How far should we adjust our anti-fur attitudes when considering the planet?
Over the past 50 years, our attitude towards using fur in fashion has changed monumentally. Where it was once deemed the ultimate luxury high-fashion material to be seen wearing, it is now broadly frowned upon. Magazines avoid featuring it, retailers refuse to sell it, more designers than ever have stopped using it in their collections and now, even whole cities and states have banned the sale and manufacture of fur.
This change in attitude was the result of years of animal-rights activists making noise in the industry, protesting fashion weeks and targeting designer stores, coupled with a deeper understanding of the practices involved and shift in cultural perception. Brands eventually listened and it has resulted in an almost blanket ban on the use of fur in high fashion, with Gucci, Versace, Burberry, Armani, Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, Vivienne Westwood and many, many more publicly pledging never to use it.
Now, we are entering a new age in fashion as a result of the climate crisis, which brings into question best practices for designers in terms of creating collections using only the most sustainable materials and techniques available – with the spotlight inevitably turning to faux fur. Is the replica version really better for the planet than real fur? Should we should be shunning faux fur in favour of fur products that already exist?
It is, of course, an extremely complicated question, one which has both powerful moral and scientific arguments behind it. We asked the designers of the Copenhagen-based label Saks Potts, which uses real fur; the faux-fur designer Emma Brewin; and vintage specialists Vestiaire Collective to give us their takes on how best to navigate the topic of fur in a new age.
Is the use of real fur always immoral?
The entire reason that attitudes to fur changed so dramatically in recent years had moral grounding. Anti-fur activists argue that killing animals for fashion is unethical and, particularly when there is an alternative, completely unnecessary. Peta, in its argument against the wearing of any type of animal product, makes a strong case about why it should never be an option.
“Animals are not ours to wear, walk on or carry our possessions in,” the charity explains on its website. “Before animal skins reach store shelves, animals live a life of misery, pain, boredom and fear, and many are skinned alive. On fur farms, animals such as foxes, minks and chinchillas spend their entire lives confined to tiny, filthy wire cages.”
It is difficult to argue against the case that animals should never be killed for fashion, especially when done in such horrific circumstances. However, many designers who do choose to use real fur in their collections argue that there are ethical ways of doing so, and that, ultimately, it is the more planet-friendly option.
Saks Potts, a brand that is worn by many well-known influencers and celebrities, still uses real fur in its collections. Despite the negative stigma around this, the designers feel passionately that they have found the most sustainable method for creating their fur products.
“Natural fur is one of the most sustainable materials available,” the designer Cathrine Saks tells us. “We believe that the future needs sustainable solutions, and using natural fur instead of fake fur is one of the answers to the challenges the fashion trade is facing.”
She makes a persuasive point; real fur is a natural material that decomposes into the earth without harming the environment after use, rather than plastic fibres from synthetic products (including some faux fur), which can end up polluting our water.
The brand also argues that its use of fur is not as cruel as it might seem on the surface. Saks Potts only sources from Kopenhagen Fur, a fur auction house that stocks pieces with Welfur accreditations, in which there are many strict regulations in place to ensure a high quality of life for the animals.
“The programme is designed to provide an objective and reliable animal welfare assessment,” the designer Barbara Potts explains. “It also ensures transparency for customers and enables an overall animal welfare improvement.”
And, although killing for fashion seems cruel, Potts makes an interesting case for the use of fur compared with other animal-product industries that many happily consume on a daily basis.
“We regard fur as being on par with chicken, milk, leather, wool or any other animal products people use every day,” she says. “When animals are treated with the highest degree of respect – which they absolutely always should be – we do not oppose the legal use of any such materials or products.”
What about real fur that already exists?
While you might be of the view that the use of real fur is completely unacceptable, it’s possible that the argument is different when concerning real-fur products that are already in existence. Wearing any kind of real fur can be deemed to be promoting the killing of animals, or glamorising the fur industry, but with the future of our planet at stake, is it acceptable to throw out clothing or refrain from wearing something you already own, have inherited or bought second-hand, just because it’s made of fur?
According to the charity WRAP (The Waste and Resources Action Programme), the average lifetime for a garment is estimated at 2.2 years in the UK. Expanding the life of clothing by a time as small as nine months can significantly reduce its environmental impact. Real fur is durable and can last for decades. So, particularly when considering vintage fur items that have already been produced, the wearing of real fur can be justified from an environmental standpoint. Using what already exists does not harm any animals and will avoid damaging the planet further through the production of a new piece of clothing, as you are supporting circular fashion.
Sophie Hersan, the co-founder and fashion director of the designer second-hand retailer Vestiaire Collective, explains how giving items a new life is vital and that, although they do have a preference for faux, the site does sell real fur in some cases.
“We are naturally in favour of faux fur, from Gucci to Stella McCartney,” she told us. “Nonetheless, we allow a second life to existing items, which include vintage fur.”
Is faux fur bad for the environment?
Faux furs are typically made from synthetic polymeric fibres, such as acrylic, modacrylic and polyester, which are all essentially forms of plastic. These chemicals are derived from coal, air, water, petroleum and limestone, which are incredibly harmful to our environment. According to a study from the Ocean Conservancy, plastic has been found inside the bodies of more than 60 per cent of sea birds and 100 per cent of sea turtles, which is contributing to a rise in extinction rates of various species.
In addition to this, when some of these faux-fur garments end up in landfill, just like petroleum-based plastic bags, they can take up to 1,000 years to decompose. In comparison, real fur can biodegrade naturally within six months to a year.
On paper, faux fur is more damaging to our environment than the use of real fur. However, not all faux fur is created equally. Many high-fashion brands that use replica fur argue that the high-quality materials they use do not have this same negative impact on our planet. But, ultimately, when faux-fur trends trickle down into fast-fashion brands, this becomes harmful to our environment.
The buzzy faux-fur designer Emma Brewin, the woman who creates those well-loved fluffy hats, recognises this, explaining how this relates to her own work.
“I know that a lot of other brands are starting to do the bucket hats [that I am known for] and I think it’s such a shame because regardless of the processes we are using, some fast-fashion brands are always going to find a cheaper alternative, which is worse for the environment,” she explained.
“I wish I could have more of a voice for that, but it’s difficult to control what goes on and what other brands are doing. It would be incredible if there were better measures in place to stop that.”