For many of us, the social acceptability of wearing fur seems like a memory of a less enlightened time. Stella McCartney, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein are now proudly fur-free. Charlize Theron and rock star Bryan Adams are among the public figures who’ve gone on record as opposed to this unnecessary practice.
Even a wild animal humanely trapped will have given its life so that a human can wear fur, which in the context of fashion is simply unacceptable. But animals trapped in the wild often suffer for days from blood loss, shock, dehydration, frostbite, gangrene and attacks by predators while caught in steel jaws that cut legs to the bone.
Most of the industry’s skins come from factory farms, where animals are packed into unbearably small cages, often unable to move, and suffer stress, disease, parasites, and other physical and psychological hardships, sometimes driving them to self-mutilate or eat cagemates. Almost all EU countries (and most in Europe) have now either completely banned these cruel factories, raised welfare standards to levels which effectively make the business unviable, or have at least partial bans in place. Fur farms were banned in the UK in 2000, but we still continue to import furs for sale in the UK from completely legal farms in Finland.
Then there’s faux faux fur. How do you make sure your cuddly new acquisition hasn’t been produced at a horrific cost to real animals? It’s not as simple as assuming real fur would be more expensive. With the tide of opinion now flowing against even the legal fur trade in most affluent countries, those already set up to trade in fur obtained through methods now generally agreed to be unacceptable are finding a market with retailers eager to source faux fur at competitive prices. Real fur is still appearing in supply chains, often farmed in Asia and undetected by the retailer.
In 2019, UK fashion retailers were ordered to take immediate action to make sure garments they advertise as faux fur are not, in fact, made from actual fur. The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), part of the ASA, threatened to sanction any company found to be selling animal pelts labelled as fake fur. The ruling followed growing scepticism about the ‘faux fur’ available to the ethical fashionista, culminating in a string of complaints against online retailers Bohoo and Missguided, high street stores like House of Fraser and TK Maxx and vendors selling via Amazon and Ebay. The CAP enforcement notice requires vendors to take a firmer approach to checking their supply chains and verifying the accuracy of claims made to them about the provenance of any fur used.
The charity Humane Society International (HSI), which began investigating the problem in 2015, found many products, including some explicitly advertised as ‘faux fur’, to use animal fur. Claire Bass, director of HSI UK, told the Independent there was a “lingering misconception” among UK shoppers that real fur was associated with luxury items. “The key thing is that cheap price is absolutely not an indicator that something is going to be fake fur,” she said, adding that the fur trade was “staging a back-door comeback.” With the rise of ethically-concerned fashion, real fur has been found for sale in the UK at lower prices than real equivalents. Several retailers have since been caught explicitly selling real fur as ‘faux’. Boohoo’s “faux fur pom pom jumper”, listed as 100% acrylic and first advertised in September 2018, was referred to the ASA as part of the HSI’s ongoing investigation. Independent lab analysis confirmed its brightly dyed pom poms to be real, probably rabbit, fur. The retailer, which had a no-fur policy in place had been sold the material as ‘faux fur’. A similar investigation in 2020 tested a “faux fur” keyring, “faux fur” pompom earrings and the “faux fur” detail on sweatshirt, all from online youth fashion store Shein. All were found to be real fur. Online shoppers should also be wary of Amazon or ebay sellers who may be less concerned about risking their reputations.
“Fur is cruel which is why most Brits don’t want to buy it,” says Bass. “Our latest findings show that the ‘fake faux fur’ scandal continues, meaning would-be ethical shoppers can’t shop online with confidence that they can avoid inadvertently buying real fur. As long as animal fur from overseas is allowed to be sold here, we remain complicit in the suffering, creating a minefield for shoppers who wholeheartedly reject that cruelty. We urge the government to bring forward plans to implement a fur sales ban in the UK so that British consumers can trust that their ethical purchasing decisions are not in vain.”
What can you do?
Join the HSI’s campaign for a new law to end the import of all fur into the UK. You can sign the petition here.
Choose furry styles from vendors you know to be motivated by their ethics, not just the bottom line. Stella McCartney‘s Fur-Free-Fur has a label on the outside so everyone can see that you’re not supporting the disgusting fur trade. For transparency, the brand works only with a few select mills to produce acrylic, polyester, wool or mohair ‘fur’ fabrics in an environmentally sound way. Check out her range of coats and jackets at stellamccartney.com for a nice warm feeling both inside and out!
In the meantime, if you’re not sure, don’t buy it, especially if it’s not clearly labelled either way. If you’re looking at garments in a shop, check whether or not the furry trim is the real thing. Look at the base – is it real leather? Faux fur is likely to be backed by woven fabric. Check the tips of the fibres, too – real hair tapers, while synthetic fibres usually have blunt ends. If the suspicious item is already yours, you can also burn some of the fibres. Real fur will singe and smell like burning hair. Faux fur melts. If you bought it online because it said it was faux, this was false advertising. Return it for a refund and explain why.
While the sale of cat, dog and seal fur is illegal in the UK, the government has so far stopped short of a complete ban on this barbaric trade. Israel, in 2021, led the way as the first country to completely ban all fur imports. Our next step seems clear.
Join the HSI’s campaign for a new law to end the import of fur into the UK. You can sign the petition here.