Throughout the 80’s and the 90’s, animal fur was one of fashion’s biggest faux pas. Not only was fur condemned, but those who chose to wear it ran the risk of being doused with red paint. PETA had run a successful, high profile animal rights crusade. Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford were the face of the “rather go naked than wear fur” campaign in 1994. Since then, however, fur has slowly been creeping back onto runways and into our wardrobes. So, the question stands, does animal fur have a place in modern fashion?
The social impact of animal fur
Animal fur has always been a symbol for high status and wealth, due to how expensive the fur itself is. For hundreds of years, ermine fur was the status quo fur for royalty. You can often see it depicted in paintings of King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I. Even the Imperial State Crown, one of the Crown Jewels in the United Kingdom, is trimmed with such fur. Aside from royalty, mink has always been one of the most desirable furs and symbol of luxury; “a touch of mink” was often used to describe a woman with a lot of money. In present day, animal fur is increasingly being perceived as a lavish commodity and once again demand is increasing. Rappers such as Kanye West and Jay-Z mention fur, like mink and chinchilla, in their songs, including Crazy in Love by Beyoncé, which was the only song to top the charts in both the UK and US in 2003.
The environmental impact of animal fur
This brings to question how ethical the fur trade is. Every year more than 50 million animals are bred and killed to produce fur in the EU alone. Worldwide, more than one billion rabbits and 100 million other animals are killed annually, and about 90 percent of fur is produced on fur farms. These farms have a notorious reputation for mistreating animals and keeping them in barbaric conditions. Animals are forced to live in small, wired cages, often with untreated wounds, missing limbs and surrounded by other dead animals. In certain countries, breeding these animals for fur production has been made illegal, including the United Kingdom, which completely banned the practice in 2002.
Not only does the fur industry perpetuate animal cruelty, fur farmers also show little regard for the environment. According to PETA, each mink skinned by fur farmers produces about 44 pounds of faeces in its lifetime. That adds up to one million pounds of faeces produced annually by US mink farms alone. Waste from these farms have even polluted waterways, with one Washington State mink farmer being fined $24,000 for polluting a local creek. Breeding and raising animals for their fur also pollutes the air. In Denmark for example, more than 8,000 pounds of ammonia is released into the atmosphere each year, and they are responsible for killing more than two million minks annually.
The impact of faux fur
That being said, we are witnessing great improvement in faux fur which, in some cases, is now indistinguishable from the real thing. Not only that, but it takes 15 times less energy to produce a faux fur coat, than it does an animal fur coat. And of course, it’s much cheaper! With such a huge increase in veganism over the recent years, it’s surprising that the world’s total fur retail sales in 2019 was still approximately $22 billion, according to the Fur Information Council of America. However, there are ethical dilemmas tied to faux fur as well.
Some people argue that faux fur is no more ethical. This is because it comes from non-renewable fossil fuels and still has an indirect impact on wildlife, due to pollution. It is made primarily from petrochemical based synthetic fibres like acrylic and modacrylic. These synthetic plastic fibres might cause issues with breaking down into micro plastics when being disposed of. As a result, these micro plastics can get into the gut of wildlife, and even into human tap water sources. This being said, as technology further develops, faux furs could be made from recycled materials or bio-based fibres.
It is always important to consider the wider impact of your purchase decisions and how they can affect the world around you. Whether you continue to buy animal fur or not is a personal decision, but I believe there should be more laws surrounding fur farms, how the animals are treated and how we can make the fur trade more humane and sustainable.