My immediate reaction to Sauer's notion that fur is experiencing a resurgence was, "Did it ever die in the first place?" As a fashion editor for the past 12 years I can say with certainty that fur has always played a role in the fall collections that designers show in February. Then, in October you can expect to see fashion stories featuring fur in your favorite high-fashion magazines. Fur companies pay big money to advertise in magazines and in return, the glossies do at least one editorial story featuring multiple pages of models showing the latest in fur fashions.
Moreover, Anna Wintour, the famed editor-in-chief of Vogue, can always be spotted wearing various iterations of a fur coat or jacket in the chillier months. The editrix was served a skinned raccoon while lunching at the Four Seasons in 1996, but that hasn't deterred her from wearing fur, or from supporting the billion-dollar industry that, in turn, supports her magazine. The industry has a trickle-down effect, where what is shown on the runways and in magazines influences the opinions of shoppers, who then buy a version of it at their local mall. Magazines create an image that people aspire to, and glossies like Vogue paint a portrait of a luxurious life that includes thousand-dollar bags, six-inch heels and fur coats that cost more than most people pay for a car. So while consumers may not be able to buy that crazy-expensive Michael Kors coat, they will shell out $50 for a rabbit-trimmed hat.
Alan Herscovici, the spokesperson for the fur industry in our HuffPost Live segment, and the author of "Second Nature: The Animal-Rights Controversy," argued that fur is sustainable and that this centuries-old tradition is "natural." It all sounded very Rockwellian, the image of the trapper out on the tundra, hunting animals to earn a living. One might even hope that the animal killed would be eaten, as well as used for its skin. The Fur Council of Canada recently launched a campaign calling fur an eco-friendly alternative to fake fur. While it certainly is "natural," we have to question the claim that it is sustainable. From the site:
"Worldwide, the fur industry is an excellent example of an industry based on sustainable use. All the furs used by the trade are abundant and absolutely no endangered species are used. This is assured by strict provincial/state, national and international regulations. In the Canadian fur trade, government wildlife officials and biologists ensure responsible use by establishing controlled hunting and trapping, harvest quotas, licensing, and training courses for trappers. Strict government regulations ensure that these quotas and seasons are respected."
That's all well and good, but what about in China, where much of the fur on the market is produced and regulations are notoriously unregulated?
Organizations like PETA offer up many reasons (and graphic images and videos) why we shouldn't support the fur industry. Many people will argue, though, that PETA has marginalized itself and similar groups, by using techniques and behavior that can only be described as radical. Katie Cleary, from Peace4Animals, described analysis performed on furs manufactured in China, where they discovered that the animal was not mink or chinchilla, but in fact dogs and cats. She also described people wearing tiger pelts and endangered animals being killed to support this luxury industry. You can imagine where the conversation went from there.
Cleary did have a point though: It is a luxury, and as long as there's demand, the supply will continue. Which brings me to my next point: the booming luxury goods market in the east, especially in Russia and China. There are 2.7 million millionaires in China, and according to this piece in the Business Insider, most of the buying is done by women who are under the age of 45. The Chinese are buying Louis Vuitton handbags as fast as they are being produced, and it makes sense that fur, with its prestigious image and sky-high price tag, would be a valuable commodity. An article on Reuters written by Naomi O'Leary said that, "There are 90 cities in China that purchase as much fur as New York City." It makes sense when you consider the extremely cold climates where fur might be the warmest option.
My Norwegian grandmother always said, "Wear fur, it's the warmest." And she is right. Ask any Canadian, Russian or Scandinavian and they will surely agree. Synthetic fur and leather, which are aesthetically comparable to the real thing, just aren't as warm, nor do they last as long. Moreover, the synthetics are terribly damaging to the environment. The fiber in fake fur is primarily acrylic, which is produced from non-renewable petroleum byproducts. Which is worse, buying synthetics that pollute the environment and end up in a landfill after a few years, or buying fur?
But the fur industry won't get off that easily. An article in The Independent cited a a study by the University of Michigan, which stated that "the energy needed to produce a real fur coat from ranch-raised animal skins is 20 times that required for a fake product." Regarding the energy used in making a faux-fur coat versus the energy used in making a real fur garment, Cleary had this say:
"With thousands of animals being kept over a small area, the build-up of excrement will either be soaked into the soil and end up in our ground water, or it will run off into near-by streams as a result of heavy rain. There is an obvious health factor involved with groundwater contamination. The amount of energy needed to make a real fur coat from farmed animals - accounting for 85 percent of world production - is 66 times that needed to make a faux-fur coat. This takes into account feed, cages, skinning, pelt-drying, processing and transportation. A fur coat made from trapped animals still needs nearly four times the energy used for a faux-fur coat."
So what is the answer to this ethical and environmental debate? The solution is conscious consuming. Careful, considered thought needs to go into every purchase you make, from the clothes you put on your back to the food you eat. If you wouldn't eat factory farmed chicken because of the unethical treatment of the animals and the environmentally damaging conditions, why would you wear fur where the animals had suffered similarly deplorable conditions? In that same vein, is it any better to buy cheap clothes produced in questionable conditions in third-world countries that will end up in a landfill in a few months?
Personally, I wear vintage fur. My reasoning is that the animal was killed for its pelt long before I was alive and rather than support cheap manufacturing and possibly unethical working conditions, I prefer to buy something that is already in existence and that will last. That said, I am constantly on the lookout for someone ready to sling red paint at me.
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