Fur is a big topic in the industry and has been for a long time, but I wanted to look into the history of fur within the industry and what brands are still using it in their products.
History of Fur
Fur is the earliest form of clothing, worn by early homo sapiens and neanderthals. It’s very durable and is still worn in cold climates and cold desert nights. For example, indigenous people and societies still use fur because of its availability and its insulation properties.
Fur became popular in the fashion industry as early as the 11th-century. Across Europe, it became a sign of wealth and status. It was worn for decorative purposes rather than for practical reasons. I found it particularly interesting that in the 1300s, laws were put in place stating which social classes were allowed to wear which types of fur!
During the Victorian era, fur began to rise in popularity. During my Dissertation research, I came across lots of pictures and information about how the fashion industry used an incredible amount of fur and feathers. The 1870s saw the introduction of fur farms. This shift from wild to farmed animals shows just how popular fur was at this time – statistics show that 80% of fur was farmed compared to 20% that was wild. The animals that were farmed for fur were mink, chinchilla, fox, dog, cat, and rabbit. During the later 1800s, synthetic textiles and dyes were invented so the popularity of fur began to fall. Repetitive designs and cheaper textiles meant that fur fell out of fashion.
Fur farms in the UK and the EU
At its peak, there were 5000 fur farms in the EU. ‘The EU accounts for around 63% of global mink production and 70% of fox production,’ but some EU countries have banned or put in strict regulations to prevent the use and production of fur farms. My research did find that despite a fall in demand in the late 1900s, sales have increased because of new ways of working with fur and more disposable incomes. This may seem shocking because of the anti-fur campaigns and legislations that are present, but there are a lot of countries worldwide that still have operating fur farms.
The global fur industry is impossible to write about in one post, so I’m going to talk about the UK in particular. The UK has 2 acts that stop fur farming – the Fur Farming Prohibition Act 2000 and the Fur Farming Prohibition Act Scotland 2002. Before these acts were put in place, there were daily protests and fur farms were closed on the grounds of public morality. Mark Glover, the Director of the Respect for Animals Campaign said ‘To keep animals in such conditions in the name of fashion is totally unacceptable in a civilised society.’ But what exactly happens in fur farms?
Behind closed doors
I don’t want to go into too much detail here but I’m going to leave a link to the Fur Free Alliance page that gives more details about what happens on these farms.
The animals that are bred and killed for fur are kept in battery cages and killed inhumanely. There have been reports done that show the animals on these farms have abnormal behavioural problems and are put under an unimaginable amount of physical and mental stress. People have suggested more humane methods of killing for fur, but anti-fur campaigners object to this as there is no ‘humane’ way to kill an animal for the sake of fashion. They also object to faux fur as it still promotes fur as a fashion accessory.
Sustainability and alternatives
Interestingly, there is large debate about whether fur is cruel or eco-friendly. Pro-fur campaigners argue that fur is natural and sustainable, helping control wild animal population. However, it is clear that the majority of fur comes from farming and not wild trapping. Fur farming, despite being unethical, is argued to be sustainable because of its use of by-products to create more energy. The production of faux fur needs 20x the amount of energy that fur farms need, as well as chemicals and a longer production process.
But, anti-fur organisations presented evidence that the fur industry is in fact very damaging to the environment. The process can produce atmospheric pollution and the chemicals used to preserve pelts and prevent moulding or decomposition can be highly toxic. These toxins pollute rivers and damage ecosystems, and have a damaging effect on those that live near the factories – research has shown that those who live near tanneries are more likely to develop cancer.
Which brands still use fur?
The Humane Society has a page that gives a list of brands that are fur-free and those that aren’t: here’s the link.
I wanted to touch upon one brand in particular that has always been surrounded in controversy because of their use of fur – Canada Goose.
Canada Goose uses down and coyote fur for their coats as they believe it provides the best insulation for cold climates. On their site, one word keeps popping up – ‘ethical.’ They argue that the way they source their down and fur is ethical and they do not kill in an inhumane way. You are free to take that as you will, but I personally don’t believe that trapping and killing for a coat is very ethical.
Canada Goose has released statements to prove that they do not use barbaric ways to capture coyotes, but their statements can be dissected very easily and can be seen as very misinforming. They argue that they do not use traditional leg traps; however, these types of traps are still legal in Canada. Interestingly, they then go on to say that the animals caught in leg traps ‘wait quietly’ until the trapper arrives. They say that these methods are no longer used, but provide no evidence of their current methods of trapping.
Their claims have been expertly dissected by The Fur-Bearers here.
If you strip back to the simplest way of looking at fur in the industry, it seems intriguing. – wearing a naturally occurring material that will last for decades. However, you cannot ignore the details. Fur is not needed in an industry that is producing more sustainable materials. Yes, it is naturally occurring but that is no argument when that naturally occurring material is from a living animal. The argument that it is sustainable isn’t tangible to me; the chemicals that are used on the furs are certainly not eco-friendly. The fashion industry is so creative and innovative, so I believe that it definitely has the ability to create other methods to produce materials that replicate fur but not at the expense of the animals. I have to agree with Mark Glover’s comments; it’s not acceptable for the industry to use such conditions, and personally, I am surprised that the industry is even connecting itself to such a horrifying prospect.
It is a huge debate and it’s still ongoing, but it’s promising to see that more designers are coming forward with an anti-fur statement. In 2018, 86% of brands didn’t feature fur in their SS18 collections. Designers like Versace, Gucci, Tom Ford, and Michael Kors came forward to condemn the use of fur in the industry. Donatella Versace put it simply: ‘Fur? I’m out of that…I don’t want to kill animals to make fashion. It doesn’t feel right.’
I completely agree with the use of fur by indigenous groups etc. but I don’t think there is a need for it in the modern fashion industry. I believe the industry is clever enough to look for alternatives or eventually stray away from fur and faux fur completely. At the London College of Fashion, Rob Phillips introduced anti-fur modules, challenging his students to think innovatively about alternatives. Faux fur is not a sustainable solution, but as the industry progresses, eco-friendly alternatives will present themselves.
Victoria Magrath, The New Fashion Rules. (London, Harper Collins Publishers; 2018).