Anti-Leather, Anti-Health: Commes des Garcons, The Beatles and PVC

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Mmkay, it's been weeks since the launch of Commes des Garcons x The Beatles, so maybe this isn't the most timely of reactions. Whatever. I'm not throwing in my nine cents now to bitch about Commes des PouPou's elitist perversion of the best band ever. That would be stating the obvious. No, what concerns me is the collection's preferred leather alternative; the material used to construct Rei Kawuwhattheeff's deliberately undesigned Beatles bags. Because I'm not really sure what PVC is.


POP QUIZ: A handbag reflecting Sir Paul McCartney's vegetarian lifestyle and animal rights activism is also...

(a) a fair-trade-certified product.
(b) an eco-friendly leather alternative.
(c) a threat to human and environmental health.

If you assume (a) or (b), it's not a mark of naivete. Terms like "animal rights" and "antileather stance" might not explicitly say something's good for the planet, but they're too warm and fuzzy for us to fathom otherwise. It's not unreasonable to assume what's good for the animals is also good for the earth.

At least, that's what Commes des Garcons and Apple Corps were banking on with their use of PVC: Say it's good for the animals, don't say it's bad for the earth, and consumers won't notice the discrepancy.

Guess what bitches? I NOTICED.

Greenpeace describes Polyvinyl Chloride - the chemical compound commonly known as PVC - as such:

PVC (polyvinyl chloride) - often called 'vinyl' - is the second most commonly used plastic in the world. It is also the most problematic for the environment.


PVC is waterproof, durable, and uber cheap to produce, hence its presence in almost everything we consume. Why the bags cost upwards of $500 EACH, then, is beyond me - it's a rip-off of epic proportions. Then again, it's high fashion, so bigfuckingsurprise.

That the collabs marks up cheaply made goods is far from its biggest offense. The real problem with Commes des Garcons x The Beatles? It frames The Poison Plastic as an animal-friendly leather alternative, and conveniently neglects to mention its merch comes with a side order of cancer-causing dioxins.

Want a second reference other than Greenpeace's toxic site? The Center for Health, Environment and Justice's campaign for PVC-Free Schools has a laundry list of facts guaranteed to make you nauseous. Highlights from CHEJ's 'Top Ten Reason's Your School Should Go PVC-Free' include the following:

Vinyl chloride, the key building block of PVC, causes a rare form of liver cancer, and damages the liver and central nervous system. Vinyl chloride is one of the few chemicals the U.S. EPA classifies as a known human carcinogen.

The formation of dioxin is a major concern in PVC's lifecycle. Dioxins are a highly toxic group of chemicals that build up in the food chain, cause cancer and can harm the immune and reproductive systems. Awesome. Not.

PVC manufacturing facilities have poisoned workers and fenceline neighbors, polluted the air, contaminated drinking water supplies, and even wiped entire neighborhoods off the map. It's what Pacific Gas and Electric did to residents of Hinkley, CA in Erin Brockovich, with one glaring exception: It's global.

PVC packaging has a national recycling rate far lower than other plastics. PVC melts at a lower temperature than its lightweight plastic counterparts. That means when it's lumped in with soda bottles and such, it burns and creates a resin that downgrades the quality of the recyclable PET* batch. One PVC bottle can contaminate and ruin a recycling load of 100,000 recyclable PET bottles.

PET* = Polyethylene terephthalate, i.e. lightweight, recyclable plastic.

PVC isn't just a shitty excuse for a leather alternative; it's the why behind why we're sick and getting sicker. There are steps being taken by Greenpeace and CHEJ to phase out the use of PVC, but it's slow going. If the fashion industry wants to survive the recession, it needs to move away from the quick buck that comes from marking up cheaply-made merch, and move toward what's good for consumers in the long term. We deserve better. And by better, I mean we deserve to not be poisoned by the products we buy.

Commes des Garcons x The Beatles isn't merely an overpriced exercise in maintaining the status quo: It's attached to a sketchy PR approach and a dishonest marketing scheme. Focus on PVC's animal-friendliness, omit proof that it wreaks havoc on our health and our world, create an implied positive where no positive exists, and you can get away with lying to your consumers.

The collabs isn't a groundbreaking homage to music's greatest band. It's just one more example of the luxury goods market's disregard for those who keep it in business: The shoppers.

Recall, if you will, The Beatles' benign, peace-loving 'Revolution'.

But when you talk about destruction
Don't you know that you can count me out

When the Fab Four sang that line, having their legacy splattered across a hazardous, carcinogenic material probably wasn't what they had in mind. PVC is the antithesis of everything The Beatles once stood for. That it's in sync with Sir Paul's antileather stance doesn't do much to make up for the offense.

I'm all for animal rights. Just not at the expense of human beings.