Though most people would be quick to point out the difference between fur and hair, I hope you’ll forgive the title (I couldn’t resist a semi-relevant pun.)
Ever since Fendi’s FW15 collection last year and its “haute fourrure” theme, the fashion world has met with its familiar fur debate yet again. And, as we’ve seen this past season, it’s not like fur is going anywhere anytime soon, fueled by an army of celebrities and instagram influencers.
The trend is luxurious and wealthy both in appearance and feel, which due to the new-age celebrities and their exorbitant displays of wealth, plays well into the desires of fashionistas everywhere. Despite the attraction of the high-fashion look, there are a lot of ethical questions that come with wearing fur.
For that reason, organizations like PETA have always fought against haute couture’s fur love affair. It’s a rocky history, filled with fiery protests and snide comments back and forth in the media. Yet recently, PETA and other such anti-fur protestors have remained uncharacteristically silent about fur’s comeback.
As a consumer, it’s difficult to know what to do. The valid protestations of anti-fur organizations is on our minds and the allure of fur is a powerful one (as well as warm!) Without knowing much about either options, the best route seems to be the research one.
THE FUR INDUSTRY
As a luxury good, it’s not as if everyone has their hands on furs or in deep enough pockets to even have to make their minds up on the subject. But many people default on the idea of a ban or trade sanctions against the fur industry.
The fur industry however, is just that: an industry. It employs thousands among many sectors and cannot be deleted overnight due to animal welfare, which is a valid concern, but not one that can overshadow the livelihoods at stake. One look at the International Fur Federation’s website shows me that the industry is fully aware of its shaky ethics, featuring sections on sustainability, population control, farming in multiple countries, trade regulations, dying practices, and many more that I never dreamed would be explained so extensively regarding such a controversial topic. And from the IFF itself!
Many countries allow trapping and killing (the way in which trappers are supposed to kill animals is also regulated) for environmental control. For example, in the Netherlands muskrats damage dikes (which keep water from flooding out of dams), so the government allows the trapping of muskrats. The fur trade can help with situations like these by using parts of the animal: fur, leather, etc rather than disposing of the animal completely. The meat of these animals is also regularly sold in these situations rather than being discarded.
An easy analogy is in relation to your hometown—I’m from the Midwest—and what animal is constantly overpopulated—for me, it’s deer. Oftentimes hunters are allowed to kill more of that animal to control the abundance of them, as they damage plant life and make some resources dangerously scarce. Plus, the overwhelming fear of hitting a deer on the road and spinning out is all-encompassing for Midwesterners like me!
How is all of this enforced? How are we to know that the fur we purchase, if we do, comes from a place of humane-trapping and pest control?
Fortunately, the EU, Russia, Canada, and the US have all signed on to the Agreement on International Humane Trapping in the late 90s, which among other things, agrees on international standards for trapping, no trade restrictions on signatory countries, testing of traps, and conventions for trapping that extends to conservation of species as well.
Is fur ethical then? Hard to say. Whether or not these standards are held is an entirely different question and the concerns that anti-fur organizations bring forth are not unfounded. Certainly, a large demand for fur is as dangerous as any other obsession of a consumer population—many times these demands can spin ethical practices out of control into less humane practices, despite efforts to regulate the industry.
FUR, THE ETHICAL WAY
If you decide that fur is, in fact, a material that you’re fine with wearing, but you want to make sure that it’s done ethically, there are options out there. Some brands have chosen to use sustainable fur practices and are incredibly transparent in their usage of fur and animal products.
Brother Vellies, for example, is one such label. Aurora James, the label’s designer, has an impressive resumé and since traveling to Africa in her earlier years, saw a need to protect African artisans and their production. Her leather and fur usage is sustainable, working with governmental sanctions on wildlife removal instead of unabated trapping methods.
Even in light of these efforts, PETA has remained uncharacteristically silent. Back in 2015, they were certainly vocal about Fendi, but a quick look at their website doesn’t appear to show a sense of urgency. Perhaps the constant presence of PETA has somehow lessened their shock value or, perhaps, there is something bigger planned for the future—a campaign to address the fur-crazy trend of these years. Maybe, though it seems unlikely, they’ll ride out the lifetime of a trend—five years or so.
What of the options for those who wish to look trendy and avoid fur? There’s plenty available with new technology in textile production. Earlier imitation furs were poorly-made, the feel of the fabric tacky and false, and the look of it easy to distinguish from the real deal.
But when Shrimps founder, Hannah Weiland, stumbled upon a fantastic imitation fur at a fabric fair and hasn’t looked back since. Her coats and clutches are whimsical and light; sort of the opposite of what one thinks of with fur (dark, alluring, and glamorous). It’s the kind of clothing you’ll think about far too often and calculate your monthly bills while considering if peanut butter is sufficient food for a month. Or maybe that’s the collegiate in me.
A couple other good options are PelushNYC and Unreal Fur. Faux-fur isn’t horribly hard to find, it’s the matter of finding quality pieces, since the process of producing synthetics isn’t fabulous for the environment either (think chemicals and polyester).
And, finally, thrift store finds and vintage options are great for those wanting to extend the lives of fur coats that may have been less ethically sourced. Recycling is helpful in a world diluted by clothing options.
As always, choose wisely and having done a bit of research. It’s good for your wallet, your style, and those who make meticulously well-made garments.