Photo: Cara Delevingne and Kelly Mittendorf for i-D Pre-Fall 2012 by Terry Richardson. Via Fashioneditorials.
This weekend for me has been about fur and what it is. Fur, that eternal hairy ugly fashion topic. Matter Of Style wrote a piece on the subject and how fur is widely used in the upcoming Fall 2013 collections. New fur, not good. This triggered me to dig up an old post I have written originally in 2010 and add some things to it. I´m going to repost this post every fall to keep the conversation going.
Finland (where I live) is the largest manufacturer of fox pelts in the world and Denmark is the leading mink-producing country. Other major foreign producers include Netherlands, Russia, China and Canada. There has been many news and videos in the 90´s about the cruel and poor living conditions of these animals, but the discussion died in the 00´swhen luxury fashions became in demand again. They still are. In 2012 a group in Finland raised the discussion back on the table weather Finland should also join countries like England, Sweden, Austria and Switzerland, that have prohibited fur farming completely. Here´s my take on this issue. Fur sales dropped drastically after the lavish 1980´s (propably most due to early 90´s depression, but also agressive PETA and Fur Is Dead campaigning) but have made new record sales in the 2000's because followed celebs and bunch of other starlets are again parading themselves in new on-season fur coats, fueling the trend and inspiring a whole new fast fashion generation. So suddenly after 20 years it is fashionable again and socially acceptable to walk around wearing new fur.
Bling bling bitches.
Fall 2013 fur fashions.
IS SECOND HAND FUR ETHICAL AND ECOLOGICAL?
Newly produced fur is not ethical. Not, unless we are talking about fur types where the fur has been hunted or collected (road kill). Farm grown fur is def not ehtical. Like many industrially made things these days, the production method for fur is sick, just like many other modern production types involving live animals. I prefer if the current fur production would be stopped complitely in Finland (preferably worldwide!) as some of the farmers obviously have no idea how to run their businesses ethically and morally even with clear guidelines set by EU on how animals should be treated. But on other levels and sides the fur debate is much more colorful than just black and white.
Where does vintage fit into the fur debate? The rights and wrongs of wearing fur coats from the Forties, Fifties, Sixties and Seventies is an ethical grey area. Thousands of fur coats hang like guilty secrets in the back of our wardrobes, passed down from grandmothers and mothers who wore mink and sable in good faith long before we started talking about animal rights. Should we condemn vintage fur in the same way that today's designers attract criticism for using pelts? After all, recycling an old fur coat means that no animals have to die today to satisfy our desire for this luxury look. Personally I don´t condem wearing fur if it is recycled. I see no point in making something new when the real material already exists, is available secondhand and is very good quality. I myself have three fur coats, all bought used or inherited. I feel that they are perfect for eveningwear in the freezing temperatures of Scandic winter (we go as down as -25 Celsius which is -15 Fahrenheit. I´ve had them over ten years and propably will for another twenty before recycling them. If kept well, fur garments are good for 100 years which makes them very eco and sustainable in a way as they have a much longer lifecycle than for example cotton or most manmade fibres. This means that the same garment can be used at least by three generations!
Animal rights activist at Milan Fashion Week early 2013.
FAKE FUR? THE ETHICAL CHOICE?
Sure, using fake is generally regarded as an ethical choice, but I prefer to look at fashion on a larger scale. Not just from material production perspective, but also from the environmental side and how long a garment will stay in use. These are also important aspects of defining if a garment is green or not. Fake fur might not cause any harm to the animals, but what about sweat shop labour? I have not seen any fast fashion companies labeling their fake minks "cruelty free" meaning fair wages to the people who made them.
Fake fur is also made mostly from polyester which is oil based polymers. Production of polyester and many other man made fibers are very polluting to the environment to produce and to transport, if made in countries with out a strict environmental laws. Logistics for example are average 30% of environmental effects. The British Fur Trade Association found fake fur was responsible for 50 per cent of our toxic nitrous oxide emissions and that it takes a gallon of oil to produce three fake fur coats. In response, the University of Michigan hit back with research suggesting that it took 20 times the amount of energy to make a real fur coat rather than a faux version. While there is evidence to suggest that farmed and fake fur both cause damage to the environment, wearing vintage fur - which has already been processed - has no additional costs to the planet. Second hand (new or old) just beats anything newly made on all counts when it comes to the entire production and recycling cycle of an garment. In my mind anyway.
WINTER JACKET DILEMMA - FUR OR A DOWN JACKET?
NO FUR AT ALL? THEN WHAT DO I WEAR?
Fur is often talked about when the discussion of luxury winter wear comes up. It´s an easy topic to bitch about. But what about down? How many of us check that the down jacket they buy (WARNING. links to graphic images) has an ethical certificate? Consumers should also read about down production and EDFA, which is The European Down and Feather Association. Their certificates make sure that the feathers and down used in clothes is made right. If wearing a fur coat raises discussion on how ethical are your fashion values, so should wearing a down jacket. Again, using / buying second hand down jackets just beats anything newly made so there is no need for plucking any more birds for their feathers.
If you´re a vegan, you say no to all animal based foods and products. It´s cool. If the production cycle is monitored properly, there are any options for manmade technical fibers and winter wear that have no animal in it. But what about the rest of us? Many argue that even using second hand and vintage furs we support the trend of using new fur. I disagree. For many years I did not eat industrially produced meat at all (no cow, chicken, pork, turkey.. ect.) but did eat fowl and game. It is said that if I wear a vintage fur coat, the people seeing me wearing it don´t know if it is now or not and therefore I support new fur. I think this question is wrongly put. When I was eating reindeer at a restaurant, nobody knew about my no-industry-meat-policy. And frankly I think it is none of their business. I am not trying to effect the minds of all the people I meet during my day. It is my personal choice. If someone asks me or complements my jacket, I tell them it is vintage. The same goes for my smoking. I´m not responsible of what others do from my example, if they do not question it. If somebody starts smoking just because they see me do it, that´s just plain stupid. So with this logic, if they see me wearing (my second hand) fur does not give anyone the excuse to go and buy a new one, fake or real. Besides, if they know me at all it´s pretty obvious that my fur is second hand and vintage, as most of my clothes are.
And what about the low quality of our other fashions? I work for a second hand chain in Finland (Fida International) and my heart cries when I see clothes people donate. 90% is just crap and cannot be re-sold anymore because of pilling, dirt, tears or just general poor quality. Most of the textiles given to charity are just junk. I wish sometimes consumers would come see how it looks like on the other end and not buying themselves a conscience by saying "I´ll just donate it." as most of it will not be recyclable. After thinking about this for a long time I came to the conclusion that genuine vintage fur and other vintage winter jackets are a quality. They last forever and keep me warm, so I have not had to buy a new winter jacket (I live in freezing Helsinki, Finland) in 8 years. A quality fur coat lasts up to a 100 years if kept well. Therefore just the usage time makes it ecological when you compare it to regular winter coats and how many would you need for that time period. I mean, what other garment you can use daily for three generations? Army wear are pretty much the only pieces that can reach this long in use.
RECYCLED FUR THE NEW LUXURY?
Genuine fur is a high end luxury material. If production of new is stopped and the prices of secondhand furs rise, would this luxurious (recycled) material finally have the diamond status it should, but made sustainably. Like a rare piece of fashion antique. Secondhand stores around the world have more than enough of fur from past years to supply fashion industry for a lifetime. If supply for new fur is stopped or rapidly decreased wouldn´t it mean that the value of secondhand fur raises and fashion industry has to seek new ways to design fur through recycling and reusing it? Fur differs from other fashion materials. It can be used to the last piece unlike regular fabrics or leather. It´s kinda like second hand zero waste. Even if the garment is constructed from hundreds of small pieces, you can hardly notice it as the hair covers it all.
I´d be very intrested to see what kind of designs high street fashion houses come up with from recycled fur. Surprisingly even with the current eco and recycle boom that´s been going on the couple of years there are still very few fashion brands that use recycled fur in their collections and too many that use new fur. Canadian Harricana by designer Mariouche Gagné bases all their collections on recycled fur. Recycling fur into reusable products can be seen to make environmental sense. Harricana has been recycling vintage coats since 1994, turning Montreal's old fur coats into practical hats, mittens and skiwear for Canada's minus 40-degree winter temperatures. "I think everything that is going to be thrown away should be reused, even if you don't believe in the original product," says Gagné. "I've recycled more than 50,000 fur coats in 14 years. It takes about ten animals to make a fur coat, so the way I see it, I've saved half a million animals by offering people an alternative." Kudos to you Mariouche!! Read her interview from EcoSalon.
Real new fur? Never.
Real fake fur (new)? Naah, plastic will not keep me warm. But it is suitable for vegans and 100% ethical.
Real vintage / second hand / recycled fur? Absolutely. It is functional and vintage fur is a precious material.
Real wild fur? Totally. I´d work it if I could afford it. It is ethical. I also use reindeer leather in my projects as it is ethical.
Fake second hand fur? Hard to find, the quality is such crap that most of them do not survive for round II. But if I find any I´ll def use them.
I´m amazed that even after 15 years Harricana and Finnish Wild by Marita Huurinainen are still one of the few companies using second hand furs to make their products. Maybe the stigma is still too much. I hope fashion people alienate themselves from new fur and see it for what it is. I hope more designers take recycled furs into heir collections.
I look for my winter wear only second hand (genuine or fake fur + down jackets). Many charity shops are selling their winter wear in spring with discounts, so you can find a good deal for next fall if buying a new second hand coat is too much for your budget now. Ask around from family who has a coat they are not using. Store it always well (hanging, no folding, keep dry) no no little critters can get their teeth into it. Look on the inside. If the jacket is real vintage, the lining should be thick satin, there should be hand sewn ribbons and a pretty looking old school label from the maker. I´m also on the lookout for any new ecological winter wear labels with an transparent supply chain. If you know any, drop me a line.
*** EDIT ***
This post was originally posted Feb 20th 2010, but I have re-posted and edited it it since the topic is current. I´m going to repost this post every fall to keep the conversation going. Peace.