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On Wearable “Roadkill”

Angus sent me a link to "Animal Parts: High Style of Just Plain Beastly" wherein Zosia Bielski reports that "hipsters are going whole hog, donning road kill as accessories and cow hooves on their feet."

Several designers, one of whom is a vegetarian, are using parts of dead animals they found on the side of the road to make everything from shoes to hats to cufflinks, which evidently are difficult to produce because "[f]inding two animals who have little heads roughly the same size is just a nightmare.”

The underlying philosophy is that the dead animals "should be used in their entirety." (Used in their entirety by humans, thereby ignoring the reality that the carcasses play in the lives of other creatures, such as scavengers.) The garments and accessories are considered ethically sourced because no one was intentionally killed for them (although sources include "critters fallen victim to pest control," which sounds pretty intentional to me). However the designers also use discarded parts of animals killed by butchers, to "give new life to something that would normally be thrown away." A significant amount of mental acrobatics is involved in convincing yourself that you are not in some way an accomplice to the killing of sentient beings and then profiting from them when you take their parts after they've been slaughtered and you use and profit from them.

There's a lot of talk of whether or not this is morbid, yet no acknowledgment that every animal part we wear comes from an animal who died. This isn't about what's morbid or what's not, and what's art and what's not. This is about using animals and presenting yet another variation on the theme of humans believing they have a right to make food, clothing or art from the bodies of other animals.

The final paragraph of the article is perhaps the most cringe-worthy. Sarah Jay, the fashion director of Fashion Takes Action, an organization that promotes green methods and materials, says:

 “To wear the life of another animal is a very special thing and it's a very sacred thing.

It's giving the animal purpose after life. We should all be so lucky.”

Meanwhile, it's death they're wearing–not life. And making it into some kind of spiritual experience is offensive. Nonhuman animals are not here to be purposeful to humans.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. I thought I'd seen it all with bras made of bacon and suits made of flank steaks… It's all grotesque.

    And those sourcing from slaughterhouse "remains" are just as ill-informed – Deliberately or not, as the (animal loving) people wearing leather as a "by product"…

    But with found objects like feathers, seashells, turtle shells, reptile or insect carcasses, etc. – It's more complicated… I don't think any of this is unethical… Just uber-strange.

    These "fashions" remind me a lot of Elsa Schiaparelli, who in her time was quite a mad "surrealist" clothing designer. In comparison her "shoe hat" and use of "shocking pink" seems so, so tame!

    Part of me wants to ask "What's next!?" – But my better judgement says… I really don't want to know.

    February 2, 2010
  2. I think handling roadkill at all is a good way to get a flea/tick/other pest infestation, and for that reason I think it's a terrible idea.

    Morally, I think it's about the same as wearing leather (more so for the people going to butchers) but a little stranger.

    To Bea: I don't think feathers and shells fall in the same category, *if* they came off the animal naturally (were shed/molted). I think they fall more in a natural objects category than an animal use category. (Antlers may be an exception because it is possible to disturb the deer/elk while antler hunting and some unethical people have been known to chase them to make the antlers fall off faster.)

    February 2, 2010
  3. In my view, whether it is unethical or merely strange depends on the context.

    If it were humans’ body parts and those humans were not exploited as a race or considered an “inferior” ethnic or racial group (and not killed for the body parts), I would consider it exceptionally strange, but not necessarily unethical.

    OTOH, if it were humans’ body parts and those humans *were exploited as a race* or considered an “inferior” ethnic or racial group (and not killed for the body parts), then I would consider it obviously unethical and contributing to the notion that that ethnic group of humans are here for us to use and exploit.

    It is therefore obviously unethical to use nonhuman “roadkill” for fashion as well.

    BTW, from now on, I’m going to refer to the victims of fatal human car accidents as “roadkill”. And yes, please call me roadkill if I’m killed in a car accident. If you’re a weirdo, you may even use my dead body parts for fashion if you care to, since I’m not part of a severely exploited group.

    February 2, 2010
  4. Nick #

    Animals are not ours to use, even if we find them already dead. Not only does wearing roadkill send the wrong message to the non-vegan public by reinforcing the idea that life is somehow better with animal products, it also means that these people are glad that animals are accidentally killed by cars. This would be like profiting off human car accidents by wearing the corpses. And while there may not be anything inherently unethical in wearing a dead body, profiteering on the deaths of others is wrong.

    February 3, 2010
  5. jeannie #

    In terms of “roadkill,” I really don’t see how wearing the dead body parts of an animal killed by a vehicle is ethically different than wearing the dead body parts of an animal killed by humans in any other way (e.g., via a slaughterhouse, fur trap, etc.). I don’t wear dead animals period.

    On a somewhat different note, taking the body parts of a wild animal who has died by something other than human hands (and how can you ever tell for sure?) is theft from nature. We do not *need* those dead parts, but the ecosystem does. Decomposition plays a vital role in the cycle of life, the balance of nature, and sustainability for all.

    I watched a UW lecture on TV last week on the value of predators. The site where a predator, such as a mountain lion or wolf, eats her prey usually transforms into a thriving niche; the “leftovers” of the dead prey decomposes and serves an important role in nourishing other organisms and putting nutrients back into the soil/system (it’s not just beneficial to other animals, but to the plants as well). The “Animal Parts” article mentions how some fashion designers and artists view the use of dead animal parts for human purposes as a way to promote sustainability. Unfortunately, they are missing the big picture (though it’s not surprising considering how the trend of greenwashing is now being used as a justification for acts that are anything but green or sustainable).

    Once upon a time I myself used to pick up and keep a feather or a shell on occasion, whether as an object of beauty or a memento or just out of reverence. Now, I may gaze and marvel at such an object, but almost always I leave natural objects where I find them (even inanimate objects, such as pretty rocks, unusual pieces of driftwood, etc.). This is just me, but I try to respect nature by leaving it alone and *hopefully* giving more than I take (especially when I know humans have taken more than their fair share = understatement).

    If I find a dead animal on the side of a road where I can safely pull over, I make an effort to move that body a considerable distance from the road and back into nature. This is done not only to keep scavengers from getting hit by other vehicles, but also to allow the body to decompose in a place where nature will benefit from it. Mary, I believe you once wrote a really good post regarding the practice of moving dead animals off the road, but I cannot find it. Though it’s not exactly fun, it’s a good practice that may save some other animals’ lives.

    By the way, I believe Animal Capital (the book on which I recently commented in another Animal Person post) has a message about the fetishism of non-human animals as commodities…buried somewhere within its barrage of big words. 🙂

    DanUVE wrote: “If you’re a weirdo, you may even use my dead body parts for fashion if you care to, since I’m not part of a severely exploited group.” This comment (though humorous) made me wonder about the the notion of “respect” and how it seems to play an ironical theme among those who tout using all the body parts of an animal (waste not, want not). I wonder how much these folks “respect” their loved ones who have passed away, and if this mantra applies to them as it does to dead nonhuman animals? Why waste the body parts of dead loved ones? And if these people cherish and respect their dead loved ones (I would assume as much as they respect a dead nonhuman animal), perhaps they should start wearing necklaces made out of their dead granny’s teeth, shirts made out of their dead Uncle Johnny’s hair, etc. I wonder if they would find THAT morbid? Mary, I don’t know why, but I vaguely sense an interesting connection between this and your post today, On Cannibalism.

    February 6, 2010
  6. kaley #


    Don't remove yourself from the ecosystem. If the humans were not in cars killing the animals, the animals would not be dead and therefore the decomposers would not be eating that certain carcass. If a human kills an animal, the human should consume it. So if a human replaces a human then I don't see anything wrong with it!

    Most people who use the roadkill animal parts don't take the flesh along with them unless it is edible. They leave it to still be eaten by other organisms.

    I would totally wear a lock of my mothers hair or boyfriends hair if I wanted to remember them. I have my dogs hair braided into mine right now. I feel that I am honoring them not degrading them.

    All organisms will eventually fade. So why is it such a problem to utilize the parts of the dead?

    It is totally a green practice to use objects found in nature for sustaining life. EVERYTHING is nature. You will never escape nature because you are nature. People always separate themselves from the truth because they are taught that they are better than nature. But in the end… nature controls us and no matter how much we continue to battle it it will win. We will suffer from its fury and become extinct just like all the other mass extinctions before us.

    Sorry for the complete ramble. I just hate it when people take it upon themselves to decide what is right for the commons.

    February 19, 2010

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