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Fur in Fashion: Luxury Brands Going Fur-Free

Updated: Oct 12, 2021

Photo By Paolo Marchetti

This past Friday, Kering — the parent company of major luxury clothing brands, such as Gucci and Saint Laurent — announced their company-wide ban against animal fur, citing that fur has “no place in luxury.” Kering’s chief executive, optimistically commented that this recent decision is “[...] a good signal that things are removing seriously in this industry in different ways to sustainability.” With animal fur products being a traditional symbol of status and wealth, the French conglomerate’s elimination of the material could be indicative of a changing industry.

It is interesting to note that Kering and other luxury brands’ banned the use of animal fur after 2020, the lowest year for mink pelts in history. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that the value of the mink pelts produced in 2020 was approximately 50 million USD, which is only 17% of the value of pelts produced in 2011 (~300 million USD). Although 2020 was the lowest year for mink fur profits, this decline in popularity started in 2015 when the value of mink pelts produced dropped to 50% of its value in 2014. Does this pose the question: do companies truly care about their environmental impact and the ethics of real fur? Or, is it that they are afraid of becoming the next target of social media backlash as more consumers begin to frown upon animal fur?

As more brands turn to faux fur —made from synthetic material (e.g. polyester or modacrylic) — to replace their previous animal fur products, this newly popular alternative can also create detrimental consequences for the environment. For example, washing faux fur coats or clothing pieces releases synthetic microfibers, which are tiny pieces of polyester, rayon, or acrylic that can infiltrate the water system and pass through water treatment plants undetected. Additionally, polyester material can take anywhere from 20 to 200 years to decompose. Though the production of real animal fur also creates many harmful problems (e.g. the chemical processing and toxic treatment of the fur to prevent rotting), there is no way to quantify whether real or faux fur has a more negative impact on the environment because the current research studies are heavily biased towards either fur manufacturers or anti-fur activists.

Considering that the fashion industry has traditionally been characterized by fast-paced quarterly trends, overconsumption, and labor exploitation, it comes as no surprise that both options of fur have negative repercussions and potential research biases. However, luxury fashion’s — an industry that was previously adamant about incorporating animal fur in their collections — recent efforts for sustainable initiatives could show a shift in how much consumers value companies with ethical practices and the effects of social activism.

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