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Outside the Lab Regulation and standards, Profession, Microbiology and immunology, COVID-19

Have We Taken Fashion Too Fur?

We've all heard the phrase, “beauty is pain.” It’s often thrown around in a colloquial manner, a joke when someone endures discomfort in the name of fashion. But the reality is less humorous. Behind the scenes of consumerism lurks a long history of disease that plagues the supply chain. 

During the industrial revolution, illness was particularly rife among textile and cotton mill workers. Consistent exposure to cotton dust often caused severe respiratory and pulmonary diseases, such as byssinosis. And unsanitary conditions, overcrowded housing, and open sewers also meant that infectious diseases were commonplace.

The demand for fashion at the cost of health is not much different today. In July 2020, a fresh outbreak of COVID-19 tore through Leicester, UK, and the city became the first to undergo a second lockdown. Experts followed the trail of resurgence back to the garment manufacturing industry, where working conditions proved to be less than adequate. Investigations found that social distancing protocols were not rigorously enforced, and a handful of workers were made to work – regardless of their positive COVID-19 result. Trends like this are global, particularly in the developing world, where sickness and poor health are the price for a quick fashion fix.

Lastly, it is well documented that animals are collateral damage of the fashion industry, born to die in stressful surroundings. At the same time, zoonotic spillover events are just waiting for the right mix of ecological, epidemiological, and behavioral factors to wreak global havoc – such as those present in certain farming practices (1). And as the human population increases and as the gap between people, animals, and the environment shrinks, many scientists are raising the zoonotic alarm. So, how uncomfortably close are we willing to get to such an event? Being a fashion fanatic myself, researching this topic made me realize that we need to rally now – more than ever – to support the anti-fur sentiment and mitigate the risk of a zoonotic crisis. Before it’s too late – unfashionably so…

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  1. R K Plowright et al., Nat Rev Microbiol, 15, 502 (2017). PMID: 28555073
About the Author
Georgia Hulme

Associate Editor for the Pathologist

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