Sometimes events converge in an unexpected way, and so it was at London Fashion Week earlier this year as fur protestors staged their largest-ever protests, while a reported 90% of designers confirmed they had no fur in their collections. That combination of a protest in an environment that was less objectionable than expected stoked a conversation about the use of fur in fashion that has been rumbling along in the background for years. And so, as we find ourselves at the mercy of a southerly gale and overcast skies, it’s our turn in the Antipodes to examine our use of faux fur. I love faux fur (in fact, I love vintage real fur as well, just not quite as much), so I 100% declare my bias now. I hope faux fur is all good so I can wear it with a happy heart.
It’s most decidedly no longer chic to wear an endangered animal on your back (such as tiger, popular in the 1970s in a certain social set) and wearing a dead fox around your neck – little face still intact – isn’t a look you’ll see on Lambton Quay. Gucci, home of the surprisingly popular fur lined loafers, has officially confirmed it will no longer use real fur, and when Gucci says that something is “not modern” in 2018, you know it’s out. However, balance that recent sea change against these statistics - Fur Europe reported that "In 2016, there were over 75 million mink pelts produced on farms globally with a total estimated value of 2,44 billion USD. There were also 15,25 million fox pelts produced with an estimated value of almost 1 billion USD." One report I read stated "Conservative numbers suggest that 30 million animals are killed each year for their skins, with 85 per cent coming from fur farms and the remaining 15 per cent trapped in the wild." I'm not going to take you down the horrifying black hole that was my research on fur farming; instead, let's ask ourselves if faux fur presents the A+ alternative option that I really really hope it does.
There’s no denying that the fluffy stuff is warm, and that’s given rise to a market for faux fur, with brands like Shrimps turning out eye-catching designs in bright, cheerful colours for winter. Before we all pat ourselves on our (fuzzy) backs for being such good fashionistas and showing the animals some love, there are a few facts to consider.
First of all, investigations in the United Kingdom in 2017 revealed that a number of high street retailers were selling products they believed to contain fake fur…which actually contained real fur. You have correctly surmised - it’s so cheap to farm animals for fur that real fur is being passed off as fake. Make sure you jump online and educate yourself on how to spot the real (faux) thing, for example, by looking at the way the individual fibres appear (they should be blunt, not tapered).
The other key thing to consider is the composition (and manufacturing) of faux fur. It’s acrylic, a material made to last…and last, and last. For hundreds of years without any risk of decomposition, in fact. My research turned up contradictory reports on the comparative energy consumption of producing fake fur versus real fur, but what does seem clear is that faux fur in fast fashion is yet another way for mountains of plastic to end up buried in landfills around the world. It also sheds fibres, so washing fake fur means those fine fibres end up washed into waterways. The synthetics industry is continuing to evolve (as befits a science/technology industry) and we might well find ourselves wearing faux fur in future that's fully biodegradable. For now, though, it's better not to binge on faux fur.
There's also an argument that wearing fake fur still glamourises fur, which contributes to the overall fur industry. That has to be balanced against surveys like this, which indicate a ground swell of feeling against fur (81% of respondents), and an assumption on most people's parts that fur in the high street is, in fact, fur. I feel pretty safe wearing a bright yellow furry coat that nobody is going to believe it's real and bail me up about it; it's also handy for visibility on the highways and byways of the city. I might well be glamourising the fast fashion faux fur industry, but if anyone's feeling inspired by the sight of me wearing this get up while I buy chicken nuggets at 9pm after a long day in the office, they have weird proclivities. Also, I can confirm I felt like a giant fluffy chick buying nuggets and I felt very conflicted. And yes, I eat meat while eschewing fur I am working on it okay.
It seems to me that the middle ground on fashionable fur right now – and it’s one that I inhabit somewhat uneasily – is a combination of modern fabrics and retro attitudes to clothes. You avoid the animal cruelty by buying faux fur; you minimise the environmental impact by buying a single coat with an intention to look after it for years, and pass it on to another generation. And never, ever, wash it.
The Business of Fashion created The Great Fur Debate, where "Leaders representing both sides of the fur debate presented their arguments in back-to-back remarks" - worth a watch if you're interested in more on this topic.