Fur vs faux fur
Anti-fur protesters have had their impact on the world of fashion. The last London Fashion Week was the first main fashion week in which none of the designers used fur in their shows. This comes many years after fur farming was banned in the UK in 2003 (the import of animal fur remained and is still legal). During the past year big fashion names like Gucci, Versace, Michael Kors, Jimmy Choo, Furla, John Galliano and Donna Karan have claimed to go fur-free.
Besides the moral issue of killing and/or using animals for their skin, the production of fur has its environmental costs and is not as natural as one would think. The CO2 emissions associated with keeping and feeding tens of thousands of mink on a single farm, manure runoff into nearby lakes and rivers, toxic chemicals, like formaldehyde and nonylphenol ethoxylates that are used in conserving, bleaching and dying the fur. Alternatives to fur, such as synthetic faux fur, have their own environmental and ethical issues. “The manufacturing processes used to create these involve toxic chemicals and cause pollution in surrounding rivers and landfill sites. Currently there is no safe way to produce or dispose of PVC products, therefore consumers can be misled into thinking ‘vegan’ is entirely environmentally friendly”, says Rachael Stott, the senior creative researcher at The Future Laboratory.
So, which is worse for the environment, real fur or faux fur? Some studies, like the one conducted by Fur Free Alliance, suggest that real fur is worse (based on mink fur), while others, like the one commissioned by the International Fur Trade Federation, say faux fur has a bigger impact on the environment (are these objective studies?). One aspect to take into account is that faux fur is made from acrylic or polyester, petroleum-based synthetic materials that can take hundreds of years to biodegrade in a landfill (animal fur biodegrades in just a few years, but will it leach the toxins used in the production?). The garments made of faux fur also shed hundreds of tiny pieces of fiber (microplastics) every time they are being washed. Pro-fur advocates also mention that trapping wild animals like fox, beavers and coyotes (approximately 15 percent of the fur trade) helps manage wildlife populations and provides a continued livelihood for many indigenous communities. "The fur trade provides a crucial, finely-tuned symbiotic relationship that helps to achieve the objectives of wildlife management and conservation and society as a whole," says Keith Kaplan, director of communications at the Fur Information Council of America. But anti-fur advocates mention that the traps used to hunt wild animals have a history of ensnaring "nontarget" animals like domestic dogs, cats, birds and small mammals. There are still many designers who are of the opinion that real fur is the more sustainable option. “Faux fur doesn't breathe in the same way natural materials do, while the natural fiber materials, like calfskin, goatskin, sheepskin, antelope, lambskin and rabbit fur are by-products of the meat and dairy industries. The animals are eaten for their meat, and some produce milk for human consumption," says Shelley Tichborne of footwear brand Mou.
Another aspect to keep in mind is that fur products have a very long life, whereas faux fur is usually seen as a cheaper product that will be thrown away quicker. That is changing now that faux fur has more the look and feel of real fur, making it less of a disposable item. Designer Kym Canter of House of Fluff makes an effort to keep sustainability in mind by choosing recycled polyester, making the collection in New York City to reduce its carbon footprint, and sourcing fabrics from Europe, where regulations around pollution are stricter than in China.
So, in terms of sustainability it seems that real fur (vintage even better) is more environmentally friendly than faux fur, but in terms of animal cruelty faux fur is the way to go (mink fur seems to be the worst option in both cases). Or is there another alternative? Maybe in the future there will be a biofabricated fur, like the bioleather developed at Modern Meadow by Suzanne Lee.