LONDON, United Kingdom — Just before 7pm on Saturday evening, editors, buyers and celebrity guests were pulling up outside the Old Sessions House in London's Clerkenwell for Burberry's latest show. But instead of the usual cluster of paparazzi and street style photographers, attendees were met by some 250 anti-fur protestors.
Activists — covered in fake blood — shouted and spat at guests, while billboards and projectors showed tortured animals. Police had created a human wall past which guests were ushered in small groups. Others entered the venue through a back entrance. The protestors had arrived at the venue hours earlier after demonstrating at the 4pm Gareth Pugh show across town on the Southbank.
Protests during fashion week are nothing new, but the 66th edition of London Fashion Week was met with activism on a much bigger scale; for the first time, individual shows were targeted, and a three-day demonstration saw protestors take up residence outside the British Fashion Council’s (BFC) hub at 180 The Strand.
“Our petition against [the British Fashion Council] currently has over 200,000 signatures and our campaign video has surpassed 1 million views. It is time for the British Fashion Council to listen to what we're saying,” said Ed Winters, co-founder of vegan activist group Surge, who is demanding that the BFC ban fur at London Fashion Week.
“In all my ten years of going to London Fashion Week, I haven’t really seen it as bad as this,” fashion blogger Susie Lau tells BoF. “I think it was the proximity of it as a few of the protesters did shout in people’s ears and unfortunately I got spat on. I’m not angry about it as I do understand their sentiment — I just feel like their message could be better articulated.”
The protests to some extent reopened the debate on whether fur has a place within the fashion industry — especially when retail giants including Yoox Net-a-Porter (YNAP) and Selfridges have stopped selling fur altogether. According to animal rights activists, one billion rabbits and over 50 million other animals are slaughtered every year for fashion; the fur industry counter-argues that it’s a natural and sustainable material that employs a million people — the global fur trade was worth $40 billion in 2013. But neither Burberry nor Gareth Pugh showed fur: Burberry’s two furry pink coats on the runway were made from 100 percent polyester.
Yvonne Taylor, director of corporate projects for PETA, acknowledges that "most designers don’t work with fur, and certainly the majority of consumers don’t wear it,” but insists that the protests are still necessary. “Animals suffer all year round, and although we take into consideration seasons and trends, it’s important to remind people year-round that wearing the skin of tormented animals should never be in fashion,” she says. “Often, we stage demos around official fashion week venues to raise awareness of issues in which we can all make a difference."
Indeed, developments in faux fur “make the argument for real fur much harder,” says Hannah Weiland, founder of faux fur label Shrimps that shows on the London schedule.
YNAP and Selfridges declined to comment on the protests, though a no-fur policy is a part of their respective ethical and sustainability programmes. When announcing YNAP's anti-fur policy, Matteo James Moroni, head of sustainability at YNAP said in a statement. "Our goal is to act as an industry-wide catalyst for change.”
Certainly, if more retailers stopped stocking fur, and if the BFC did ban it from the shows, it is likely that brands would be more hesitant to use it, for fear the garments wouldn’t get picked up in the seasonal buy.
But if activist groups really want to further discussions with the fashion industry on the use of fur, they should look activists like PJ Smith, who lobbies brands in one-on-one meetings and persuaded Armani to stop using fur. Similarly, in 1994, Calvin Klein went fur-free after he met with PETA, who showed him footage of livestock being slaughtered: Ralph Lauren went fur-free in 2006 and Tommy Hilfiger followed in 2007. “We’ve always found that when designers see what the fur industry is about, they don’t want to have anything to do with it,” says Taylor.
Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council did not respond to Winters' demands to drop fur from LFW: "The British Fashion Council does not dictate what designers can or cannot design and has no control over their creative process,"she tells BoF. "We encourage designers to ensure that if they choose to work with fur, they work with reputable organisations that supply ethically sourced fur." She did highlight the BFC's responsibility when it comes to safety. “We are lucky enough to live in a diverse capital which has freedom of speech and choice,” she says. “Protests are a part of that. London Fashion Week is a fantastic promotional platform and protesters see this as an opportunity to raise awareness of their cause. It is the BFC’s duty and priority to ensure the event runs safely and smoothly, and to guarantee the safety of our designers and guests… the team has worked hard with security and the police to ensure that this happens.”