Fashion can’t get enough of faux fur. What was once seen as a cheap, knock-off alternative of the real thing, is now a trend cherished by celebrities, and praised by designers–who are, one after the other, making headlines for saying goodbye to animal fur.
And with the increasing number of brands stepping away from animal fur, PETA is no longer the only, or most influential, voice running the anti-fur movement. Last week, Chanel announced that it would part ways with the material, joining a lengthy list of brands including Gucci, Burberry, Versace, and Michael Kors. With additional pressure from e-commerce giants Net-a-Porter and Farfetch, who have both committed to stop retailing real fur recently, the reign of faux is as unmissable as Gucci’s candy pink faux fur coat on the Spring/Summer 2019 catwalk.
Though, in the process of bringing fake fur to new fashion heights, is the industry simultaneously turning a blind eye to the inevitable flaws that accompanies the material? For starters, your favorite fuzzy teddy coat isn’t exactly saving the environment, nor the animals who are trying to thrive in it.
“Faux fur is made from synthetic fibers that never biodegrade and aren’t kept and reused and recycled like real fur is,” Alden Wicker, sustainability journalist and president of the Ethical Writers Coalition, tells CR. “Fashion companies can save a lot of money and increase their profit margins by making faux fur coats and selling them at a similar price to real fur coats. The motivation is money, not altruism.”
In 2018, however, animal cruelty is no longer the only concern for luxury fashion houses who refuse the usage of real fur–but also the environment.
Though making a case for sustainability becomes complicated once you take a look at product labels. Gucci’s faux furs are made from acrylic and polyester–so are the imitation furs from Burberry, Michael Kors, DVF, and Versace. Even Stella McCartney, who has long been an outspoken sustainability advocate, uses these materials in her fake fur.
“I am concerned that they have listened to animal rights groups who have an agenda to not just ban fur but also wool and other natural products,” Marc Oaten, CEO of the International Fur Federation, tells CR.
And indeed, sustainability isn’t faux furs strong suit. After all, both acrylic and polyester are synthetic fibers made from plastic–which is estimated to take between 500 and 1000 years to biodegrade. And while it stays on the earth, it tends to damage both the environment, and the animals in it (for one, whales choke on plastic.)
Though there are alternative approaches to making fake fur (such as recycled polyester and vegan leather) those are costly, and time-consuming: two sacrifices the contemporary fashion market is not keen to embrace. At the same time, making imitation fur from plastic is fast, and cheap.
“Faux fur isn’t perfect, but synthetics are everywhere,” Donna Salyers, who launched her fake fur company Fabulous Furs in the late ‘80s, tells CR. She adds that the “animal fur lobby” is not seeing the larger picture by attacking faux fur. “What about sweaters, carpet, water bottles and food packaging made from petroleum-based synthetics?”
But faux fur also has a longevity issue, at least with the materials currently dominating. On the other hand, real fur (if handled with care) can last up to 50-60 years in your closet–and can thus be recycled, and inherited, from one generation to the next one.
Now, fake fur hasn’t always been heralded for its ethics. For long, real fur was the only way to go and, beyond its crucial role for human survival in the Stone Age, it soon also became a favorite for both the fashion and the royal elite. As early as the 11th century, the wealthy wore it as a status piece, and in 1929 it was lauded in fashion magazines as the fabric that that would reveal,”the kind of woman you are and the kind of life you lead.”
The faux kind, on the other hand, was treated with an eye-roll (at best) and with derision at worst. “At all times, imitation fur is a dangerous investment,” one fashion publication wrote in 1913 about the garment. While others meant that it was, “only a substitute for fur and will not be largely used by fastidious women.”
The anti-fur movement began during the early ‘70s, when animal rights’ activists began to target the fur industry and its damaging effects on animals’ lives. Ad campaigns were published condemning the use of real fur, starring Hollywood A-listers Doris Day, Amanda Blake, and Mary Taylor More all clad in faux fur leopard coats. While the message and faux fur both gained traction, it failed to achieve mainstream acceptance.
“A stigma of negativity surrounded faux fur thirty years ago,” Salyers says. “Though the first faux fur coat I made and wore in New York was beautiful by any standard, the average person lacked the confidence to admit to preferring faux.”
In the ‘90s, however, the supermodels came on board–and with that, the attention. In an infamous campaign run by PETA, a star-studded slew of supers’ including Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington posed nude alongside the slogan “We’d rather go naked than wear real fur.”
“As celebrities became customers and as Broadway, TV and movie costume designers began using [fake furs] attitudes changed.” Salyers says, adding that: “It was validation for the rest of us to choose faux over animal.”
Real fur tapped into the core of fashion’s bad conscience back then and as designer after designer continues to opt out, real fur’s reputation resembles that of the plague. The message is simple: stay away from it.
All the while, in what may seem like a world turned upside down, the real fur industry is launching campaigns–reminiscent in assertiveness to those once run by PETA and other animal rights’ organizations–which claim case for fur as a natural and sustainable product. Recent such campaigns have featured fur from Oscar de la Renta, Fendi, Carolina Herrera, Elie Saab, and others.
“I am convinced we can show that fur is about high welfare, with the new standard called Furmark, which is truly sustainable,” Oaten adds. “This is the reassurance consumers need to keep buying fur.” [Ed.note: Furmark is a certification and traceability program that assures sustainability, animal welfare, and dyeing/dressing of fur.]
But is there a way to meet halfway, to neither hurt our favorite furry animals, or the environment surrounding us? One fashion brand that is on its way, is Swedish House of Dagmar, which launched its “animal friendly furs” in 2014; utilizing a technique where the fur is shaved off the animal, and then woven into a fabric base.
“[It is] essentially the same as making a wig or a wool sweater,” co-founder Sofia Wallenstam tells CR, adding that this process (which is biodegradable) is both, “gentler on the environment” yet doesn’t harm the animals in the process.
A consensus is likely not to reached anytime soon on an issue as polarizing and two-sided as using animal fur. One option is to not wear fur at all–neither the real nor the faux kind, or to inherit an old one.
“Invest in the highest quality used faux fur coat you can find. Wear it as long as possible and pass it down to your granddaughter,” Wallenstam says. “It’s really a shame that a lot of brands are moving on to using polyester and other synthetic fibers, because [they have] such a harmful effect on the environment,” she says. “Hopefully we’ll see more animal friendly fur in the future.”END
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