When I first started my work to protect animals from the fur trade, I would get easily discouraged when the September issue of Vogue would arrive at my desk. Again, when I would see the fur garments that fashion designers sent down the runways every February.
There was simply too much glorification of what cannot be justified. And there was too little by way of fashion-industry discussion that would certainly have lead thoughtful consumers to choose an alternative to fur.
Still, we are making progress to stop the inherently inhumane fur industry. And we have a long way to go. Many fashion writers and bloggers continue to associate what they see in magazine spreads and on runways as evidence of popular trends, and never mind the fact that some trends don't deserve the word or, frankly, the attention of industry professionals.
To stand back, there are reasons for both rising hope and deepening concern for this industry that takes such an unbearable -- and wholly unnecessary -- toll on animals.
U.S. consumers are showing leadership when sometimes the fashion industry forfeits it. According to a well-known fur industry analyst, import of animal-fur apparel to the United States is on track to go down this year, and possibly be the lowest in 35 years or more. For the previous two years, there had been a small uptick, but fur imports were still less than two-thirds of 2005 levels -- the year shocking reports made headlines with news that furbearing animals were being skinned alive in China, the world's top killer of animals in the fur trade. With raccoon dogs skinned alive, foxes anally electrocuted, pets being killed in traps, and domestic dog fur being sold in New York City, is it is any wonder that fur is on the way out?
Funny thing though, we don't have to give up the "look" of fur. That's because faux fur is the real trend -- the product that combines fashion with heart. As the Los Angeles Times reported:
At the wholesale level, sales of fake fur reached $250 million in the United States [in 2010] and those sales are expected to increase by 30% over the next two years, according to Pell Research, a Washington, D.C., firm that identifies new markets and trends for major companies...'the fur trend in the U.S. is toward fake.'
Well-known (fur) designers like Karl Lagerfeld, Giorgio Armani and Miuccia Prada are now offering faux fur more than ever because the quality has improved fantastically over the years. Even experts often can't tell the difference.
I am encouraged by more and more designers, like John Bartlett, Marc Bouwer, Victoria Bartlett (VPL), Charlotte Ronson, and Kimberly Ovitz becoming vocal about their support of fur-free fashion. I am encouraged that The HSUS is now speaking to future fashion designers at the top fashion schools in the country, including Parsons, Fashion Institute of Technology, OTIS, Kent State University, and the Art Institutes across the country, about the cruel fur industry. I am encouraged that Congress passed the Truth in Fur Labeling Act, requiring all wearing apparel made with animal fur to say so on the label, so consumers can choose to avoid buying raccoon dog and other animal fur. I am encouraged when more and more companies join HSUS' list of fur-free retailers. I am encouraged when the entire city of West Hollywood bans the fur trade, and when an entire country bans fur farming or looks to ban the fur trade.
That's the situation in the U.S. But globally, the story is more worrisome. Fur sales appear to be on the upswing in China. The challenge for fur designers is to sensibly resist this demand and work to make the case that faux fur is the real trend worth watching. It's worth noting that pet ownership is increasing in China, and with it expanding understanding of animal suffering.
Beyond fashion, there are other important issues in the fur debate.
The Guardian newspaper reported in March of this year that an advertisement calling fur eco-friendly was banned by the United Kingdom's Advertising Standards Authority because it "was likely to mislead." The ad was a crass attempt by fur trade groups to "greenwash" a product that deserves nothing of the kind. Such ads are still being used in other countries, however, and leaders in the garment industry need to show more leadership by joining with us in denouncing this tactic. Fur is not eco-friendly, not by any stretch of the imagination.
Not only is fur production wasteful, cruel and morally indefensible, it has problems associated with the urine and feces from thousands of animals in small wire cages concentrated in one facility, as well as raw skins being treated and tanned with carcinogenic chemicals. When threatened or endangered species are caught in indiscriminate fur traps the label "eco-friendly" doesn't leap to mind, does it? And what is more ecologically wasteful than killing an animal for its fur alone?
A final point that sometimes must be raised in conversation -- wearing an animal's fur is not needed to stay warm. Top outerwear companies, including Patagonia, The North Face, Marmot, Burton, Columbia Sportswear, Mountain Hardware and Eddie Bauer, keep adventurous people alive in the most extreme conditions on the planet -- and they do it with fur-free alternatives.
So next time you hear that fur is back, or fur is eco-friendly, or fur is necessary for comfort, you'll know what to say. You'll recognize these cynical marketing ploys for what they are -- nonsense. There is still a long way to go, but I am confident retailers and designers are on the right track toward compassion, and those same fashion writers and bloggers will not even notice when real animal fur disappears from runways or the pages of Vogue.