(Photo: a rack of fur coats)

Row of coats made of animal fur | © florinoprea \ Fotolia.com

No debate in the fashion world gets as heated as the one about fur. Both sides are firmly entrenched in their points of view and making an informed decision can be difficult. As I was doing research for this article, it became apparent that finding unbiased information about fur is pretty difficult. A study showing how fur is destructive to the environment likely came from an animal-rights group. Claims that fur is actually better for the environment than faux-fur alternatives? Pro-fur industry groups probably had a hand in them.

Now in my view, killing an animal simply to make a fashion statement is cruel and wasteful. Some readers may agree; others may not. However, aside from moral arguments, part of the fur debate has centered on the environmental impacts of fur vs. faux fur. In this article, I will present arguments from both sides and encourage readers to do their own research in order to come to an informed decision.

Fur industry proponents such as the Fur Council of Canada portray faux fur as more environmentally harmful than its real counterpart. Real fur, industry proponents argue, is a natural product that biodegrades.

But at least one report, by an engineer working at Ford, suggests the amount of energy needed to make a real fur coat is 66 times that of a fake fur coat, when you take into account the full life cycle of both the animals and the end product. However, the report was published in 1979, and it isn’t clear how it comes to many of the figures it presents. Furthermore, according to an article from Slate, the study was backed by an anti-fur group. That’s not enough of a reason to dismiss it entirely, but it should call into question the claim that real fur uses 66 times the amount of energy as fake fur.

Fashion designer Stella McCartney has stated that making a coat from real fur takes 20 times the amount of energy than what’s needed for an artificial fibre one, but she doesn’t provide any information to back this up.

A 2010 study suggests that producing mink fur has five times the environmental impact of even the most impactful textile.

Proponents of the industry have argued that fur’s popularity is on the rise. Critics counter, saying that the boom in fur’s popularity is just an illusion, that most of fur’s recent success has been driven by luxury market growth and it hasn’t become mainstream. However, there’s always that possibility: Trends start on the runway, which has been embracing fur. A 2010 study, done by CE Delft, suggests that producing mink fur has five times the environmental impact of even the most impactful textile. The study, which can be found here, notes that which one is environmentally preferable may depend on how long the garment (in this case a coat) lasts. CE Delft provides readers with information to assist in considering how long they may have the coat and the level of maintenance it will need to determine if fur or faux fur will have a greater environmental impact.

For the time being, fur in fashion isn’t going away. So, at the very least, is it possible to ensure that animals are treated humanely? Organizations like the Fur Council of Canada argue that humane trapping methods can be used to control animal populations, which cuts down on disease and starvation. These methods are based on international standards agreed on by Canada, Russia and the EU. However, what isn’t clear is what percentage of these humanely trapped animals are making their way into the supply of furs being sold in the fashion market.

You can always turn to faux fur if you want the look of fur without having to wear an animal. But be cautious: Neiman Marcus was caught selling products containing animal fur even though they were labelled as faux fur; and Kohl’s sold a hood with raccoon dog (Asiatic raccoon) fur that it labelled “faux,” so there’s a chance you’re getting the real stuff.

Do you still want to wear fur? You’ll need to do some digging to determine whether any fur you’re considering purchasing was sourced in an ethical manner – not an easy task. If you’re doubtful, the best thing to do is stay away from fur altogether. There are plenty of ways to look good without it – and those other options won’t put such a dent in your bank account. 

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