In the Name of Fur

As I skimmed through the Vogue March issue, heavy with glossy ads and scent samples, I stopped short at a brief article at the bottom of a page. In this article, entitled “Armani Goes Fur Free,” the author congratulated renowned fashion designer Giorgio Armani for his clothing line that in the fall/winter of 2016 would, for the first time, be “fur free.”

Good news, for sure. But an image of the luxury designer’s brand from 2008 resonated in my mind; while holding a stuffed bunny, a toddler wears an Armani rabbit fur coat specifically designed for babies. I know that most newborns do not instinctively crawl toward the closest Armani retailer. But for me, the very existence of a fur coat for babies calls into question the ethical standpoints, or lack thereof, at play at big-name fashion brands.  

Many people consider fashion to be both an art and a form of personal expression, but there are impactful consequences that come from what is purchased and how it is produced.

Armani’s “fur free” policy results from years of pressure from numerous animal rights organizations who understand how luxury designers impact fashion trends. Other influential brands such as Hugo Boss, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and Ralph Lauren have committed to using synthetic alternatives in lieu of fur. However, what exactly does it mean for a brand to go “fur free”?

According to the Fur Free Alliance, 80 million minks and foxes were killed in 2015 strictly for use in the fashion industry; 85% of fur textiles come from fur farms, which means a mere 15% comes from animals killed for food, trapped wild animals, and other sources. In general, “fur free” policies strictly apply to fur from fur farms. Ralph Lauren is known for promoting an alternative to fur – shearling. In reality, shearling is the tanned skin of a year-old sheep with the wool attached, still considered fur by animal rights advocates.

One luxury designer has committed to what she calls a vegetarian philosophy. The British designer’s self-titled brand Stella McCartney has never used any animal products, including leather, skins, feathers, and furs. Additionally, The brand does not test any products on animals and does not purchase from China, where regulations require animal testing.

While Stella McCartney’s company is the only luxury brand to have such a philosophy, the decision by other big name designers to agree to a reduction of fur use provides leverage for additional animal rights initiatives to take hold in the fashion industry.

 While the idea of animal rights has sparked a trend toward ‘humane’ fashion, human laborers suffer every day, especially in outsourced markets, to produce clothing sold in American and European stores. The concept of ‘ethical fashion’ includes working conditions, child labor, fair trade, and sustainable production, a broader term that recognizes both human and animal welfare.

Name brands, such as Armani, set a standard for current trends. As fashion designer Heidi Klum quips, “You’re either in, or you’re out. Although the everyday consumer does not rip Armani designs off the racks, animal rights groups pressure brand names because workers understand the influence fashion houses, such as Armani, have on consumers in various financial brackets. Decisions regarding textiles and production impact everyone.

Whether or not consumers specifically take the protection of animals from a factory-farm life and death into consideration, I seek to understand how this system impacts both animals and the planet. Animals raised in factory-farms suffer from confinement, disease, and inhumane deaths. The production of meat and leather accounts for 18% of manmade greenhouse gases; a large portion of this statistic comes from tanneries that produce leather. Authentic fur requires doses of chemicals to prevent skin from rotting, and this requires a process that releases toxic pollutants into the air and water. Many people consider fashion to be both an art and a form of personal expression, but there are impactful consequences that come from what is purchased and how it is produced. I want to know where my purchases come from, be it a two-dollar bottle of foundation or a luxury pea jacket.

The popularity of magazines such as Vogue demonstrates how important fashion is in cultures around the globe, but this thriving market comes with an ethical cost. While the idea of animal rights has sparked a trend toward “humane” fashion, human laborers suffer every day, especially in outsourced markets, to produce clothing sold in American and European stores. The concept of “ethical fashion” includes working conditions, child labor, fair trade, and sustainable production, a broader term that recognizes both human and animal welfare.

The power of social celebrity cannot be ignored, and harnessing this world-wide influence is crucial to the growing momentum of animal rights issues within the fashion industry.

Another Vogue article entitled Pamela Anderson Puts a Chic Foot Forward in Support of Animal Rights” addresses the relationship between famous personas and humane fashion. The article glorifies actress/model Pamela Anderson as a fashionable trendsetter in the world of animal rights. But the tone of the article renders animal rights secondary to celebrity status. The author caps the article with but a chic one-liner regarding the topic. The purpose? To complement Anderson’s style. It advertises the wool coat that Anderson is wearing, as well as her shoes, described as “vegan leather” by editors who did not bother to confirm that assertion.

Pamela Anderson is a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) ambassador, and while the Vogue spread employs this as only a fun fact, Anderson does provide a lot of promotional aid to the organization. The power of social celebrity cannot be ignored, and harnessing this world-wide influence is crucial to the growing momentum of animal rights issues within the fashion industry.

Does it matter whether Giorgio Armani personally supports the humane treatment of animals or not? That may be for the consumer to decide. His brand’s announcement does provide clear evidence to those invested in both fashion and animal ethics that the notion of high quality need not equate to high levels of cruelty. Through public interest regarding animal rights, I hope that decisions, such as that of Armani’s to go fur free, will move toward a commitment to cruelty-free clothing.

For more information, visit www.furfreealliance.com and www.peta.org.

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