Faux Fur is Everywhere You Look
Are You Wearing Fake Fur and Feeling Just a Tiny Bit Smug?
Celebrity designer and animal rights devotee Stella McCartney drapes it over her catwalk models, while Jude Law’s girlfriend, actress Sienna Miller, wears it to walk the dogs.
When TV star Jennifer Ellison was spotted in a wonderful powder pink faux fur jacket (at a pricey £900) she was snapped by every paparazzi at a recent showbiz party.
From H&M to Next, Zara to Accessorize, there’s hardly a High Street store that hasn’t heard the news. Fake fur, whether it be a coat with a funky collar, a trendy tippet, or a cute pair of cuffs, is fun to wear.
What’s more, the latest fashion must have turns every head when you walk in the room. And it doesn’t harm an animal or the environment when you put it on your back. Or does it?
For years, the controversy over real fur has raged unabated.
Powerful and vocal animal rights groups have declared that wearing a skin that once belonged to our furry friends is not only cruel but out of date, too.
“Every time we buy or wear clothing without real fur, we reduce the animal suffering in the world,” says the international charity, The Fund For Animals. ‘Foxes, minks, chinchillas and even cats are killed cruelly for fashion. With many warm and elegant alternatives widely available, fur is simply unnecessary.”
And so, the faux fur market has exploded. “Many of the faux fur designs are so beautiful and so good you can’t tell the difference from the real thing these days,” one London fashionista told the Mail. “I have a fake raccoon jacket which I bought in one of the trendiest boutiques in North London.
“My friends won’t believe it’s only pretend until they dig their fingers into the fur and feel that it’s cloth not leather underneath. I paid £400 for it and I don’t regret a penny. I can also comfort myself with the knowledge that no one was harmed for the joy of me wearing up-to-date fashion.” But is her comfort as false as the coat she loves so much?
Here’s the rub. When you buy fake mink or lookalike ocelot it might make you feel worthy, but is it really any better for the environment than the one made from the skin of an animal? The truth will amaze you.
All fake fur is made from textiles such as polyester and nylon.
According to the UK magazine, Ethical Consumer, these are manufactured at a huge cost to human health.
Ruth Rosselson, spokeswoman for the consumer magazine In Touch, says: “Both these synthetic materials are responsible for large-scale factory pollution of our waterways, rivers, canals and even the sea. More than 50 per cent of this country’s emissions into our air of the poisonous “greenhouse” gas nitrous oxide comes from nylon production.”
“As for polyester, it’s made using petrochemicals which are oil-based products. Oil is a natural resource that will one day run out and its use should be controlled today for the sake of tomorrow.”
Some chemicals used in the dyeing of polyester for our fashion market are also known to be highly poisonous carcinogens in their own right. So they, too, are polluting the air and waterways. Other environmentalists go further, insisting that to waste our precious oil reserves on making something as flippant as a fake fur jacket, when nature provides wool, fur and leather as renewable resources, is a dangerous mistake. Our precious oil will run out faster and cost future generations dearly.
“Real fur garments are much less polluting to manufacture than synthetic faux furs which are made with some of the most toxic chemicals known to man,” says Eugene Lapointe, one of the world’s leading experts on the Earth’s wild resources, in a damning report he released recently.
“Impoverished workers in foreign factory sweatshops – mainly based in the Far East – produce the polyester material that faux fur is made from on wages of a few English pounds a month and at their peril. The dangerous cocktail of lubricants in polyester causes oil ‘mists’ to enter the atmosphere, endangering factory workers and families who live in the vicinity. They can face long-lasting lung damage.” The toxic air is also thought to cause cancer.
Faux fur is not biodegradable
And then there is the matter of what happens to your ‘fun’ fake fur coat when spring comes along?
‘It is, after all, a fashion garment,’ points out one environmentalist who spoke to the Mail. “Unlike a real fur coat which can be refashioned and may last a lifetime, a fake fur jacket is likely to be thrown out at the end of the season.” So what happens then? Nylon, for instance, is non-biodegradable, and the coat you once loved so much is likely to end up in one of this country’s landfill sites when you tire of it.
“There it will sit with the rest of the tights and stockings made of nylon which have been discarded,” says our source. “Buried out of sight, but a few feet under the ground, the chemicals in them can seep out into nearby fields and rivers. It is a pollution threat to humans, wildlife and our domestic animals.”
Faux fur and pollution go hand in glove.
Executive director of America’s Fur Commission, warns: “Faux fur jackets do not degrade for at least 600 years and may take thousands of years. Yet they are being actively promoted as environmentally friendly by animal rights activists. Between four and eight million jackets are being sold every year, creating a disposal nightmare for years to come.”
It is estimated that it takes one gallon of oil to make just three fake fur jackets. Multiply this by millions of fashion garments and you can see the problem.
So should we stop producing all furs, even if some are just pretend?
Who is it most important to protect: the animal or the human being?
One of the most aggressive of the animal rights groups, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), sings the praises of faux fur on its international website. Its campaigners have cleverly given pretend pelts a safe-sounding futuristic name – ‘evolutionary furs’.
“Synthetic and faux furs take inspiration from the beauty of animals without killing them,” says Lisa Franzetta, PETA’s campaign co-ordinator. “Just one fur coat can require killing as many as 50 animals by various means, including electrocution, poisoning or gassing.” In the 1990s, PETA – and lobby groups like it – had a remarkable run of success.
At the height of the anti-fur lobby in the middle of that decade, an estimated 90 per cent of fur shops in British cities were forced to close. The industry appeared to be teetering. Many top London stores shut down their fur departments. Church leaders were even entreated to stop selling secondhand furs at their charity shops and events. Many toed the line.
The activists’ high-profile campaigns included dropping a dead raccoon into the soup of Anna Wintour, the Britishborn editor of American Vogue, as she dined at a swish New York hotel (the redoubtable Wintour removed the corpse and carried on eating).
They threw red paint – and even animal blood – over stars sporting designer furs and shouted embarrassingly loudly at the side of catwalks. Most memorable was a campaign which had supermodels Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and Cindy Crawford posing in next to nothing and proclaiming “I’d rather go naked than wear fur.” Yet by 2002 things had started to change – and fur is no longer a dirty word in many fashion circles.
Younger generations create a resurgence in demand for fur.
Fashion historian Judith Watt, who specializes in the British history of fur, believes twenty and thirty-somethings have spearheaded the demand behind real fur. “A generation who grew up as children of the anti-fur movement are now rebelling against it,” she said.
Fur is acceptable in a way that it wasn’t a decade ago. Cindy Crawford, who claims she was used in the original PETA Rather Go Naked campaign without her permission, was signed up to appear in a high-profile and glossy mink fur coat campaign by American fashion house Blackglama.
The list of high-profile fashionistas wearing real fur so far includes Kate Moss, Jade Jagger, Sienna Miller and Jemima Khan. The average fur wearer is now a surprisingly youthful 35.
At the London Fashion Week earlier this year, there was hardly a young designer who did not show a real fur handbag, stole or a fabulous-looking coat.
‘Everybody was using fur,’ said one British fashion journalist who watched the shows.
‘It was definitely real fur and designers were proud of telling everyone so.
‘I think people have decided that farmed fur is cool and that, unless you are a plastic shoe-wearing vegetarian, there is no need to object.’ The academic and political-philosopher Roger Scruton came to a similar conclusion in the foreword of a hard-hitting report on Britain’s fur industry published in 2000. “Nobody has succeeded in explaining why it is wrong to farm animals for their fur, but acceptable to farm them for their meat. Or why the wearing of fur coats is so heinous compared with the wearing of leather shoes,” says Scruton.
‘The arguments against the fur trade by animal rights activists are spurious and would, if valid, rule out the trades in beef, pork, poultry, eggs and leather. So have those snapping up faux fur been hopelessly hoodwinked by the animal rights lobby, too? Have millions of shoppers been taken in by the extremists who declare that animals have as many rights as humans?
“Most people have no idea that every time they buy a brightly dyed faux fur coat that they are helping to pollute the world,” points out another environmentalist.
There is still an insatiable demand for synthetic fur. This year millions more tons of the fabric are pouring out of the factories to make everything from £30 High Street gilets to the fabulous designer creations of the catwalk.
Chillingly, well meaning though it may be, it means the global problem of fashion pollution can only get worse.
One has to ask if it will soon be more acceptable to wear a real fur than to buy a colorful fake.
Excerpts from article by Sue Reid, United Kingdom