by Gwen Miles
Following the recent news that Gucci have pledged to go fur-free in 2018, the debate surrounding animal exploitation in fashion has re-entered mainstream media. So how much has changed since 80’s activist groups first condemned our appropriation of fur?
Fur in fashion: when did it originate?
Animal pelts have been symbolic of status all throughout history, as far back as when priests and priestesses wore leopard and lion skin in 3000-300BC Egypt. In the Western World, 11th Century royalty and bourgeois wore derivatives of ermine, mink, sable and chinchilla to flaunt their wealth. Fur became much more accessible for public consumption as a result of colonialism in the 17th and 18th Centuries. By the early 1900s, French designers had begun to make fur a staple in fashion.
The argument FOR fur
In the past, supporters of the fur trade would argue that fur originated as a means of keeping people warm when there were little alternatives. This reasoning doesn’t really apply in our society, though those of us battling the cold Swansea winters might appreciate any means of keeping warm. There are many other points, however, that arguably make a case for fur in the 21st Century. For example:
– The industry provides an income for remote regions. According to Hannah Betts of the Guardian, the fur trade generates 60,000 jobs within the EU, with the value of fur products estimated at £1.2 billion. We need to ask ourselves, how does the economic value of this industry compare to the scale of animal suffering?
– Real fur is more environmentally friendly than faux fur. Some argue that animal skin is a renewable and natural resource – for example, mink can be fed landfill leftovers so its growth is not a strain on human commodities. Faux fur, on the other hand, is made from non-renewable resources like petroleum based products.
– Fur trade regulations are in place to prevent excessive cruelty and the endangerment of species. In the 18th Century, the demand for beaver pelts in Europe and Scandinavia drove beavers almost to extinction (Carol Dyhouse, History Today). These days, labelling laws are strict and there are many prohibitions on the importation of fur and other animal products.
– Fur can be a by-product of meat and leather. Many argue that making clothes and accessories from animal skin allows us to get the maximum value out of an animal farmed for food and other products. This, however, opens up a much wider argument about whether animals should be bred and killed for any reason at all.
Fur as animal abuse:
The campaign AGAINST
In the 1980s, animal activist groups – most notably PETA – launched aggressive public campaigns to protest the mistreatment of animals in the production of fur. Many people turned to faux fur in response to a raised public awareness of the issue. Some arguments for boycotting fur include:
– The risk of endangerment. In the past, beavers, badgers, foxes, minks and wolves have all almost been driven to extinction in Europe and America so that producers can meet the intense demand for high quality furs. Though there are laws in place to prevent this happening now, can we support an industry that’s caused so much damage in the past?
– Animal cruelty on fur farms. It’s no surprise that breeding animals to harvest their pelts is a process that often causes suffering when the farms aren’t regulated. Activists have discovered evidence of unethical and cruel methods of execution to keep the costs of farming as low as possible.
– The public are often misinformed about their clothing. The charity Humane Society International UK carried out an investigation in 2016 that discovered that many items sold on the high street are labeled as mixed wool or viscose, but are in fact made of cheap real fur. This poses an issue for people with fur allergies, or with moral opposition.
Where do we stand now?
There certainly does seem to be a gradual movement away from fur in the fashion world. Gucci joins Stella McCartney, Armani and many other fashion houses in boycotting fur, while other brands explore cruelty free options without completely ruling out fur. Modavanti has an entire vegan section, and Petite Mort only sources fur from roadkill. Is it hypocritical, though, to protest the use of fur while still wearing leather and eating meat and dairy? Is it right to judge or criticise fur advocates for their personal position in the debate? The avoidance of fur this winter is a simple, practical way to minimize the amount of animal suffering in our society, but I personally don’t think fur is falling out of fashion any time soon. As Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel and Fendi says, “as long as people eat meat and wear leather, I don’t get the message. It’s very easy to say no fur… but it’s an industry.”