My grandmother was the epitome of style and glamour, and her elegant wardrobe was a treasure chest of vintage finds. I loved nothing more than exploring her incredible collection of retro fashion – until I found a 1940’s fox shawl with little beady eyes that horrified me!
That was the day that I started wondering whether faux fur would be an eco-friendly alternative to real fur.
Faux fur can be produced from various materials that resemble animal fur, ranging from synthetic polyester and acrylic fibers to sustainably biodegradable materials attached to a knitted fabric. Real fur has hairs tapered to the point that it is connected to a solid leather structure.
I started researching this subject as I wanted to explore the possibility of still wearing luxurious fur coats without feeling guilty about its cruel origins. However, I soon found out that my “ethically upstanding” choice to wear faux fur might negatively affect the planet. So, to make an informed decision, read on!
The Great Ethical Debate: Faux Fur vs. Real Fur
Faux fur versus real fur, which do you prefer? From an ethical and environmental perspective, it is a divisive subject that continues to polarize the world.
Proponents of the fur trade oppose faux fur, claiming that it is not environmentally friendly as fake fur is not a renewable resource, uses toxic chemicals in its production process, and relies on slave labor to produce fast fashion.
Those who oppose real fur for humane or environmentally sustainable reasons have been advocating for a ban on genuine fur products, which has garnered much success across the globe. They believe that the fur trade is guilty of extreme animal cruelty and of decimating animal species.
This raging debate is not as clear-cut as it would appear to be. So, let’s look at how faux fur upset one of humankind’s most significant historically important industries and what that entails for the fashion industry.
The Faux Fur Animal Rights Advocates
Compared with today’s conscientious faux fur devotees, the fake fur industry has a somewhat murky past founded on their constant need to make a fast buck and not due to their selfless concern for the welfare of animals.
Wearing actual fur garments was seen as a great status symbol; therefore, fake fur allowed the less affluent sectors of society to imitate the wealthy upper classes at an affordable price.
Faux fur manufacturers were also encouraged to produce their clothes because the American government levied a 10% tax on all animal fur-based garments before they created faux fur.
The quality of faux fur as we know it today, which is hardly distinguishable from real fur, has come a long way since manufacturers first produced rudimentary faux fur garments in 1929 with South American Alpacas hair.
In the 1950s, faux fur manufacturers made significant advances with acrylic polymers that faux fur started to resemble its contemporary equivalent.
Imitation fur became popular as it was affordable and replaceable, which was the beginning of fast fashion as we know it today.
From 1970 onwards, a radical shift in society has turned the once sought-after fur coat into an offensive symbol of self-indulgent animal cruelty.
Due to several international laws to protect endangered species, animal rights advocates launched several animal rights campaigns spearheaded by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The 1994 PETA anti-fur campaign featured a nude Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell who famously said they would rather be naked than wear fur.
Are Faux Furs Environmentally Sound?
The answer to that question depends on a faux fur producer’s manufacturing process. In the past faux fur, the material would take up to a few centuries to break down and often end up in landfills.
Additionally, they pollute water supplies by releasing microfibers, and these microplastics eventually contaminate and destroy marine life.
Environmentally friendly designers have recently made great strides in producing biodegradable, recycled, or denim fur that looks and feels authentic without harming animals.
Research has proven that Millennials are ethical, conscientious buyers who will only purchase environmentally sound products. Therefore, it’s no wonder that faux fur designers who use sustainable materials are in high demand by young shoppers.
Is Real Fur Environmentally Friendly?
The fur trade has played a pivotal role throughout the history of humankind. Fur coats not only protected their wearers during bitterly cold winters, but they also became a status symbol that leaders and aristocrats alike wore.
Since its early heydays in the 1900’s when trophy wives and Hollywood stars wore fur coats to flaunt their wealth, the fur trade has dramatically fallen from grace due to grave environmental concerns.
Millions of animals are needlessly slaughtered in the name of fashion, and at times, in horrific conditions. Moreover, toxic dyes and chemicals that contain formaldehyde and chromium are environmentally hazardous for the environment and the employees in the trade.
Animal waste is also a significant pollutant, and US mink farms produce up to 1000 tons of animal waste annually, containing phosphorus that contaminates local streams and rivers.
Proponents of the fur trade will counter-argue that their products are environmentally friendly if their raw materials, manufacturing, disposal methods, and working conditions are above scrutiny and ethically sound.
The fur trade also purports that the killing of animals is morally acceptable if the following conditions are met when they produce their garments:
- Animals are treated humanely without incurring unnecessary cruelty or pain
- The animal species is not facing extinction
- Nothing goes to waste – every part of the animal is used
Mislabeling: What You Need to Know
Faux fur manufacturing has advanced to such an extent that a Humane Society International investigation found that several products crafted from either mink, rabbit, or fox fur items were labeled as faux fur.
It became apparent that most retailers who sold genuine fur products were under the impression that they were faux fur items. They did not intentionally try to deceive their customers. Therefore, it isn’t easy to trust the credibility of any labels.
Labeling regulations are incredibly vague as a garment’s fur percentage dictates whether the product is labeled as fur or not. If the manufacturer believes the fur rate is low, the item will not be marked as being made with real fur.
EU laws also confuse the public further as garments made with fur should be classed as non-textile components with an animal origin which could also mean silk, leather, or wool.
Seven Simple Ways to Verify Your Faux Fur Coat
It certainly is challenging to tell the difference between an animal cruelty-free faux fur coat and the real deal. However, there are some helpful methods that you can try toconfirm that your coat is made from faux fur.
While it might be prudent to ask a professional to verify that your garment is a faux fur item, the following methods are usually accurate.
Excellent Faux Fur Testing Methods:
- Brands: Google the brand name; certain designers only produce faux fur, while others only produce genuine fur products.
- Price: real fur coats tend to be more expensive in comparison with faux fur. However, there are always exceptions to the rule.
- Touch: real fur might feel softer than faux fur that was manufactured with synthetic materials.
- Base: real fur would be attached to animal skin, or leather, while faux fur would be attached to a fabric.
- Hair: inspect the surface closely. Natural fur hairs taper to a point, while faux fur hair tips are blunt.
- Burn: if you can, remove and burn a few strands of the fur coat. Faux fur fragments will usually melt, while actual fur hair strands will smell like burnt hair follicles.
- Pin: real fur is hard to pierce with a pin due to its resistant leather backing, while the pin will easily slip through faux fur backing materials.
At the start of my investigative journey, I knew that wearing real fur was contrary to my ethos of preserving the planet and my innate feeling that we are custodians of all the precious animal species that roam on the earth.
However, I realize that some will wear a mink coat with pride and that those born of a different time had different values, that may appear strange to todays, if not enlightened, then at least more socially and environmentally aware eyes.
I now know that while faux fur is a cruelty-free alternative to real fur,” it is not necessarily an environmentally friendly option. It is up to us all to make an informed decision, or to avoid both types altogether.
Pretty Rugged Shop: The Difference Between Faux Fur and Real Fur
TRVST World: Faux Fur Fabric Sustainability
The Vegan Review: Faux Fur vs. Real Fur
Teen Vogue: Faux Fur and Real Fur Which is More Sustainable
Humane Society: Real vs. Fake Fur Field Guide
ELuxeMagazine: Five Eco Friendly Faux Fur Brands
Truth About Fur: Are Animals Skinned Alive in the Fur Trade