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“Wild cats have long been fashion muses, from Princess Diana’s iconic leopard print bathing suit to Kylie Jenner and supermodels donning of Schiaparelli dresses this week in Paris adorned with the fake yet lifelike heads of lions and snow leopards. Beyond evidencing anew the sheer beauty of these magnificent creatures, the fact remains that by harnessing the power of the world’s most majestic and charismatic megafauna, the fashion industry can and should play a decisive role in raising both awareness and funding to protect endangered wild cats.”
“It is estimated that some 24,000 lions remain in Africa, down from a population of around 200,000 a century ago. The ethereal snow leopard may well number just 4,500 in the wild as we speak. And the leopard itself, for all its ubiquity in global fashion, is likely the most persecuted wild cat in the world today — having vanished from at least two-thirds of its historic range in Africa and much of Asia.
“This is not for a moment to argue that fashion brands or consumers should ever hesitate to use or wear such gorgeous animal print. To the contrary, Panthera — which probably does more leopard work globally than all of the world’s conservation programs combined, and whose co-founder the late Dr. Alan Rabinowitz created the Jaguar Corridor — certainly wants to see and celebrate more leopard print, more jaguar print…not to mention more cheetahs, more clouded leopards and more snow leopards. And in their stunning glory, they remain the finest ambassadors of this most noble and indeed vital cause.
“But — and here’s the rub — brands like Schiaparelli and so many others can repay the wild cats that so inspire and inform their art by supporting the inception of a novel concept known as “species royalty,” in which a small fee would be set aside for wild cat conservation every time a piece of apparel featuring a wild cat’s likeness is sold. By embracing this game-changing conservation concept, the fashion industry would help ensure that these iconic species can forever serve as sources of haute couture and other artistic undertakings by playing a uniquely pivotal role in bringing wild cat populations back from their current brink of extinction. They should do it.
“There’s simply no reason not to. Giving back to brands — and protecting them — constitutes a time-honored tradition in business. Moreover, it’s good business. In fact, our initiative is the very definition of low-hanging fruit for all the fashion houses. This generation of consumers wants authenticity and craves for meaning. They want whenever possible to do good as well as feel and look good. And they will happily pay extra and buy more products if they can check all the boxes of sustainability and purpose. If that isn’t a ‘win-win’ for the business world itself, then what is? The time to spring into action is right now. Put another way… why wait?”
Channeling the world’s love for leopard print into concrete environmental action, Kaplan has personally spearheaded Panthera’s ongoing #LeopardSpotted campaign, recently covered by The New Yorker, which encourages wearers of leopard print to hashtag their social media posts — #LeopardSpotted — and donate to Panthera’s extensive leopard conservation efforts.
Last year, in a unique collaboration weaving the worlds of fashion, photography and conservation, Italian luxury fashion house Dolce&Gabbana, Panthera, and artist and new Panthera Board Member Celina Chien joined forces to protect and shine a spotlight on the often-overlooked leopard. In 2016, Panthera and Hermès partnered to support leopard conservation through the sale of Hermès products donning the artwork of Robert Dallet, the late French naturalist whose lifelike paintings of wild cats for the Parisian luxury design house have captivated generations of clientele.
These renowned institutions know why they chose Panthera. As one of the world’s most far-reaching leopard conservation programs in existence, the organization’s Project Pardus presently operates in ten countries to reduce poaching and human-leopard conflict, stabilize and increase leopard prey populations, and bring down unsustainable legal trophy hunting. In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Panthera is working in close collaboration with The Royal Commission for AlUla to recover and reintroduce the Critically Endangered Arabian leopard. Beyond the leopard’s natural habitat, Panthera’s unmatched conservation efforts also extend to the great ‘spotted cat’ of the Western Hemisphere — the jaguar — via the Jaguar Corridor Initiative.
Furthermore, the conservation world has also adopted the use of faux furs through Panthera’s partnership with Zambia’s Barotse Royal Establishment of the Lozi people. Known as Saving Spots, this initiative preserves rich cultural traditions while protecting declining wild cat populations using synthetic Heritage Furs — including skirts made of leopard, serval and other animal furs as well as lion-mane trimmed berets.
Saving Spots was inspired by Panthera’s groundbreaking Furs for Life Leopard Project, which involves the creation of high-quality and affordable synthetic leopard fur capes to help replace the use of real leopard furs worn by followers of the Nazareth Baptist Church eBuhleni in southern Africa during ceremonial gatherings. Since its founding in 2013, this highly-innovative project has significantly reduced demand for and acquisition of authentic furs, potentially preventing hundreds of leopard deaths each year — making it one of the most impactful carnivore conservation programs ever conceived…and implemented.
Panthera, founded in 2006, is devoted exclusively to preserving wild cats and their critical role in the world’s ecosystems. Panthera’s team of leading biologists, law enforcement experts and wild cat advocates develop innovative strategies based on the best available science to protect cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, lions, pumas, snow leopards, tigers and the 33 small cat species and their vast landscapes. In 39 countries around the world, Panthera works with a wide variety of stakeholders to reduce or eliminate the most pressing threats to wild cats — securing their future, and ours. Visit panthera.org.