China, a country where consumers have long been obsessed with luxury handbags made from exotic animal skins, is starting to see people reflect on the environmental cost of making these exquisite items.
This week, an article (in Chinese) titled “The cost of an RMB 300, 000 Hermès Handbag is 100 Million Dead Bodies” is being widely circulated on China’s biggest social messaging app WeChat. It questions the ethics of making Hermès’ iconic Birkin handbags from exotic animal skins (including crocodile, ostrich, and snake), and called for consumers to take action against the practice.
At the beginning of the piece, it warned readers, “Today’s content is quite serious and is likely to evoke physical discomfort, but I really hope you can read it through.” It continued to show how luxury brands like Hermès crudely raised and killed crocodiles and ostriches to harvest their skins while they were still conscious, with a lot of bloody pictures.
The article was first published on November 27 by a WeChat account named “Shuimu Digest (水木文摘).” The viewership of this original story has exceeded 100,000 with 7,252 likes. According to Jing Daily‘s research, more than 100 WeChat accounts have republished this article over the past few days, with a great number of them seeing viewership reaching beyond 40,000.
The horrifying images dismayed Chinese consumers, with one user saying, “Is a luxury handbag really more important than humanity?” Another wrote, “How can we make rich people realize the crime they have committed to this Planet?”
One reader who was a self-declared Hermès fan said she/he did not know about this issue before reading this article. “I will start making a change from now on,” the comment said, hinting she/he would stop purchasing items made from exotic animals.
LadyMax, an authority fashion publication in China, also posted a piece on Tuesday saying animal abuse is a topic that Hermès cannot avoid going forward. Despite Hermès CEO Axel Dumas’ public comments that the brand’s sourcing of animal skins is in line with global ethical standards and legal regulations, LadyMax sees the practice as the brand’s original sin.
Strong reactions from Chinese consumers indicate a shifting attitude toward environmental issues associated with luxury brands. As a segment that is known for fast-learning and sophistication, their embrace of an eco-friendly approach of producing and selling luxury may come earlier than many brands would expect.
Coincidentally (or not), another luxury powerhouse Chanel, which also uses exotic animal skins to make high-priced products, announced on Monday that the brand would no longer use exotic skins for future productions. The company’s list included crocodile, lizard, snake, and stingray. The move has been praised by many international animal protection organizations.