Menu Menu

Why new documentary ‘Slay’ will make you re-assess fashion

Slay is an eye-opening documentary that will have you looking at your wardrobe in a whole new, probably red tinted, light.

Slay is a new documentary premiering on WaterBear, the new environmentally conscious streaming service. Presented and directed by animal rights activist Rebecca Cappelli, the film aims to shine a spotlight on the dark corners of the fashion industry.

In recent years, the disastrous consequences of climate change have become more evident and increasingly frequent. The agriculture industry has long been a leading cause, but general focus and public attention has always been on food and not fashion.

Slay intends to change this, giving our garments as much attention and criticism as what we eat.

The documentary explores the ethical issues around fashion’s favourite materials, including leather, fur, and the eco-conscious influencer’s go-to, wool.

The film is produced by Keegan Khun, the award-winning co-director of the seminal documentary Cowspiracy. With such a big name attached to the project, comparisons seem unavoidable. So, is Slay to the fashion industry what Cowspiracy was to agriculture? And will it be equally influential?

Meet Rebecca

At the heart of Slay is director Rebecca Cappelli, a French fashionista turned fighter for animal rights, who kickstarts the documentary by asking the question – can you be an animal lover and wear animals?

It’s a dilemma many of us have wrestled with, serving as the film’s central ethos and encouraging audiences to jump in. We’re ready to follow Rebecca on her three-year journey across seven countries to uncover answers.

As the blood-splattered logo suggests, however, they may not be the answers we want to hear.

The documentary is unscripted. The majority of its footage was filmed prior to the narrative that unfolds around the bloody revelations Rebecca and her team steadily uncover, giving the doc an authentic sense of discovery.

The Thred team was lucky enough to interview Rebecca after a premiere screening in London.

When asked about acquiring the footage, she explained that one of the scariest aspects during filming was that ‘we didn’t spend months trying to look for some problems or some issue.’ The causes for concern were hiding in plain sight, readily visible for anyone prepared to look.

The film’s primary intention is to get people to do just that, exposing the true moral cost of everyday clothes. Slay wants us to acknowledge the brutal reality of how our garments are made next time we see a pair of leather shoes or a fur-trimmed coat.

The leather lie

After a thumping opening credits sequence on the catwalk, we’re treated to interviews from industry professionals that feel straight out of The Devil Wears Prada, amping up the far-reaching importance of fashion.

This introduction reinforces the idea that if you wear clothes, you’re engaging with fashion.

See, it’s not just a lumpy blue sweater, Anne Hathaway!

In this way the film makes us all culpable participants, unknowingly cooperating with a cruel, exploitive, and harmful industry.

Once the audience is in the hot seat, the film carefully dissects every pro-fashion argument over its 85 minute run-time. Defenses like ‘leather is longer lasting and more biodegradable than synthetic alternatives’ are stripped of their evasive skin to reveal the bloody truth underneath.

To meet demand, powerful chemicals are used to efficiently transform animal skin into leather. These are massively detrimental to the environment and harmful to not only the exploited workforce, but also nearby residents of tanneries who are exposed to toxic water.

This may not upset you if your leather jacket has a ‘made in Italy’ label, a prestigious sign of status that conjures up images of Italian craftsmen working with ethically sourced, high quality materials – which is false.

In order to qualify for this ‘illustrious’ label, only a small percentage of the manufacturing process needs to happen in Italy.

This means that a leather belt made from a cow reared in a deforested area of the Amazon, whose skin was transported to a sweatshop in India for tanning before making its way to Milan for finishing touches, can still count as ‘made in Italy’.

This is just one example of Slay contradicting long relied upon industry dogma designed to convince customers that leather is a mere by-product of meat and dairy farming when, in reality, the hide is just as valuable as what’s underneath.

Though the documentary encourages viewers to question their own choices when it comes to the clothes we buy, the responsibility does not rest entirely at the feet of the consumer.

Slay is not shy at naming and shaming big brands that source leather from questionable sources like Armani, Versace, Dior, Zara, Calvin Klein, and Tommy Hilfiger, just to name a few.

If such staples of the industry are willing accomplices to this deceitful and underhanded process, it makes you wonder what else fashion is lying to us about.

The not-so-soft side of fur and wool

Once the audience has been exposed to enough footage of stacked skins, the film switches its focus to fur.

Slay should be commended for including interviews with advocates for both sides of the fur argument. A conversation with the CEO of Fur Europe reveals the true scale of the industry, with thousands of farms housing millions of animals such as minks, chinchillas, foxes, and raccoons.

Similarly to leather, fur has long claimed it’s a more sustainable option than plastic-based alternatives (but unlike leather, I don’t see us eating a Bolognese made from mink meat once we’ve stolen its skin).

You could suggest that the documentary doesn’t play entirely fair, intercutting the interview with shots of caged animals alongside facts and graphics, negating the CEO’s nebulous claims that fur is humane. Equally, it doesn’t take much effort to make gassing minks and electrocuting foxes sound unethical.

Watching footage of creatures being captured, caged, and killed for their fur is probably the most painful part of the documentary, but the truth is often uncomfortable. Slay is relentless in its messaging, making clear that wearing animal skins while being ignorant of the suffering it causes is not just.

Finally, the film attempts to pull the wool away from our eyes to reveal the tear-summoning truth about – well, wool.

Wool is often left out of animal cruelty conversations as no sheep need die to obtain the material. You could make a similar argument about milk but as anyone who’s seen the documentary Milked (also available for free on WaterBear) will know, when it comes to animal cultivation, cruelty is never hard to find.

Australia produces 80% of the world’s supply of merino wool, but farmers breed their lambs during winter to keep costs low.

Surprisingly for a country that celebrates Christmas in swimming trunks, Australian winters are particularly brutal. This, combined with selective breeding to encourage twins and triplets – which makes the birthing process more difficult – means that millions of lambs die every year within hours of being born.

So, what can we wear?

Towards the end of Slay, you begin to feel like there are no safe spaces left to hide when it comes to deciding what to wear.

Though the film leaves you naked to the truth, you need not throw away your entire wardrobe and join a nudist community – the doc does offer an optimistic conclusion.

Advancements in alternative technology are increasing all the time. Brands such as Stella McCartney and Adidas are leading the way, with leather made from mycelium. Other plant-based substitutes include pineapple leaves and cactus skin.

To quote The 6 Million Dollar Man, ‘we have the technology.’ What we need is the demand. And that’s where we all have to play our part.

Slay speaks to a wider socio political issue as well.

During a Q&A after the film’s premier, Rebecca Cappelli was asked, considering the current environmental threat to earth, why do animals matter?

The director drew a parallel between the cruel treatment of animals and the climate crisis by linking them to the same causal issue – a mindless disregard for life.

She stresses that we need to reconnect with all life if we’re going to have a chance at fixing the problems faced by our planet. And all life means all life. Sustainability and ethics need to be synonymous. Trying to solve the problem with one and not the other is never going to work.

Is it worth a watch?

Once in a while a documentary comes along that completely changes the way we view an everyday part of our life. Slay is one of those films.

Just as Cowspiracy made us reassess what we eat, Slay makes us question how we dress. But despite focusing on just one topic, films like these serve as invaluable reminders of humanity’s relationship with nature, and why we must never stop striving to balance it.

Watch Slay for free now on WaterBear.

out of 5

A must watch documentary

My friends and colleagues are not getting away with skipping this one.