By now, feather hair extensions have been around for a couple seasons and, generally, still seem to be pretty popular. The trend actually started in England last summer, slowly making its way to California and then, crept up onto the East coast; by spring of 2011, it had landed with full force in the Atlantic states and is now a nationwide phenomenon. As popular as it has become, this trend has also inevitably become… questionable. Not strictly style-speaking (although things that were in last season are, by default, going to be out the following season), but also ethically speaking. When looking into feather extension trend last winter, as it was slowly surfacing in Philadelphia and New York, I discovered the harsh reality of how these feathers are sourced. In this post, I am not going to name names or point fingers at any specific business, brand, or organization; I aim simply to provide you with the hard facts regarding this trend and to explain how, ultimately, the birds are the ones really paying for it…
Initially, rooster feathers were harvested principally for fly fishing tackle. Fly-tying has been around since Roman times and has never really caused much drama aside from dad putting on a pout about having to cancel his fishing trip for some family outing. Since the early 1900s, there have indeed been numerous farms around the world (the US included) that have been ethically raising roosters, hens, and baby chicks to obtain feathers, eggs, and meat. These companies have been meeting the world’s fly-tying needs all the while providing birds with shelter and food and allowing them to make any nest of their choosing a comfy home. That is, up until the these fly-tying feathers morphed into a popular hair accessory that has women around the globe flipping out over rooster saddles from smalltime farms; and these farms simply can’t keep up with demand as the popularity of these accessories starts to increase at rapid pace.
There are plenty of feather hair extension brands out there that claim to be ethically sourced, but I’m here to shed light on the fact that this whole situation has gotten to the point where there is actually no possible way to ethically obtain feathers from a rooster’s butt. This was first brought to my attention a few months ago, after reading an article about the way one particular farm (that’s been in the business since the 60s) sources its feathers. Most of us would like to think that these birds live their happy little lives while farmers follow them around picking up feathers that fall off, or that they wait until the animals die naturally. The fact of the matter is, these birds are raised until they are about four years old (in some cases, younger), gassed with carbon dioxide, and then have their feathers plucked out while riding down what is essentially an assembly line of death. The average lifespan of a rooster is 8-12 years—the birds at most farms today are being killed prematurely so that their feathers might be placed in your hair.
I’ll admit that I thought the feather trend was cute when I first saw in action at English music festivals and gracing the spring 2011 runways. But seeing as though this fashion accessory has dramatically changed the way rooster feathers are sourced goes beyond trend-spotting. Where is PETA as all of this is going on? Well, PETA activists have actually only recently discovered this dreadful turn of events, but they have indeed started to publicly protest against feather hair extensions.
Ultimately, we are all guilty of using animal byproducts in our everyday lives, no matter how vegan or environmentally conscious we think we are, or strive to be–such is the cycle of life, and we humans are lucky enough to be chilling at the top of the food chain. However, the fact that this trend has caused such a spike in the production and killing of roosters is not part of the natural order of things. This goes without saying, but our power of consumption must somehow become intertwined with an appreciation of the resources Mother Nature bestows upon us–before there is simply nothing left to consume. Fashion fads should be fun, but controlling the life span of an entire species solely for the sake of looking cute, all of us here at VG agree, is not alright. We’d prefer to let the birds be and wash our hands free of accessories laced with bad juju.