“We hope that this will pave the way to actual legislative change that will benefit cruelty-free companies and the Chinese consumer as well as many thousands of animals,” she said in a statement.
Animal testing for cosmetics is banned in certian markets, including Europe, but animal rights organisation PETA claims some ‘cruelty-free’ companies have been quietly paying for tests on animals in order to market their products in China.
Catherine Cervasio, founder of natural skincare brand Aromababy which exports to China, said the move is significant from a consumer point of view, but that brands will still have some tricky waters to navigate.
“Some complexity remains around complying with the new regulations, meaning it will likely be the larger organisations who have the resources to better navigate a seamless market entry,” she said.
Cervasio has experienced increased awareness of animal testing by Chinese consumers in recent years.
“As more alternative testing methods are developed and personnel are trained in the execution of such tests, and as larger beauty companies help pave the way for change, we will no doubt see both a greater awareness and, of course, demand by shoppers in China for more cruelty-free products,” she said.
What does cruelty-free actually mean?
Allen Zelden is the founder of Intrinity Global and president of new digital eco-conscious website Futurevvorld, which aims to drive debate and inform the growing sustainability movement. He told Inside Retail that there’s still some confusion around the meaning of cruelty-free.
“While there’s no legal definition for what constitutes as a cruelty-free product, it is typically understood as a product where no animal testing has occurred, unlike a ‘vegan’ product, which does not contain any animal-derived materials or ingredients,” he said.
“Yet many question the diligence behind the cruelty-free label given the ambiguity behind the scope of testing… For instance, were any of the supplied ingredients tested on animals? Are the products sold in countries that necessitate animal testing? Was a third party used instead?”
And with concern around the rights of animals driving these purchases, he rightfully questions why the cruelty-free label doesn’t always take into account the human cost of making these products.
According to Fashion Revolution’s 2020 Fashion Transparency Index, only 24 per cent of fashion brands publish their second-tier suppliers and only 7 per cent publish third-tier suppliers (the source of raw materials).
“Given the lack of supply chain transparency coupled with the mounting churn of fashion trends only exacerbated by fast fashion, it’s no wonder many ‘cruelty-free’ consumers are now demanding to know #whomademyclothes,” he added.
The cruelty-free movement is rapidly gaining momentum across food, fashion, beauty and other categories.
Globally, the cruelty-free cosmetics market alone is estimated to reach US$10 billion by 2024, according to Market Research Future, with a growth rate of 6.0 per cent during the forecast period of 2019 to 2024.
While industry research shows that products with a cruelty-free label generate a more positive response from consumers, search engines like Google give a clear insight into the current mindset of shoppers, Zelden explained.
“Currently, the most used keyword when searching for cruelty-free products is ‘vegan’, and with vegan-related searches on Google increasing by 47 per cent in 2020, a deeper dive in the data shows that this escalated demand flows beyond food, with over 10 million searches every year for non-food-oriented products such as vegan shoes, bags and cosmetics,” Zelden said.
And as consumers continue to turn away from products over animal welfare concerns, the fashion industry is taking note.
“The alternative leather market is booming,” Zelden said. “With an estimated market value of $89.6 billion by 2025 (according to Infinium Global Research), and more than $200 million recently invested in alternative leather start-ups, clearly there’s strong demand for more cruelty-free leather options, especially when leading brands such as Adidas, Nike and H&M embrace the shift.”
Another category with no legal mandate to label their origin is shoe glue, which is often made from animal collagen, Zelden explained.
“Although most shoe companies are still unable to guarantee that their glues are animal-free, that is rapidly changing with brands such as Nike, New Balance and Converse all moving to synthetic equivalents, due to both cost and quality competitiveness, as well as heightened animal welfare concerns.”
Consumers are also increasingly searching for alternatives for silk, fur and wool. And in recent years, there has been a rise in start-up faux fur businesses like Unreal Fur and Ena Pelly.
“The use of fur is increasingly being seen as an archaic and cruel fashion trend. Not only have leading luxury fashion houses such as Chanel, Balenciaga, Burberry, Gucci, Versace, Armani and Prada all ditched the use of fur, but giant fashion retailers such as Bloomingdales, Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue have also now declared a ban on all fur products,” Zelden said.
Polyester is often the favoured ethical substitute for silk, but its high environmental cost leaves much space for disruption, according to Zelden.
“Prior to launching their Mylo material, Bolt Threads invented Microsilk, a sustainably produced textile made through a process of fermenting water, yeast and sugar with spider DNA. Since then, the company has raised $123 million and though the material has only been used in exhibits by Stella McCartney, it’s likely we’ll see commercial collaborations announced soon,” he said.
And while many would debate the notion that wool is cruel, many brands are now offering ‘cruelty-free’ wool options
“Whether it’s an accreditation outlining a standard of ethical care such as the ZQ Merino Standard certificate used by Allbirds, or the circular use of deadstock or reclaimed wool by Patagonia, consumers are openly seeking more transparency around how wool is sourced,” Zelden said.
Price of ethics
There’s no doubt that there are numerous challenges associated with the cruelty-free movement, chief among them being cost.
“Since cruelty-free products are often associated with utilising less accessible, more expensive and superior-quality ingredients, this may often lead to a higher end product cost to the consumer,” Zelden said.
But as more brands move towards more ethical practices and consumers are willing to fork out more for products that align with their values, the market will continue to grow.
“The winners will ultimately be those that invest in greater transparency around their practices and material choices so as to help consumers separate the spin from the substance.”