Gucci, a brand that is known for leading industry trends since creative director Alessandro Michele took helm in 2015 -- announced it is going to stop having fur in its collections. “It’s not modern… It’s a little bit out-dated,” Marco Bazzarri, chief executive of the Italian brand, told Business of Fashion. Understandably this resonates with their millennial customers, who make up half of their clientele -- millennials are shown to be way more conscious about their purchase choices. Joining the brand in the anti-fur movement is also Yoox Net-a-Porter, the internet fashion giant that owns Net-a-Porter, Mr Porter, the Outnet and Yoox.com, which declared it is going to go fur-free after surveying more than 25,000 clients, including the E.V.I.P.s (those who spend more than USD1 million a year on the sites). More than half the respondents said they would like the sites to stop selling fur.
However, is faux fur really better for our planet? Acrylic, the principal fiber in fake fur, has the worst environmental impact of nine fibers studied in a 2014 report by the European Commission, coming last in four out of six categories including impact on climate change, human health, and resource depletion. The US Sustainable Apparel Coalition ranked acrylic 39 out of 48 on its list of fabrics with the worst effect on the environment. Acrylic is also one of the main fibers that causes microfibres in water streams which end up in the fish we eat. Fur, with all its animal rights issues, biodegrades, while fake fur isn’t.
This is not to ignore the environmental impacts of the animal raising and production process of real fur, nor is this to argue that real fur is better than faux fur, it is to realize that issues pertaining to sustainability in fashion are nuanced and not black and white, that most fabrics, production method, brands, if they are better at one aspect, doesn’t make them saintly nor unaccountable for other flaws. For other fabrics, just for example, if it’s biodegradable, it might use a lot of water in its production (bamboo); if its raw material is carbon neutral, its production process might be chemical intensive (viscose). This doesn't mean we should throw our hands up and give up on buying better because the goods and bads balance each other out anyway – some materials are certainly better than others in overall impact – this just means we shouldn't settle for answers given by people who sell to us. We should be constantly curious - curious about facts, and curious about solutions.
For the case of real vs. faux fur, although using faux is less cruel to animals obviously, it is more damaging to their habitat in the long run. So, what to do? How about vintage or second-hand fur? Although some would argue that this perpetuates the trend and aesthetics of furs (so does faux), the fact remains that you are not supporting the killing of more animals. One new fur coat, for example, uses as many as 55 minks, 100 chinchillas, or 125 ermines. You are also helping the extension of the life cycle of an existing garment. Yes, you might risk getting frowned upon because people might not know whether what you’re wearing is vintage or new, but there’s always risk in doing the better thing - doesn’t mean it is a reason for not doing it.
Another thing is, with the rising prevalence of biofabricated leather, silk and lab-grown meat – would biofabricated fur – fur without the killing of animals – be in the future? Seems like it. Introduced by Miroslava Duma’s Fashion Tech Lab, Vitro Labs, led by CEO and Co-founder Ingvar Helgason, is a startup working on 3D tissue engineering. They are currently working on BioFur – lab-grown pelts and leather from stem-cells. A truly sustainable fur option might just be just around the corner.
And finally, let’s not ignore the big elephant in the room – it is very easy to point blank be anti-fur because after all – who wants to be labeled as a killer? But If one is against fur, does one eat meat, dairy, or wear leather? Or drive a car with leather seats? PETA is fast to mention that “leather production is just as violent, painful, and deadly as the fur trade” – and the global leather trade is at least 2.5 times bigger than that of fur ($100b v. $40b). Crazy as it seems, fur is also sometimes used not only for purpose of looking good – in some parts of the world, it is used primarily for warmth. I’ve come across more than one friend from Canada or Russia who quietly said “But it’s impossible to survive -33’C without fur – faux does not even compare.”
Instead of siding absolutely with one side or another, let’s choose to look at available information, and always ask for more, for knowing is always the first step to improving. I love courtroom dramas, and from The Good Wife I’ve learned that a verdict only needs to be made beyond a reasonable doubt, not absolute certainty. However, it is hard to do so from a place of reasonable ignorance. Get beyond ignorance.
FOR FAUX FUR
Like all animal agriculture, raising animals takes up a lot of energy and resources. Ultimately, faux is cited as more energy-efficient than real, using as little as one-fifteenth the energy required for farmed-fur production. However, this study PETA refers to is from 1979 and was first commissioned by an animal-welfare group.
More than half the fur in the U.S. comes from China, where millions of dogs and cats are bludgeoned, hanged, bled to death, and often skinned alive for their fur. Chinese fur is often deliberately mislabeled, so if you wear any fur, there’s no way of knowing for sure whose skin you’re in.
For companies that don’t have strict environmental-centric production processes, carcinogens like chromium and formaldehyde, employed in dressing and dyeing processes, compromise fur’s biodegradability, not to mention ecological stability. British journalist Lucy Siegle once mentioned “the industrial pollution projection system … rates fur-dressing as one of the five worst industries for toxic metal pollution to the land in the world.”
Like all animal production systems, mink, fox, and sable farms produce manure, which can cause water pollution if not managed correctly.
FOR REAL FUR
Real fur is biodegradable, and as a resource, it is renewable.
- To prolong the life of fur garments, pelts first undergo a process known as tanning or dressing. This does not stop fur from biodegrading and threatens ecological stability – IF they are vegetable dyed and tanned with non-toxic methods, something that companies such as Kering and SAGA have pledged to.
Faux fur is a petroleum derived material, with an estimated gallon of oil used in every three jackets.
Acrylic is principle material of faux fur.
- The US Sustainable Apparel Coalition ranked acrylic 39 out of 48 on its list of fabrics with the worst effect on the environment.
- It has the worst environmental impact of nine fibers studied in a 2014 report by the European Commission, coming last in four out of six categories including impact on climate change, human health, and resource depletion.
- It causes microfibres in water streams the end up in the fish we eat. A team at Plymouth University in the UK found that acrylic releases nearly 730,000 tiny synthetic particles per wash, five times more than polyester-cotton blend fabric, and nearly 1.5 times as many as polyester.
Faux fur undoubtedly harms the environment, especially marine life, unless it’s made from organic materials, like cotton, bamboo or hemp – which is rare.
The industrial processes used for treatment of faux fur uses three times as much non-renewable energy as real fur. However, the is cited by the International Fur Trade Federation – not a neutral orgnization.
‘Road kill’ fur and fur from government sponsored culls might be most sustainable, for there is no involved in ‘raising’ the animals in farms.
- Case: In New Zealand too, the government is encouraging people to buy what they call “the world’s most ecological fur” crafted from the Paihamu, a non-native species that is threatening native wildlife, including the iconic kiwi bird.
It is hard to come to any definite conclusion even after digging through tons of sources and articles, for many studies are sponsored by interest groups and until a neutral organization is able to publish findings comparing the environmental impacts of fur and faux fur, we could only focus on what we know and improve where we can. So what are our best options re. fur as of now?
If you are a consumer:
1) Buy second hand fur.
2) Buy second hand faux fur.
3) Aftercare: wash less often and try avoid machine washing or dry-clean. Choose to spot clean whenever possible and de-odor by placing garment with a jar of coffee beans in enclosed space for a day.
4) As with all garment choices: Buy less, choose well, make it last. And re-sell your garment when you no longer need it.
5) If you have to purchase first-hand, try to find out about the production processes of your garment item and if it’s not available, pressure the brand to be more transparent. How do you know you're not wearing cat fur from China?
If you are a designer:
1) Do you have to design with fur or fur-lookalikes?
2) Find out about the production processes of your materials and be transparent about it with your customer. There is yet to be a perfect option re fur/faux fur, but if you are okay with something and if you are honest about it, the customers who have values aligned with yours, who know you are trying your best, and who are loyal to your designs will be too. But the first step is to know what you are okay with.
If you are an investor:
1) Support unbiased research into environmental impacts of both real and faux fur.
2) Invest in technology such as biofabricated fur or other yet-to-be-discovered solutions which allow designs with aesthetics of fur with minimal environmental impact.
And as always, keeping asking questions, keep learning and keep improving.