Sustainable Fashion: Unpacking Faux Fur vs. Real Fur
In the age of ethical fashion, sustainability and the inevitable greenwashing that ensues, major fashion brands left, right, and center are going fur-free in a bid for ethical fashion practices, but is this the answer to our ecological crises? With brands replacing animal fur with petroleum-based synthetic fibers or “faux fur”, the debate becomes, which practice is more sustainable and which, if any, can be considered “cruelty-free?” Recently, Gucci and Coach joined the likes of Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Armani, Net-a-Porter, Michael Kors, Versace, Furla, Burberry, Farfetch and DVF who have all adopted anti-fur policies, while this year’s September London Fashion Week became the first of the major fashion weeks not to show any fur on the catwalk.
The rising demographic of millennials buying luxury seem to be pushing major players to reflect growing demand for ethical fashion. Meanwhile, the $40 billion global fur industry has been fighting back with campaigns highlighting fur as a natural, sustainable product that is more environmentally friendly than fur alternatives. So which practice is ultimately the answer to the push for true sustainability?
While it’s true that faux fur might appear to be a more ethical choice than the real thing, in that animals aren’t harmed for its creation, some believe faux fur is much more harmful to the environment. Faux furs are typically made from synthetic polymeric fibers such as acrylic, modacrylic, and/or polyester, all of which are essentially forms of plastic; which become melted down and spun like cotton candy to form cotton-like fibers. These polymers are one of the most harmful and unsustainable components of fast fashion as they are not biodegradable, and require vast amounts of fossil fuels for production, of which the fashion industry is the second largest polluting industry in the world.
At the same time, there are those that argue real fur is not as sustainable and all natural as some would like to portray it, citing the preservative chemicals used in the process as being just as harmful as the polymers used in faux fur. The Fur Council of Canada, however, claims “processing is carefully regulated to protect the environment.” In addition, proclaiming “fur tanning and colouring are relatively benign (in contrast to leather) and only small quantities of formaldehyde are used. Fake fur, on the other hand, uses up to one gallon of petroleum to produce a mere three synthetic jackets.”
One thing is for certain, however, regardless of whether or not faux fur is actually as eco-friendly as its purveyors would have you believe; it is undoubtedly having a moment in the fashion industry. Luxe faux fur has been sent down the runways at Burberry, Stella McCartney and Gucci the past few seasons, and it looks more plush and real than ever before. Recently, Designer Kym Canter launched the eco-friendly faux fur brand House of Fluff in November 2017. Utilizing the proceeds raised from selling the 26 fur coats she accumulated over her years as the creative director at J. Mendel to fund the startup. She now makes shaggy cropped jackets and plush bombers out of cruelty-free materials in place of exotic pieces made from monkey and ocelot. The line also utilizes recycled polyester, is produced in New York City to reduce its carbon footprint, and sources its fabrics from Europe, where regulations around pollution are stricter than in China.
Elsewhere, Maison Atia, makes luxe outerwear using the same techniques and machines used in traditional fur production. London-based Shrimps has built a loyal fanbase around its rainbow-coloured coats made from faux fur, vegan leather, and textural materials like coated denim, while Australian brand Unreal Fur designs jackets and stoles made to last longer than fast fashion at a still-accessible price point. The question is, will the trend have longevity? Will faux fur’s detractors’ voices quell the movement before it chases away the fur industry from fashion’s front row? If so, could ethical and sustainable fur fashion practices such as free-range fur farming provide a viable alternative? Time will tell.
Cody Rooney is a Glossi Mag contributor.
He is a photography aficionado, masters candidate, fashion enthusiast, avid Ariana Grande fan and lover of all things aesthetically pleasing.