Fur Real: An Ethical Question for Vegan Fashion

My black winter coat is fur -- Mongolian lamb with Russian mink, if you want to be precise. But is a vintage fur more ethically sound than a vegan 'fast fashion' ensemble?
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She looks at me like I'm on fire.

"Your coat," she stammers, "It's... it's... fur."

Mea culpa! My black winter coat is indeed fur - Mongolian lamb with Russian mink, if you want to be precise. And in the eyes of my friend, this makes me evil. Forget that it's been passed down from four generations of my family. Forget that besides being an heirloom, this fur is older than both of us put together. Nothing else matters when you consider the innocent, adorable blood that was shed for my outfit. Therefore, it's wrong. Right?

Sure, that's one way to go. It's definitely the way my horrified friend is going, recounting her vegetarian childhood while gazing at me in horror. It's a good guilt trip, and one I've traveled many times, but today, something's different. Today, as this friend touches my coat while canonizing her first pet pig, Fluffy, I notice her outfit.

It's stylish. It's vegan. It's 100% fast fashion.

What's the big deal? "Fast fashion" is a term for clothes that are cheap, trendy, synthetic, mass produced in (usually foreign) factories, and flying off the racks. There's a lot of merit in a fast fashion wardrobe: You can keep your look current, affordable, and vegan by default (pleather, after all, is both animal-free and cheaper than suede). But even besides its massive carbon footprint, fast fashion has a predictable downside. It can shrink, stretch, fade, or tear until it renders itself useless. Sure, we all have a $10 dress that's lasted longer than Barbra's Farewell Tour, but every day, heaps of these synthetic clothes are worn, ruined, and chucked.

This is where my friend and I fight. "My fur is 60 years old!" I snap. "It's organic material. Your entire outfit was created using factories, chemicals, and potentially child or sweatshop labor! In two months, it'll get sent to a landfill and poison our planet. That kills way more bunnies than my coat!"

Yes, I was dramatic and immature (I'm good at it). But what if vintage fur is an ethical fashion choice? It's durable, biodegradable, and already produced. Is it stronger than Stella McCartney's sustainable fabric, or Loomstate's organic jeans? No, those examples are beyond reproach (and incredibly chic, with price tags to match). But is a vintage fur more ethically sound than a fast fashion ensemble? That's a discussion I'd like to have.

Cue the "Eat shit, you selfish, fuzzy bitch!" comments. Yeah, I know. I'll join "Scary Kate" and "Hagshley" in a meat-hooked hell. But even if no bunnies were harmed in the making of an outfit, we might want to quietly ask if any children, rivers, or patches of ozone were pummeled in the quest for a $7 shirt. Is that simplifying things? Of course. Should we feel guilty every time we buy a Rodarte for Target dress? Absolutely not (I've got two; I adore them). Like a couture collection, the ethics of fashion aren't just black and white; they're textured and staggering in their angles and detail, and in need of respect and examination. There's no quick fix - or absolute measurement - to fashion's impact on the environment. There's also no need to judge my 60-year-old fur coat as a murder weapon, any more than I'd judge your pleather boots as a toxic bomb.

As for my friend, I've found her a perfect Christmas present: an organic cotton bomber jacket from Rogan (okay, from eBay). Hopefully when I bring it over, she won't splash me with red paint. But if she does, my jacket will eventually break back down into the Earth's dust and dirt. I can't say the same for her polyester trench coat, even though she looks damn cute (and innocent) when she wears it.