Faux fur is poised to be one of this year’s biggest fashion trends.
Italian fashion house Gucci removed fur completely from its S/S18 collection, saying it “was not modern” and that it was looking to find more creative ideas in its place.
Michael Kors also followed suit, joining luxury brands Calvin Klein, Giorgio Armani, Hugo Boss, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Vivienne Westwood and of course Stella McCartney, who are all finding alternative ways to emulate fur without the cruelty.
It’s not just fashion houses making the change, either. Norway announced a total ban on fur farming scheduled to come into full effect by 2025, affecting over 300 fur farms in the country (that’s 700,000 minks and 110,000 foxes being saved every year).
And if there’s one thing we can agree on, it’s that the fur industry is hard to justify. 85% of animals are only bred for their fur, not for their meat - and these include rabbits, foxes, seals, minks, chinchillas, bears, and dogs. Yes, even dogs.
Once obtained, fur is processed using highly toxic chemicals, as animal skins need to be treated to stop them from rotting. The chemicals cause harm to the environment and even to the workers treating the animal skins.
So you’d expect faux fur to be an easy pill to swallow, a perfectly reasonable answer to the out-dated fur coats and shawls of yesteryear, right?
Unfortunately, it’s never that easy.
Faux fur’s faux-pas
There’s no denying the allure of fur; it looks glamorous, plush, expensive.
As an ethical fashion blogger, I was interested in seeing how this is being recreated in a cruelty-free and sustainable way.
I started by turning to vegetarian fashion brand Stella McCartney, who has been leading the industry change to faux fur (sometimes even dubbed the “Stella effect”). It was somewhat of a shock to find their Fur-Free-Fur is “...non-biodegradable, made from either acrylic, polyester, wool or mohair.”
Even stranger still, their supposedly eco-friendly Fur Free Fur Bomber Jacket (costing £1,165) is made from 100% acrylic. Acrylic fibre is made from a combination of coal, air, water, oil and limestone - a peculiar mix, and definitely not a green one.
Second on the list was Michael Kors, whose step away from fur was caused by “recent technological advances in fabrications [that] give us the ability to create luxe aesthetics without the use of animal fur.”
Again, I found their faux-fur Peacoat was made from a mix of acrylic and modacrylic.
Don’t wash, don’t throw, don’t buy?
Sure, acrylic isn’t sourced from animals. That doesn’t quite make it cruelty-free though.
First, we have the obvious problem: acrylic isn’t biodegradable, nor is it easily recycled. It will last a heck of a long time, whether that’s in your wardrobe or in a landfill. Stella McCartney encourages customers to “care for their items and be responsible with their garments, never throwing them away” but how realistic is that?
Second is the issue of washing acrylic. Even if we ignore the fact that sourcing oil sometimes results in nature-destroying oil spills, the shocking news is that when we wash our man-made fibres, microfibres travel from our washing machines and into our waters and oceans. This isn’t a minor amount either: Ecologist Mark Browne found 85% of man-made materials on the shoreline are these very same microfibres.
And finally, acrylic is tough to make in an eco-friendly way. It takes harsh chemicals to properly treat acrylic, which are similarly dangerous to the planet and the people using them as the ones used on fur.
Ethical innovations wanted...
At this stage, it seems that while faux fur is cruelty-free, it’s not eco-friendly and can still cause harm to marine life, fashion workers, and the environment.
Even when you look to ethical fashion brands, there isn’t much in the way of faux-fur innovation. Standing out from the crowd is Nanna van Blaaderen, whose designs use fine Merino wool in place of man-made materials, and Danish fashion brand Sandermann has also recently vowed to find an alternative that avoids acrylic and plastics too.
For now though, I’ll be sticking with natural fibres such as organic cotton and sustainably-sourced wool to keep me warm, and to keep my conscience clean too.