OXFORDSHIRE, United Kingdom — Is the use of natural fur in fashion unethical and inhumane, or a sustainable, aesthetically pleasing way to keep warm?
Representatives from both sides of the debate took to the stage at Voices, BoF’s annual gathering for big thinkers in partnership with QIC Global Real Estate, to present their arguments in back-to-back remarks that were both civilised and thought-provoking.
PJ Smith, senior manager of fashion policy at the Humane Society of the United States, said that the fashion industry is undergoing a great transformation when it comes to the use of fur, recalling a conversation he had with senior leaders at Inditex, the owner of Zara, three years ago, in which founder Amancio Ortega projected that fur-free would be “huge in fashion” over the next five years. “He’s been 100 percent right,” said Smith, who called out damning reports of animals experiencing death by anal electrocution and days-long torture as forces behind the anti-fur movement. “We’re seeing that brands no longer wanting to be associated with that risk.”
Smith cited Inditex, Armani and Gucci as fashion brands that have backed away from fur in recent years. (“It’s a little bit outdated,” chief executive and president Marco Bizzarri recently told BoF. “Creativity can jump in many different directions instead of using furs.”)
Smith also mentioned municipalities that have banned the sale of fur — including São Paulo and West Hollywood — as well as countries that have banned fur farming, from the UK in 2000 to the Netherlands in 2012 (with the phase out set to be completed by 2024) and Croatia in 2010, with the phase out set to be completed this year. In the US, the market for faux fur has grown 2 percent from 2012 to 2016 and is now worth $114.6 million, according to a survey of European Citizens conducted by the Fur Free Alliance.
“While that’s all happening faux fur is getting better and better,” he continued, mentioning that there are companies working to create lab-grown fur along the same lines as lab-grown leather. “As you can imagine, I’m really, really excited for the next two years. We’re going to be seeing more brands going fur free, more cities banning fur sales and more countries banning fur production.”
But while Smith’s words may have inspired many, Frank Zilberkweit, director of the British Fur Trade Association, offered counter arguments, saying fur was not only beneficial for the business of fashion, but also for the environment.
“The byword is sustainable,” Zilberkweit said. “When you make a faux fur, you are making a petrochemical product that is not biodegradable. Our industry is about raising animals in a natural way, a kind way and it’s a renewable resource.”
Zilberkweit said that the 4,000 fur farms in Europe alone adhere to these standards, and have been for centuries. He also argued that claiming a difference between wearing fur and wearing other animal-based materials, such as leather and sheepskin, is “rather illogical.” (Smith countered by saying that leather is “very much a part of food production.”)
The furrier also cited the financial windfall the fur industry has brought to fashion. “In bad times, when the industry is suffering the economic downturn, fur is a modern product today because we’ve updated our range, technique and our skills in producing fur,” he said. “There are one-million plus people in the world working in the fur industry.”
What’s more, he says, many of those employed have been trading fur for generations. “We’re unaware of what our roots as human beings are,” he said. “We’ve Disney-fied our animals, we’ve given them human characteristics.”
As with Smith, Zilberkweit spotlighted fashion brands that must credit some — if not all — of their success to fur, such as Canada Goose, which uses goosedown to fill its coats and coyote to line its hoods and is currently valued at $3.7 billion, as well as Harrods department store, which once banned fur but is now one of the largest fur retailers in the world.
When pressed regarding the pervasiveness of animal cruelty — especially in less-regulated markets like China — Zilberkweit said it’s about constant monitoring. “In every industry, there are people that deviate from the rules,” he said. “We are constantly trying to improve ourselves and raise our standards;