Despite a love of pelts a decade ago, luxury designers are all jumping on the anti-fur trend, one right after the other. Does this signify the end to fashion’s harm on animals, or do designers forgo fur to improve appearances?
When the fashion world’s notorious bad boy jumps on an ethical bandwagon, it’s time to really take notice. John Galliano has joined names like Versace, Gucci, Michael Kors, Vivienne Westwood, and Stella McCartney in the anti-fur club. Now buddies with PETA’s Senior Vice President, Galliano speaks of the luxury fashion field as one reliant on authenticity, which he equates to ethics. And what is less ethical than the fur industry?
An estimated 85% of the fur used in fashion comes from fur farms, which are far from cheerful places. The animals who are bred for their pelts never know a happy life, confined to a tiny wire cage, unable to move more than a few steps. After suffering mental and physical torture for the duration of their short lives, these rabbits, foxes, and minks are killed with the least expensive and best pelt-preserving methods, which also happen to be the most inhumane and painful: electrocution, gas, poisoning, or suffocation.
There’s no argument that today’s $40 billion per year fur industry is cruel. So is this cruelty necessary? A few centuries ago, fur was a necessity to human life. People hunted animals for food and used their pelts to keep warm. And over time, fashion prevails: fur has become an enduring fashion staple that represents wealth and esteem; it isn’t a necessity to modern life. Its only value is its aesthetic appeal, and that can be recreated.
Many designers have tinkered with blends of synthetic materials to closely mimic the look and feel of real fur. See Stella McCartney’s “fur-free-fur” for example. And synthetic doesn’t always mean cheap. A coat made from McCartney’s well-crafted faux goes for a few thousand. Less common than synthetics, alpaca fur has a similar look to fur and is sheared from the animal the same way as sheeps’ wool—no harm necessary.
It’s clear that societal views on animal and environmental welfare are advancing. In the last decade or so, designers and consumers alike have been paying more attention to their effects on the planet. Words like “sustainability” and “ethical” are becoming increasingly more common in the fashion discussion.
Fur was a big-ticket item in the 1980s, when the economy was in good spirits and consumers had money to spend. As PETA responded with anti-fur protests and campaigns, the fur industry began to shake but not quiver. Nowadays, the anti-fur protesters are still sat outside fashion week events shouting “shame on London Fashion Week,” despite the fact that on the other side of the doors, the latest fashion collections are without fur, or at least 86% of these collections, as of last season.
Clearly, the fur industry is now quivering. The anti-fur club in the luxury fashion realm is continuously rising, and is not limited to designers. Retailers like Selfridges and Net-a-Porter are banning fur sales, and that is important. If designers can’t sell fur, it’s not very economical to use it. So what is to account for the transformation of fashion’s view of fur? Upon careful research and contemplation, the answer is one of four possibilities.
The first possibility is probably the most obvious: campaigning from PETA and The Humane Society finally got to them. Galliano even said that his friendship with PETA’s Dan Matthews led to his change in opinion. Really how much runway-storming and smear campaigns can brands take before they give in?
Possibility number two: brands actually care about ethicality. Gucci’s president Marco Bizzarri promised that the brand would “continue to strive to do better for the environment and animals” at a talk in October 2017, and when Donatella Versace vowed to stop using fur two weeks ago, she said, “I don’t want to kill animals to make fashion. It doesn’t feel right.” Luxury fashion designers are people too; maybe they truly see the cruelty in fur trade and believe in their own moral statements.
It could be an economic decision. Consumers seem to care more about sustainability and animal rights, and if they’re not shopping for fur, there’s no point in selling it. Which leads us to the final and most discouraging possibility. With a consumer interest in eco-fashion, the choice to drop fur might be a publicity move rather than an economical one. The green consumers aren’t going to buy fur regardless of whether or not a designer is selling it, but would likely be more drawn to shop from a brand if it has publicly sworn off fur. An anti-fur stance makes brands appear more ethical. And really, some designers (looking at you, Galliano), could use some more ethicality points.