On the occasion of our latest SUSTAINABLE ISSUE, we talked to several insiders and experts that are dealing with sustainability in fashion to shed light on as many topics as possible from different perspectives. Like the discussion about fur in fashion. The ethical aspect of fur in fashion has been a subject of discussion forever due to cruel animal farming practices. Fur optics have come into vogue for quite a while and fake alternatives spread in the market–but synthetic fiber also a burden for nature. So the discussion heats up. What’s the solution–no (fake) fur at all?
The history of fur clothing seems to be as old as mankind itself. It was critical for survival during prehistory as a windproof and waterproof layer. In addition to its physical protective function, fur was worn as a trophy that showed power and bravery and the belonging to a certain community. Later, in the civilized society of the 11th century fur stood for wealth and social status. And while in the 1300s, laws regulated which social classes were allowed to wear which types of furs, the endurable material became sort of casual reaching the 1950s. Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe: all those divas became iconic in their furry outfits and fashion designers such as Coco Chanel, Christian Dior and Balenciaga made the fad a mass phenomenon. By the 1960s, the material was more affordable than ever and in addition cheaper faux fur coats and accessories have been pushed onto the market. Today even fast fashion items are decorated with both real and fake fur applications and the social significance seems arbitrary. One can find fragments of foxes, rabbits, minks, muskrats, chinchillas and of other cuddly animals on caps, bags, parkas and shoes. Fur is ordinary today. And it is worn is less than ever. Animal rights groups such as PETA have created huge awareness about the inhumane husbandry situations on fur farms all over the world and shame fashion brands and retailers that are trading with fur. At the same time the organization’s fashionable awareness campaigns made being an animal rights activist somehow sexy. The most popular example is PETA’s campaign “I’d rather go naked than wear fur“ showing dozens of stars such as Christy Turlington, Pink and Gillian Anderson literally and beautifully naked. Not wearing fur is a political act and part of a lifestyle today. And to wear fur turns out to be more and more inappropriate, which makes it a political act, too. How come?
Russia was the world’s largest supplier of fur pelts in the world throughout the 19th century but Scandinavia took over the number-one position when it started with farming instead of trapping animals in the 1910s. Today fur is an industrial product and 85% of the global production comes from factory farms. Such intensive outputs aren’t to reach without relying on the economy of scale and the systematic effort to produce the highest output at the lowest cost. Specifically this means that naturally wild animals such as minks and foxes are kept in the smallest possible cages which prevents them from behaving naturally: hunting, foraging, running, swimming, climbing and fearing humans. So these animals are continuously stressed, which causes serious behavioral disorders and health problems such as fur-chewing and tail-biting, self-inflicted injuries, and physical deformities like bent feet, reproductive failure and infant mortality. Representatives of the fur industry fight for their reputation and claim that these conditions can be changed and aren’t even ubiquitous. They set out governmental regulations, transparent supplying chains and even install “open farms” for the public to see an alternative truth. Altogether 6,000 farms in the EU account for 63% of global mink production and 70% of fox production and makes fur a predominantly European material. Finland produces around 1,800,000 fox pelts and Denmark 17 million mink pelts every year which is approximately 28% of world production.
We consider faux fur to be the better alternative and we want to stimulate our customers to rethink.
In January 2017, Fur Europe, an umbrella organization of the European fur sector, launched an animal welfare assessment system called WelFur. Funded and initiated by the European Fur Breeder’s Association (EFBA) and developed by independent scientists, the system uses animal indicators to assess welfare. This means considering parameters like the animal’s positive and negative emotions, health, natural behavior, the housing system, feeding, human-animal relationship and how the farm is managed. With this approach the organization is trying to face the emotional discussion around animal welfare which is prompted by investigation reports that aren’t easily to bear. “WelFur provides a reliable and science based farm level assessment of the welfare on European fur farms, and this means we can discuss animal welfare on a basis of facts rather than perceptions,” says Mette Lykke Nielsen, CEO of Fur Europe. The Fur Free Alliance, a coalition of 40 animal and environmental protection organizations worldwide, however, has cried conflict of interest for the fact that the biggest fur producing countries, Finland and Denmark, have responsibility for the project instead of choosing the countries with the most advanced welfare regulations. Further it points out that in the 2010 annual report of the Finnish Fur Breeders’ Association, WelFur certification was presented as a method of tackling the political pressure on fur farming. One big driver behind WelFur is the Finnish auction house Saga Furs that deals with breeders and suppliers on the one side, and clothing manufacturers and fashion houses on the other. The company also runs its own traceability tool called Saga Traceability System using RFID technology to follow the skin all the way to the ready garment. Origins transparency is important to assess the ethical aspects of fur. Taking this as a goal, the International Fur Trade Federation (IFTF) in cooperation with the fur industry has developed the certification Origin Assured in 2006 which labels fur that is sourced in countries with national or local regulations and standards regarding animal welfare. Activists criticize that the label doesn’t assess these different regulations and that much governmental regulation is often insufficient in terms of animal welfare.
“Humane” fur farming seems like an oxymoron to many places in the world where anti-fur activists have made political inroads. Fur farming is banned in several Russian neighboring states as well as in the Netherlands, Belgium and UK. Fox farming is banned in Denmark. In January 2018 Norway introduced a total ban on fur farming until 2025. Germany had adopted new regulations for fur farming in 2009 including bigger and better equipped cages. In January 2017 India adopted an import ban on mink, fox and chinchilla skins. Sao Paolo has banned fur farming as well as imports of fur products. And in 2013 West Hollywood became the first US city to ban the sales of fur.
Likewise, a growing number of international fashion brands from high-end to fast apparel claim to be fur free today, such as Gucci, Armani and Zara. Interested consumers can follow this opt-out movement in real time, currently 849 companies, on the consumption platform Fur Free Retailer which is run by the Fur Free Alliance. In January 2018, also the German fashion brand Rich & Royal announced to be fur free with immediate effect. “We consider faux fur to be the better alternative and we want to stimulate our customers to rethink as well as to convey the concept of sustainability,” says CEO Denis Stupp.
Faux fur, the more affordable alternative for fur from the 1960s is today much more than just the cheaper little sister. Its appearance varies enormously and the quality has improved so much that nearly no difference between it and the real thing are discernable. Today it’s an accepted and even smart act to wear faux fur. As a reaction fur lovers addressed the noxious processing of faux fur as a synthetic often mineral oil-based fiber for which a tremendous amount of chemicals are used. Well, the same holds true for fur processing which, as a natural and thus biodegrading material, must be dressed with chemical substances like formaldehyde and chromium. In 2011 the research and consultancy organization CE Delft published a study on the environmental impact of mink fur production. “Compared with textiles, fur has a higher impact per kg in 17 of the 18 environmental categories, including climate change, eutrophication and toxic emissions,” it found.
Concepts that use fur from alternative sources appear interesting. Berlin-based brand Friendly Fur for instance only processes pelts from epidemic or overpopulation control that used to be trashed. New Orleans-based brand Righteous Fur uses pelts from nutria that are invading their local countryside and causing damage to the ecosystem. Others use fur from roadkill. Austrian brand Envie recycles secondhand fur into new products. Concepts like these prove that every material has the potential to become more sustainable.
But these days why use fur at all? That question remains open….
Read and see more interesting stories and insights in our new Sustainable ISSUE here.