucky enough to get a job in Humane Society to do corporate outreach in fur industry. “At that moment there was not an open dialogue between animal activists and industry. Nobody was not talking about animal welfare in fashion circles”, he says and we discuss a little about agressive campaigns and activists taking over runways – these actions were at place to give a signal that something is wrong in the industry. But in a way, those ones who started an outreach had to re-invent a wheel, to work out strategies how to educate fashion industry about the animals.
There was a loophole in a law and this gave PJ the opportunity to revolutionize a way the fashion industry views animals. In 2010, during Obama administration, PJ helped pass the federal Truth in Fur Labeling Act, which ensures clear and proper labeling for all fur products, and in 2019, he was instrumental in the passage of Assembly Bill 44 making California the first state in the country to ban fur sales. PJ has worked with dozens of top fashion companies—including Gucci, Prada, Chanel etc. What’s next?
“First, we have not done yet with fur. Some companies are not free to decide. For example – Guzzi had an autonomy from his parent company but companies in LVMH corporation do not have it.” He describes how Elle magazine had to decide including all it’s 45 local magazines and they all went fur free. “They all know that their readers or clients of fashion companies care about animals,” says fashion policy director of Humane Society and continues with future plans – cashmiere, snake-skin, angora; they are considered to be humane materials but they are not, so it’s time to get rid of them in fashion industry. And we really don’t need hadbags made from exotic lizard skin or a karakul from fetal sheep.”
PJ himself likes to wear suits to look professional. “I’d like to have more vegan suits. There are so many different innovative materials out there; bamboo textile, leather from apples and mushrooms, so interesting. I didn’t feel good holding a sign in demos, I feel my passion in corporate settings. And in every company there is always at least one serious animal lover, and with their help inside it’s possible to turn the company fur free.”
We continue our short talk about events in Estonia and how fast some changes have taken place here in animal rights scene. “Whatever you do in Estonia, keep doing it!”, sends PJ good wishes to our movement.
PJ makes a presentation on May, 6. 13.30 during the Animal Rights Conference:
“From the provocative anti-fur campaigns of the 1980s and ‘90s to today’s focus on corporate and public policy, the fur-free movement has been undermining the fur industry for decades. In response to the growing consumer demand for sustainable and ethical products, the fashion world has seemingly gone fur-free. As well, luxury has been redefined to include products that are innovative, sustainable and ethical. This has led to competition among brands to reach ethically and environmentally minded consumers and a new era of ESG (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance) investing, which rewards companies for being more responsible and sustainable. Finally, legislators have taken notice introducing bans on fur production and/or sales inspiring a new generation of innovative materials.
Why are we seeing these changes taking place now? Will brands and retailers stop at fur or is this just the beginning of fashion’s move away from animal products towards more innovative alternatives? What will be banned next, and why? PJ Smith offers his insights on the fur-free movement, the future of animals used for fashion and what we can do to inspire change now.”
Photo: Tallinn Vegan Fair 2019.