Remembering Dame Vivienne Westwood: Punk Pioneer and Animal Rights Trailblazer

Posted by on December 30, 2022 | Permalink

An icon, a rebel, and a self-described “eco-warrior,” Dame Vivienne Westwood spent decades as a designer daring the rest of the fashion world to start a revolution for animals and the planet. She was an early adopter of PETA’s fur-free ethos, choosing to donate her brand’s remaining rabbit fur bags to a wildlife sanctuary, and shed exotic skins from her collections years ago. She also took part in a viral PETA campaign, asking everyone to go vegetarian to save water and lives. The world has lost a true original and animals a true friend, but we’re sure her legacy of creativity over cruelty will inspire designers for years to come.

Dame Vivienne Westwood famously defined the fashion aesthetic of London’s punk movement in the 1970s—think safety pins, studs, and tartan—and helped to create the Sex Pistols’ iconic look. But long after punk’s heyday, the edgy British designer continued to push fashion forward. In 2007, before vegan couture had become mainstream, Westwood banned fur from her lines after meeting with representatives of PETA and learning about the suffering that animals endure before they’re used for fur coats, collars, and cuffs. The last of Westwood’s fur items were eight rabbit fur handbags, which her company allowed PETA to donate to a wildlife sanctuary to be used to for orphaned baby animals to snuggle up to.

Westwood’s fur ban went hand in hand with her commitment to environmental issues and her call for true sustainability in the fashion industry. Most animals killed for fur today are raised on factory farms, which produce tens of thousands of tons of waste every year, and fur garments are treated with a stew of toxic chemicals to keep them from decomposing—making fur neither kind nor sustainable.

Westwood’s innovative, animal-friendly accessories—such as the skin-free Derby Bag and Jungle Crocodile Bag—also scored multiple wins in PETA’s annual Vegan Fashion Awards.

Several years after stripping fur from her collections, Dame Vivienne stripped down to a shower cap for a provocative PETA video about the meat industry’s depletion of world water supplies. “I am an eco-warrior, but I take long showers with a clean conscience because I’m vegetarian,” she said in the spot, which launched in 2014. As a piece in The New York Times pointed out at the time, it takes 4 million gallons of water to produce 1 ton of beef but just 85,000 gallons to produce a ton of vegetables. “By avoiding meat, you do more for the environment than recycling or driving a hybrid car,” Westwood said.

Speaking out against disposable “fast fashion,” Westwood once urged consumers, “[I]nvest in the world. Don’t invest in fashion, but invest in the world.” Her quintessential, animal-friendly clothing and accessories prove that we can do both.