As an animal lover and owner of an adopted pet, I really admire the mission of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). However, I have ambivalent feelings about their recent collaboration with Ralph Lauren for Adopt a Shelter Dog Month. Apparently someone from Ralph Lauren called Nancy Novograd of “All Tame Animals” to collaborate on an event that promoted the adoption of shelter dogs and this was how The Dog Walk campaign was born. The online campaign featured adoptable dogs in Ralph Lauren’s Fall 2013 Accessories Collection showcase. So here’s why I’m ambivalent…
The Ethical Implications of the ASPCA + Ralph Lauren Corp Awareness Campaign
- Increased awareness of the ASPCA mission: the Ralph Lauren Corp is immensely successful (2013 revenue so far is 16.9 billion USD) and has a powerful voice in the marketplace
- Increased fundraising for the ASPCA: the Ralph Lauren brand exudes luxury, exclusivity, leisure and premium quality
- This will attract more wealthy donors and “aspirational” donors (people who aspire to be a part of the Ralph Lauren brand tribe)
- This will lead to more partnerships with “aspirational” brands (brands who aspire to be on the same level as the Ralph Lauren brand)
- The partnership will make philanthropy look chic, cool and fun
- Animals will get loving homes and help the ASPCA “rescue animals from abuse, pass humane laws and share resources with many shelters across the country”
“We believe that animals are entitled to kind and respectful treatment at the hands of humans, and must be protected under the law.” -ASPCA
Inadvertently Promoting Animal Cruelty: Because the Ralph Lauren has such a powerful voice in the market place, they have the power to influence trends. For instance, do we want leather dog bags to become a fashion trend? The bag in question, one among many other leather accessories featured in The Dog Walk campaign, was made in Italy. I’m not sure how the leather industry is regulated in Italy.
- Fight Cruelty: The ASPCA fights the cruel treatment of cows in factory farming (beef, dairy and veal industries)
- According to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), “Buying leather directly contributes to factory farms and slaughterhouses because skin is the most economically important byproduct of the meat industry.”
- Short-term gain at the cost of the ASPCA’s core values: while the ASPCA will definitely get a huge financial and PR gain from this collaboration, they have also inadvertently condoned a cruel practice that goes against their own mission. Using animal parts in art and fashion is not going to disappear anytime soon, but this does not mean we should stop thinking critically about the issue.
ASPCA Missed an Opportunity
The ASPCA and Ralph Lauren could have showcased premium quality products not made of animal parts. While the ASPCA can’t tell Ralph Lauren Corp to never use leather, they could have collaborated on a leather-free collection. Obviously the Ralph Lauren company had already created this collection before reaching out, but the ASPCA could have stuck to their values and declined. They could have proposed a beautiful cruel-free collection for the following year. Ralph Lauren certainly has the design talent to pull off a leather-free accessories collection.
No brand partnership is perfect. People and organizations are flawed and filled with moral contradictions. Furthermore, every one of us has our own ethical line. For years I used to only buy leather shoes, because I rationalized that no part of the cow was wasted and the products lasted longer (saving me money and reducing consumption). Now that I live with an animal and have focused more on creating art that helps protect nature, my ethical line has shifted. I have become almost a vegetarian (I occasionally eat sea food) and I no longer buy leather. (Unfortunately, I cannot afford any new shoes right now, so I have to keep wearing my old leather shoes).
I’m not sure if there is a right or wrong answer to this situation. Life is not that clear-cut. As an emerging artist and entrepreneur interested in social responsibility, I find these scenarios extremely useful to study. They help me prepare for the ethical dilemmas awaiting my brand.
PETA’s Shopping Guide to Compassionate Clothing: Companies That Sell Some Leather and Fur Alternatives
Over the past several weeks, I’ve realized that I need to reevaluate how I’m branding myself and my company, Organic Lyricism. Although my friends and family are very familiar about my passion for art and science, I have a nagging feeling that my passion is not resonating online.
A couple of days ago I reread one of my favorite books on branding, The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier. In the book, Neumeier forces you to answer these THREE LITTLE QUESTIONS:
- Who are you?
- What do you do?
- Why does it matter?
Over the upcoming week, I will try my best to answer these questions. In the meanwhile, this is what I am now…
I’ve been told that I’m stubborn. I stubbornly disagree, of course. I’d like to think I’m open to alternative approaches, provided I respect your reasoning. Let’s see, what else have I been told?
- “You need to focus, focus, focus!”
- “You think too much!”
- “You over analyze everything.”
- “Well, you’re just interested in everything. Aren’t you?”
- “Your illustrations are really out there! Are you sure you don’t take psychedelics?”
- “You’re too uptight, logical and practical. Relax a little!”
- “You’re definitely a Type A!”
- “You have a good heart, but you have to censor your ideas.”
- “You’re brave for pursuing your art.”
- “You’re naïve for pursuing art.”
- “You need to be more humble.”
- “You need to be more confident!”
- “You’re smart, but how can you help me?”
- “You need to stop caring what people think!”
- “I admire your passion and idealism, but you’re going to stave.”
- “Good luck with your dreams. You’ll need it.”
- “Why be anti-corporate, you’re not going to change anything.”
- “Stop being so practical!”
- “Start being more practical!”
- “It’s admirable that you care about human and animal rights, but nothing’s going to change.”
How I could be perceived as both too pragmatic and not pragmatic enough, is beyond me! I can’t get too annoyed by all the concerned opinions people throw my way. Most of the people who tell me these things care genuinely about my survival. I don’t think I’m that unfocused. Nor do I think I’m interested in everything:
Main Interests Over the Years
Ages 6-14: Fashion and Visual Arts
Ages 15-17: Biology
Age 18: Fashion and Visual Arts
Age 19: Visual Arts and Writing
Age 20: Biology
Age 21-22: Neuroscience and Visual Arts
Age 23: Medicine and Graphical Arts
Age 24: Graphical Arts and Medical Marketing
Ages 25-27: Medical Marketing and Medical Copywriting
Age 28-29: Medical Copywriting, Visual Arts and Fashion
Age 30: Visual Arts, Fashion, Biology
Call me crazy, but this list of interests does not seem to include “everything.” It looks to me like I’ve always been interested in art, fashion and biology. Over the past few years, I’ve been advised to pursue graduate degrees in these professions. “Have you thought about earning an MFA? Why not pursue a degree in fashion or textile design? You should get your Ph.D. in biology.”
A generalist species is able to thrive in a wide variety of environmental conditions and can make use of a variety of different resources… A specialist species can only thrive in a narrow range of environmental conditions or has a limited diet. Most organisms do not all fit neatly into either group, however. -Wikipedia
As of now, I’m not interested in pursuing graduate degrees in the visual arts, fashion or biology. Why? Because I would be miserable. I understand the need for specialists; however, I also think generalists are vital too. Generalists are the people who can mine useful insights buried across multiple disciplines. Many writers are generalists. I suppose one could argue that writers have specialized in the craft of writing, but the craft is a merely a means to an end.
It’s not about writing, painting, sewing, drawing, etc. These are modes of communication. It’s about the idea. Ideas are what change the world.
My illustrations are not simply about depicting natural phenomena through a decorative lens. They are about revealing the interconnectedness among all species. They are intended to inspire an appreciation and hopefully a desire to protect our natural world.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, the West Africa black rhino (D. b. longipes) is classified as Probably Extinct. Although, in 2011 the subspecies was declared officially extinct. The black rhino used to live across most of the Savannahs of West Africa, but threats such as hunting, poaching and habitat loss contributed to its demise. These are the same threats affecting the remaining rhino subspecies. Over the last few years hundreds of rhinos have been poached for their horns, which some cultures believe have medicinal properties. Then there’s the rhino-horn art trade, a trade in which artisans create ornate sculptures out of rhino horns; this also happens with elephant tusks (ivory trade).
In July of 2011, Lark Mason appraised a set of five Chinese cups carved from rhinoceros horn, circa 1700, valued at $1 to $1.5 million, setting a ROADSHOW record. The 300-year-old objects were undoubtedly the work of master artisans, and were made in a time when rhinoceros were more plentiful than they are today: Currently, there are only five surviving species of rhinoceros, and every one of them is threatened, some critically so, because of desire for their horns. The result is that many people find the trade in rhinoceros-horn antiques grossly unethical, even when it is legal. -Ben Phelan (Antiques Roadshow)
I’ll not addressing the issues related to poaching animals for medicinal reasons today, but I will discuss the moral considerations related to using animal parts for art. What I find remarkable about the above quote is that it implies that killing animals for art is fine as long as the animals are plentiful. Not many people in the western world feel guilty about leather because cows are plentiful and leather is just a byproduct of the meat industry. And perhaps if rabbits, foxes and seals were factory farmed for meat maybe people wouldn’t feel bad about the fur trade. Does this mean that if it were very easy to breed rhinos, easy as it is to breed cows, we have no qualms about killing them for their horns?
Many of us don’t question the argument that it’s morally acceptable to use animal parts for art if the animal is abundant and the animal part is simply a byproduct of a larger process. My question is why is it acceptable in general to use their parts for art? Before you considered the supply, before you considered the byproduct, you had a fundamental belief of acceptability. For instance, in modern times we find it acceptable to kill thousands of people (i.e. the enemy) in war times, but unacceptable to desecrate their bodies. In the past it was acceptable in certain cultures to use the remains of war enemies for artistic purposes. Now it’s taboo. Why is unacceptable if the person is already dead? His or her deceased body is just a byproduct of war and there are still billions of people remaining on the planet. The fundamental reason may simply be that we empathize with our species, so regardless of supply (human population) or if the death is an acceptable byproduct (as in the case of war) we are fundamentally morally opposed to supplying human parts for art. (Unless the body is being used for science, then we pay to see it. See “The Bodies Revealed Exhibit.”)
It’s silly that I have to point this out, but I don’t condone using human remains for art. I’m simply trying to understand the premises of an argument. It seems to me the issue of having a steady supply and byproduct, are not what we should be focusing on. If these rationalizations remain the focus, we will always be dealing with different species going extinct. I think perhaps it’s time for us to reevaluate the fundamental belief underlying these rationalizations. Although art enriches our lives, a leather boot, a fur coat, an ivory statue is not essential to our survival.
***I’ve owned leather products whole life and it’s only recently I’ve made a conscious decision to stop buying them. I was no longer convinced by my “abundance” and “byproduct” rationalizations.***
By the way, I’m very open to respectable debate 🙂
“But, in the end, it’s not the fashion establishment who will have the last say on whether Mr Galliano’s tentative comeback will be accepted. That will come down to the end consumer, most of whom were witness to the video of Mr Galliano’s drunken, drug-fueled rant which exploded online and which has been played over and over again in the aftermath of Mr Galliano’s final meltdown. Indeed, no matter how many of the biggest names in the fashion establishment welcome him back, no global fashion business will risk having themselves associated with someone who may still cast a pallor on their sparkling brand identities.” —Imran Amed, Editor of “The Business of Fashion”
The continuous ostracization of John Galliano reveals how empathy has become quaint in popular American culture. You would think we are a nation filled with infallible people based on the amount of personal attacks you see in social media when a person falls from grace. The media, who seem more concerned about sensationalizing scandals than producing balanced reporting, seem to thrive on these types of public lashings. Then profit a little more based on the comeback story.
Do I condone what Galliano did? Absolutely not, but I do believe in cases like this people deserve second chances. He did not commit murder. He didn’t embezzle millions of dollars from peoples’ retirement funds. My goodness, if someone recorded something offensive your friends or family members said in an intoxicated state would you want that to be held against them for the rest of their lives? If you don’t believe that people can change, then I suggest you talk to your parents about your childhood. Chances are they’ll be able to remind you how you behaved in elementary school, versus high school, versus college and so on. Unless you’re living in vacuum, your brain is constantly reacting to external stimuli—establishing, pruning and strengthening neuronal connections. If you want others to believe you can change, then be open to others changing as well.
In this interview it looks as if Galliano is genuinely trying to atone for his statements. And if you’re not convinced then what would convince you? Is his 2 years and 3 months of ostracization not long enough? What is long enough then? 10 years? Would you be fine with being ostracized for 10 years for saying something despicable while you were drunk? Are you being harsh on him because of his fame or wealth?
I have put my foot in my mouth enough times to realize the importance of forgiveness. I’m grateful that I have people in my life who won’t define me based on some stupid statements I’ve made. I really admire the friends who stuck by Galliano during his scandal. Them supporting him as a person does not mean they supported his statements. It means that they understood one of the hallmarks of a being a true friend, being there for someone even when the world turns against him or her. (To be fair though, everyone one has a breaking point for loyalty. I find controversial statements forgivable, but violent behavior is another story).
I’ve realized that a good way to test if you’re being hypocritical or too rigid in your judgments of a person embroiled in scandal is to imagine that person as someone you love (a lover, a friend or a family member), then ask yourself would you feel the same way? Would you want your loved one to be given a second chance?
Hi my name is Arlene Ellis and I’m the founder of Organic Lyricism. I founded this brand to combine my passions for art, fashion and biology. Through Organic Lyricism I aim to create socially responsible fashion and art. From edgy botanical-inspired patterns to psychedelic animal illustrations, my limited edition art and fashion prints aim to instill an appreciation for nature, craftsmanship and sustainable design. Throughout the centuries artists and designers have taken inspiration from nature. Now more than ever it’s time to give back. With every product you buy, 15% of the pre-tax dollars will go to a nonprofit organization focused on human and environmental rights.
Many people have asked me to explain how I journeyed from biology to art and fashion. Here is my story:
As a child, I dreamt of becoming a fashion designer or an artist. Then at age 15 I learned about fractals, which are geometric shapes that can be divided into smaller parts with each part resembling the overall shape regardless of scale. I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of fractals that I ditched art for science.
Unfortunately, except for in my biology and English classes, I didn’t make much of an effort in high school. I was a pretty cynical teenager and perceived most of my classmates as too shallow. To avoid being annoyed, I skipped dozens of classes during my junior and senior years of high school. Instead I would stay home and read science articles or watch nature documentaries on PBS. This was not the smartest way to get into an undergraduate science program!
My indifference to high school eventually caught up to me around college application time. I realized that I wouldn’t be able to get into a top college with my grades and sheepishly entered the honor’s program at Miami Dade Community College, MDCC, (now called Miami Dade College). (I used to be too insecure to mention that I attended a community college, but I’ve been around enough pretentious people to realize that is not a characteristic I want to embrace). While at MDCC I met some of the most inspiring professors and made some life-long friends. Unlike me most of these friends were at the college for financial reasons, not because they screwed up in high school. Many of my friends ended up transferring to schools such as Smith College, Yale, Wesleyan, Williams, Amherst, Cornell, and Columbia. I also ended up transferring to Smith College to pursue a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience.
Pursuing a Smith neuroscience degree in two years was pretty challenging. While at Smith, I probably took maybe three or four humanities courses (two of which I eventually dropped). I dreaded most of my science exams and felt depressed staying in a lab all day collecting data. I only found refuge in observing the patterns of cells under microscopes and writing science research papers. During my last semester, I realized that I was a humanities person trying to be a scientist. While there are many people who could pull that off, I couldn’t.
Despite all the warning signs, after college I still went to work as a research assistant for a brilliant surgeon, Dr. Joseph Rosen (we called him Joe) at Dartmouth Thayer School of Engineering. He’s probably the best boss I’ve ever had, so encouraging, generous and down to earth. Although I loved working for Joe, witnessing the lifestyles of the medical students and medical residents convinced me that I was not committed to pursuing a career in medicine. I was more interested in designing posters for Joe’s biotechnology lectures than studying for the MCAT. Yearning for a more creative job, I reached out to my network for help. With the help of a friend’s father, I was able to find a job in New York City in pharmaceutical advertising. At the time it seemed like an ideal balance between art and science.
Since leaving Dartmouth, I’ve spent most of my professional career in professional pharmaceutical advertising. Professional, meaning I helped create advertisements geared towards physician and nurses. These advertisements are found in clinical journals and at medical conventions. Initially I enjoyed the work because it exposed me to the latest medical advancements. Plus I was constantly learning about human physiology. Eventually, however, I became a little disillusioned with the politics of corporate advertising.
Throughout all these career transitions one thing has always kept me grounded, creating art. Whenever I have felt blue, illustrating and designing has always lifted my spirits. I’ve realized that I had neglected an essential part of myself since watching that fractal documentary age 15. Yes fractals fascinated me, but did I really need to abandon art for science? No. The truth is that my ego chose science. As much as I adored fashion and art, I also thought they were shallow and frivolous. I wanted to prove that I was capable of more “intellectually demanding” work. In retrospect this was a ridiculous assessment because some of the most intellectually rigorous thinkers I know are artists and designers.
Nevertheless, I don’t regret that I pursued neuroscience instead of art in college. It was my experience in science that has guided my artistic hand. My years at Smith has sharpened my analytical skills and given me a more nuanced perspective on creativity. I’ve learned that both scientists and artists are champions of abstract thinking. Both enrich our lives by challenging our perceptions and revealing the beauty in the ordinary.
Today I embrace science and art by creating illustrations and textiles inspired by biological patterns. My goal is to instill an appreciation for the natural world through wearable art. You will not notice any sellable textiles on my website yet because I am currently learning about sustainable manufacturing of textiles. As soon as I have this knowledge base, I’ll begin marketing my fashion prints. Stay tuned! And thanks for reading!