It wouldn’t be fair to call animal behavior a cruelty-free fashion label -- because it’s so much more than that. Not only does it not hurt animals, it actually strives to help them.
Based and manufactured in Los Angeles, the brand is vegan and uses eco-friendly sourcing and production methods, but it also takes its commitment to wildlife even further, putting the focus on preservation. A portion of each sale goes to organizations like Panthera, that are committed to supporting endangered species and conserving their habitats.
“Protecting nature is our duty as part of the animal kingdom,” said CEO Melanie Linehan, who launched animal behavior in December. “We do not sit on top of it, we are part of it.”
The aesthetic of the first collection echoes that philosophy. The women’s apparel combines clean lines and a minimalist approach to dressing with a nod to nature in the form of Amur leopard-inspired print on key pieces like its versatile Rosette top.
Another bonus: with prices starting at $98, animal behavior makes it doable for women with more moderate budgets to add ethical fashion to their closets. “Our hope is to provide an attainably priced alternative to some of the high-end, classic designers -- timeless staples that are feminine but confident, sexy but not objectifying," Melanie said. The label is currently available solely via animal behavior’s website, but the CEO told us that a presence in like-minded boutiques could be on the horizon.
Melanie also shared the inspiration behind the brand, the label’s biggest challenges so far, and the one animal behavior piece that everyone should own. Check out our conversation below for more.
How did you come to be interested in both fashion and animals/habitat conservation?
My co-founder and I grew up surrounded by nature in the Midwest. This certainly influenced us to think of ways we could preserve our planet instead of adding to its issues. Fashion has always been a draw for me personally, given it is such a part of the first impression one makes, while also being one of the most important forms of self- expression.
What sparked the idea for animal behavior?
Working with e-commerce brands in the tech industry [Editor’s Note: Melanie’s background includes a robust list of fashion tech positions, including founder and freelance consultant for Haute Sketch and fashion and retail account manager at Twitter], I noticed the fashion industry touting leopard as a neutral, yet it seemed no one was taking into account that this beautiful creature is critically endangered, with less than 40 -- not 400, 40! -- in the natural world. It seemed self-evident to me then, and does now, that anyone who truly admires its beauty would also be interested in its preservation. There were things I did not know at the time, but I was certain we needed to make our first goal to protect the Amur leopard from extinction.
Why was it important for you to put the overarching focus on protecting endangered species?
By donating a portion of each sale to causes actively working towards preserving the very animals that inspired the collection, we are closing this typically open loop, while also making it easy for our customers to make a difference.
What made Panthera an ideal first partner organization?
100% of donations to Panthera go to field research, which was important to us. Panthera also allows you to chose which endangered species you wish to support. We chose Panthera’s Project Pardus, which is the first global conservation initiative for wild leopards. Much like animal behavior’s mission, this project was launched to secure the leopard’s future.
What has been your biggest challenge when it comes to achieving the trifecta of sustainability, social responsibility, and local production?
For us, having sustainability be more than a box that is checked was fundamental. In doing our research, my co-founder and I knew that creating a sustainable, locally produced brand would be a challenge, but we were up for it. We knew trying to accomplish all three of our pillars would be met with skepticism, but they were and are paramount to our mission. We knew that the production cycle was often the most wasteful part of development, so [we] created a bespoke process to counteract otherwise common industry issues. All of our materials, for example -- from the zipper to our hang-tags -- are sourced within a 10-mile radius of downtown Los Angeles.
Do you see more fashion brands beginning to prioritize ethics and social responsibility?
There has been a shift in the industry toward making better environmental and social business decisions. Unfortunately, there are still many large companies (which have the biggest ability to make a difference) who are only taking baby steps. Everyone touching animal behavior, from our printer to button makers, understands our vision and has agreed [that] we all have to first do what is right for the planet and the endangered animals that inspire us.
Do you think animals are still being left behind when it comes to that ethical shift in the industry?
Absolutely. We ourselves have barely scratched the surface, and we’re doing quite a bit more than the average, not to mention some brands with eco images. With the recognition from supporters like PETA among others, we feel we’re blazing a path where there is an opportunity for many brands to join our cause.
What are your goals for animal behavior over the next couple of years?
Our goal is to change the way brands large and small think about their impact on the natural world around them. We also hope to help create awareness among consumers of the power of their purchases. One of our biggest role models, Jane Goodall, said that consumer purchasing power is the last driving force to push the remaining, stubborn corporations to become more environmentally and socially responsible. Without customers to buy their products, she reasoned, these companies will either have to shape up or will "become defunct like so many of the animals I love." We share her views on the power of the consumer.
What kind of consumer is animal behavior aimed at?
We tend to think of our buyer as anyone with taste and a conscience, but if I had to narrow it down: she’s educated, thoughtful in her actions and purchases. It means something to her that the label she chooses to wear makes a positive impact.
If a woman could only buy one piece from the collection, which one should she get, and why?
Our Panthera jumpsuit is our first true statement piece as a brand; clean, confident and impactful. We have had so many women tell us how great they feel and look, and how often they are complimented when wearing it.
What kinds of items do you hope to add next?
Based on the demand for our Panthera jumpsuit, we are considering another run in a few new colors. We have also started development for our next collection, [which will be] inspired by and protect another endangered species.