A significant increase in fur use within the fashion industry over the last two or so years indicates a departure from the anti-fur and animal rights sentiment and campaigns that characterized much of the green and ethical consumption discussions between the 60′s and 90s. I find this quite interesting given the increasing attention of the world on sustainability and green issues that has been brought about by a greater awareness of environmental degradation, equity, resource scarcity and climate change.
Fur use has a long history spanning from ancient use of fur to current fur use. A (very) brief history would be something like;
- Necessity where our ancestors killed an animal for necessity i.e. for sustenance (meat) and used the rest of the animal in a sustainable manner such as using the inedible parts of the animal for clothing, tools etc
- Status symbol: the association of fur and royalty (specifically ermine, mink)
- This in turn resulted in fur being farmed (1800’s) and becoming a costly luxury item.
- The development of cheaper options such as dyed and fake fur
- Anti-fur campaignscommencing in -+ 1960’s (onwards), that resulted in reduced fur use. e.g.
- PETA was established in 1976 and Lynx in 1980
- Naomi Campbell and other super models in PETA campaigns
- Lynx “it takes up 40 dumb animals to make this and only one to wear it” campaign
Fur sales have seen an increase of approximately 70% between 2000- 2010, and fur seems to be de riguer in most winter fashion collections and those in the fashion forward and trend setting scene. In many of instances the fur used is real and not fake, and there seems to be a growing acceptance of fur as a sustainable and natural choice. Considering the speed at which trends spread, especially in the fashion industry, this trend does not bode very well if you happen to be a creature with a beautiful and silky pelt.
In light of the above, given rise in sustainability, environment, green wash,ethical consumption and the fact that fur is a natural “resource” that is being positioned as a benign natural product by the fur industry, I thought it wise to look into the ecocred of fur. Is fur sustainable,green, ethical, equitable and good for us?
These are the issues that I think one should consider;
- History shows that the fur trade has negative impacts on biodiversity and has resulted in species decline and biodiversity loss. As we know we need to maintain our biodiversity to ensure the provision of ecological services etc
- Fur and leather are natural, recyclable and reusable.
- The impact of fur farming includes pollution, waste, habitat loss, loss of biodiversity unethical treatment of animals and is hardly sustainable and or ethical, just like large-scale cattle or sheep farming.
“Compared with textiles, farmed fur has a higher impact on 17 of the 18 environmental themes, including climate change, eutrophication and toxic emissions. In many cases fur scores markedly worse than textiles, with impacts a factor 2 to 28 higher, even when lower-bound values are taken for various links in the production chain. The exception is water depletion: on this impact cotton scores highest.” (Bijleveld et al, 2011)
According to the International Fur Trade Federation (IfTF) “Both scientists and governments agree that after more than 100 generations, farmed fur animals are effectively domesticated. In a statement to the Dutch Government in 1999, the Danish Justice Ministry noted that “The farmed mink’s temperament, for instance, has changed from being a nervous, agitated animal fleeing to its nesting cage upon approach of human beings, to now often reacting curious and examining.” Not really sure I like where this train of thought is going…!?
- A lot of us eat meat, (though hopefully you try to eat free range, local and organic etc to try to reduce the ecological footprint of your meat consumption and be more sustainable), so technically you are involved with the killing of animals as well as habitat loss and loss of biodiversity already. Does this make wearing fur more acceptable, sustainable or ethical?
“ The climate change impact of 1 kg of mink fur is five times higher than that of wool which was the highest-scoring textile” in a study on the textile industry and climate change impacts. (Bijleveld et al, 2011)
- Even if you are vegetarian or vegan you are to some degree involved in habitat loss, loss of biodiversity, killing of living things etc unless you are able to grow your own food and verify that there has been no negative ethical or environmental impact arising from your source of food.
- International Fur Trade Federation (IfTF) also states that “the majority of wild species used by the fur trade are not taken specifically for their fur, but as part of wildlife management programmes. These are necessary for the maintenance of biodiversity and healthy ecosystems, population and disease control and the protection of public lands and private property. The international fur trade does not handle any endangered species and to this end supports the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
- There is also a great deal of evidence of inhumane treatment of animals as part of the fur manufacturing process.
I haven’t covered all the impacts or aspects of fur and I could go on and on and on about the ethics and environmental impacts, some positive, most negative.
My aim is to highlight the fact that it is up to each of us to ensure that we recognize the real impacts of our fashion choices. Personally it’s about necessity, demand and not falling for the green wash that fur is green and sustainable within our current context.
I would rather not add to the demand for something that is not a necessity and also has a significant environmental impact, despite the fact that I love fashion and would love to wear something awesome, soft, warm and beautiful. If I have to keep warm I would prefer to do so with something that has the lowest impact and not something that adds unnecessarily to environmental degradation even if it’s is the height of fashion. If you have to up/ recycle an old, over 20 or 30 years) fur item but don’t add to the needless demand for fur.
Reference and additional readings for the super keen:
History of Fur:
IfTF: The Socio-Economic Impact of International Fur Farming www.iftf.com
Marijn Bijleveld, Marisa Korteland, Maartje Sevenster The environmental impact of mink fur production. Delft, CE Delft, January 2011