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Exclusive – Rebecca Cappelli explores fashion’s animal problem

We spoke with award-winning filmmaker and dedicated animal rights activist Rebecca Cappelli about the far-reaching culture shift she hopes to bring about with her latest documentary, Slay.

Every year, billions of animals are killed so that their fur, wool, and skin can be passed on to the fashion industry.

Lining the shelves of luxury ateliers and designer stores around the world as bags, coats, shoes, and other accessories, the presence of animal products has become so commonplace that we rarely stop to think about how they got there in the first place.

This harmful practice thrives not because the process of raising animals, slaughtering them, and transforming their remains into fabric is discreet, but because our understanding of how they become these materials has been eliminated almost entirely from public consciousness.

A concerning lack of information on the subject has caused a collective apathy that prevents widespread outrage, no matter how many barriers are knocked down by rights activists.

Decades spent distancing ourselves has allowed animal abuse to flourish, negatively affecting people and planet in tangent.

After all, if we were forced to actively source animal products first hand, we likely wouldn’t dream of wearing another garment of this nature again.

Award-winning filmmaker Rebecca Cappelli, the brains behind a new and unmissable documentary titled Slay, wants us to take a long hard look at how we dress and change our behaviours for good.

How did Rebecca first become aware of fashion’s animal problem?

While living in Shanghai, Rebecca rescued a puppy destined to be slain for his meat and fur.

Sitting at home with her new furry friend, Oneida, she could not ignore the looming presence of her own leather-filled, fur-accented closet in the next room over.

In this moment, her perspective of her own choices and the practices of the fashion industry itself had shifted irreversibly. Almost immediately, Rebecca embarked upon a journey to discover where and how animals are raised, killed, and eventually made into clothing.

Without detailed information on the sites she was scouring, however, all searches eventually led to a dead end and the story of how living, breathing creatures reach the stage of being worn by millions remained incomplete.

Dissatisfied with the ambiguous data available, she started making phone calls to the offices of fashion houses that would point her to factories located across Europe, India, and China.

Alongside her extensive online research – which was vital to leveraging Slay and evidently required Rebecca to go to great lengths to acquire it – this would prove invaluable as she began peeling back the layers.

Accompanied by a small film crew for her unscripted documentary, she was astonished by how easy it was to gain access to these locations, especially given how vague brands had been about where their animal-based products really came from.

This is when it became obvious that the animal trade in fashion had serious implications for all life on the planet – entire ecosystems, the animals within them, and the communities whose livelihoods depend on the industry.

‘I think I went in with a little bit of naivety about the topic, I thought it would be simple to cover,’ she tells Thred.

‘I didn’t realise how deep it would go. I couldn’t predict what I would discover during the process. We didn’t spend months trying to find these problems, however. They were right there in front of us.’

How does Slay tackle such a contentious and wide-reaching topic?

Rebecca made sure to highlight the intrinsic connection between animals, us, and the environment throughout Slay, striving to push for wider recognition from both the industry and consumers.

‘Justice should not be exclusive or have limits,’ she says. ‘It is for all. An industry practice that harms the environment is equally harmful for animals and people. Harm goes hand-in-hand with harm. The objective with Slay is to include all three in the equation of bringing about change.’

To get this message across, Rebecca lifts the curtain on fashion’s treatment of cows, foxes, and sheep, among others, choosing to explore the environmental implications of their trade and the vulnerable communities involved in processes like tanning.

Rebecca believes our disconnect comes from a lack of knowledge on these processes. Most of us don’t fully appreciate how the products we wear reach shop floors.

From the mass deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, to clearing space for cattle farms, to the ill health of workers regularly handling toxic chemicals so we can be assured of safe clothing, no stone was left unturned.

Slay covers a lot,’ continues Rebecca. ‘Seven countries, three major industries, as well as human, environmental, and animal rights issues.’

Tackling so much content presents an obvious question. How did Rebecca ensure an audience response that didn’t invoke defeatism and inaction, particularly with a subject as far-reaching (and for decades, impervious) as this one?

She ensured that the problems discussed weren’t presented in an immense or overwhelming way, as this could diminish the effectiveness of Slay’s call-to-action. She also acknowledges that successful storytelling has to combine empathy with cited truth, balancing both during the film’s 85-minute runtime.

‘Losing the audience was a key concern of ours,’ she explains.

‘Our ability to process data varies. In addition to encouraging emotional connections, I sought to be really fact-based across the board to guarantee that viewers would be able to channel their intellectual intelligence as well.’

So, what does the future of luxury fashion look like?

Thousands of years ago, skinning animals for their furs and pelts was a necessity, a way for humans to survive harsh winters. In the modern world, particularly an increasingly warming one, Rebecca affirms that such measures have become obsolete and, better yet, outdated.

‘We deserve better than to walk around like it’s the middle ages,’ she says.

In her eyes, the future of sustainable, eco-friendly fashion lies largely in the hands of artificial intelligence and innovative materials.

But when asked whether we should expect luxury brands to recognise their own liability and explore new innovations, Rebecca replied that waiting for companies to act is simply not an option.

‘In any situation, you cannot wait for such decisions to be made. It’s true that we are against big numbers – these industries have become massive – but it doesn’t mean we cannot achieve change,’ she stresses.

‘At the end of the day, it isn’t the sole responsibility of brands and industries to be transparent because maybe they haven’t done this work, maybe they are not aware. I hope in this case that Slay will change that by supporting them on their path to animal-free fashion.’

Echoing the sentiments of activists, Rebecca believes that it is up to collective individuals to modify our relationship with animals first and foremost. The bridge that closes the gap between the creatures we love and those we deem suitable to be killed for fashion is one that has been disregarded for far too long.

Slay urges us to ask, what is the difference? Like many documentaries that reveal hidden environmental and social dilemmas, most viewers will walk away feeling inspired to take immediate action.

Rebecca’s goal is for Slay to reach figureheads of the fashion industry, as well as other organisations and activists, to create a broader group of people standing up to malpractice. But what about those without direct links to the fashion world? What responsibility do we have?

‘How do we change?’ Rebecca asks, without hesitating to answer her own question: ‘altering our consumer habits and rejecting the notion that wearing animals is a reasonable thing to do today is the single most impactful thing we can do.’

While many of us will have purchased leather, fur, or wool at some point, Rebecca emphasises that we should not vilify mistakes of the past, nor the people – often in impoverished areas of the globe ­– caught up in this.

‘It’s about just keeping in line with the work and doing what needs to be done because we feel compelled to do it,’ she says.

‘We cannot change the past, but we can refuse to support these industries from today.’

As much of Gen Z would agree, to be considered a modern citizen in 2022, you have to have concern about the planet and all life within it.

This is not possible if we are excluding the value of the lives of animals and disseminating the idea that suffering equals luxury.

Fortunately, progress is afoot. Numerous companies are creating cruelty-free replacements for animal-based products that utilise sustainable and high-performance materials.

Mushroom leather is becoming more popular, new techniques are improving the quality of faux fur, and artificial down has become more widely available.

With such technologies only advancing, there is no reason to continue existing with a complete disregard for life on Earth, especially considering it fuels the climate crisis and harms entire communities. On this note, we asked Rebecca what an ideal world post-Slay looks like.

‘Regardless of how many people we reach with Slay I am very hopeful,’ she finishes.

‘Whether it’s one hundred, one thousand, or one million, what matters that we’re uniting a range of people with the same mission. Even if it’s a small number, if they act, together we can make a huge difference. I’ve always believed that igniting passion is the best means of driving change.’