Last month, Gigi Hadid was ambushed during a meet and greet at Macy’s in New York. The model thought she was hugging a supporter, and all of a sudden, there were signs with “Gigi Kills” and “Fur Scum” thrust in the model’s face. What was supposed to be a consumer event for Tommy Hilfiger (which happens to be a fur-free brand) turned into an anti-fur demonstration against Hadid, with protesters posing as fans.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that animal rights activists have made noise on the public stage. One crashed Mary Katrantzou’s runway in February — even though her collection didn’t feature fur — while a flash mob protest by PETA was also staged during London Fashion Week.
The hot-button topic has long been debated in fashion — but now high-profile moves from the industry’s biggest houses have prompted many brands and designers to rethink the category.
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“Fur is something touchy and emotional. It is a situation everybody is attached to because it’s visible,” Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri told FN last fall.
The label announced its anti-fur policy in October 2017 as part of its new 10-year “Culture of Purpose” sustainability plan. The decision generated buzz in the shoe world since its best-selling style happened to be lined with the material. The popular Princetown loafer was originally made with kangaroo and is now crafted from lamb wool, which can still be used, according to the Fur Free Alliance and the Fur Free Retailer Program that Gucci has agreed to.
Michael Kors Holdings Ltd., which owns Jimmy Choo, quickly followed suit in December 2017 with its own companywide policy stating that it would be fur-free by the end of December 2018.
Versace also confirmed that it will no longer use the material as part of a broader plan to embrace a more conscious approach to fashion. In an official statement sent on March 16, the company announced plans to completely phase it out from product lines starting with its 2019 collections.
And most recently, Burberry jumped on the trend, announcing this month that it did not use fur during its last two shows and that it would be reviewing its product offerings.
As for retailers, the Yoox Net-a-Porter Group is leading the way by excluding all items and accessories made from fur from its online stores.
“This move should encourage designers and other retailers to opt for stylish and functional alternatives to fur and to shed the cruelty associated with commercial trapping and fur farming,” said PJ Smith, senior manager of fashion policy for The Humane Society of the United States.
The anti-fur designer wave also is fueling other notable groups to make major moves.
In March, San Francisco became the largest city in the U.S. to ban sales of the material, joining other California cities such as West Hollywood and Berkley.
“It starts with the fashion designers, and as more top names come out with these commitments, that changes the consumer mindset as well,” said Katy Tang, San Francisco supervisor for District 4 and author of the bill. “It’s opening people’s eyes to the industry and the harmful effects [on animals].”
Smaller designers are also engaged in the conversation, though many maintained that they would continue using real fur.
Olgana Paris founder Olga Djanguirov, whose mink-lined sandals are a favorite of the Kardashians, has begun testing faux material, for example. She did, however, explain that fur has been part of her collections because it’s a part of her culture.
“Growing up in Russia, fur is not seen as a luxury or a fashion item but necessity for the freezing winters,” she said. “Using animals for their furs is seen as part of the balance of life. I am against cruelty to animals, of course, so I use skins that are well-sourced.”
Brother Vellies’ Aurora James, who produces her handmade collections in Africa, said that using the material is an important part of her overall sustainability vision.
“Not only is faux fur plastic and horrible for the environment, it has a bad carbon footprint and the offcuts are most often nonbiodegradable,” James said. She added that her customers are not looking for the alternative either, as they are “too educated” and “sustainably minded.”
James said it is important to consider how animal products are consumed — across the board — and that is top-of-mind for the designer and her manufacturing partners.
“For many of the artisans I work with across Africa, farming and working with animals is a way of life. We are extremely proud to work with family-owned farms who raise animals and diligently work to make sure that all parts of the animal can be celebrated and used by the community.”
Fur industry lobbyists also talked about the environmental impact of using substitutes.
“If you’re looking for sustainability, I don’t see how that’s in a plastic version,” said Charles Ross, head of international marketing at Saga Furs, who added that he doesn’t see a threat to the industry long-term. (Saga is an auction company selling fur from strictly regulated farms in Europe.)
“Our farms go beyond government requirements, [practice] the highest standards of animal welfare and have a transparent supply chain,” Ross said. “That allows us to have a conversation and a voice with the fashion industries and millennial consumers.”
On the flip side, the Fur Free Alliance states on its site: “Fur farms producing Saga fur are regular fur farms that share the considerable animal welfare problems inherent in fur production.”
The Fur Information Council of America also argued on behalf of the environmental benefits of using the real thing, citing wildlife management, artisanal production and low fossil fuel emissions.
“It’s a natural, renewable, reusable and recyclable resource,” said spokesperson Keith Kaplan. “The more that there is the intention of banning natural fibers like fur and wool, the more we are driven to microfibers. Pushing people to polymer-based, faux-fur product is not the solution.”
While the debate rages on, proponents of pelage claim the industry continues to thrive.
Per the International Fur Federation, 64 percent of all designers presented the natural material at fall ’18 shows in New York, London, Milan and Paris. These brands included Fendi, Missoni, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Saint Laurent and more.
“The truest barometer of consumer reaction to a product is at the cash register,” Kaplan said. “If the consumer is buying it, the retailers are selling it and the designers are making it. That’s what’s happening.”