when will the fashion industry wake up and finally go fur free?
The tide is finally turning against fashion's endorsement of animal cruelty in the name of vanity, but there is still a long way to go.
I talked informally with a class full of fashion students recently about their attitudes to the use of fur in fashion. Out of 26 of them, all of them under the age of 22, only one felt that it is okay to still wear fur -- and that was as long as the fur was vintage and might otherwise be thrown away. The rest were adamant that wearing fur was no longer an acceptable option; one of them raged about it being “sick”, some deemed fur to merely be “old fashioned”, while others commented that even fake fur was yuk as it perpetuates the idea that wearing something that looks like an animal is okay.
This move to an 'anti-fur' mindset among Millennials and Generation Z might seem sudden, but has gradually resulted from organisations such as PETA, the Fur Free Alliance, Surge and the Humane Society International -- among others -- relentlessly campaigning, initiating high impact protests and provoking debate throughout the past few decades. Additionally, the 21st century advances of the internet and social media have enabled anyone -- particularly a younger generation -- to easily investigate the grim realities of the fur trade for themselves.
The above has not gone unnoticed by the big fashion houses and established designers, as confirmed by PETA's Dan Mathews: "The fashion world is finally evolving... More and more designers are showing that you can be even more creative without being destructive to animals." This is also evidenced by the predominant method of fur production for the fashion industry having already been banned or closed down in the UK, Croatia, Germany and Austria, Switzerland and Japan. The Czech Republic intends to close all of its fur farms by 2019 and Norway -- at one time the biggest fox fur producer in the world -- has pledged to phase out fur farms altogether by 2025.
“We don’t want a product, we want ethics, a firm that defends the values that we admire.”
Aside from any late-in-the-day pangs of guilty conscience about the issue, for their own financial survival major fashion designers and brands absolutely need to pay heed. After all, the young customer who today can only afford to buy a dinky accessory, could develop into the future shopaholic with a well paid job who, season after season, splashes out on a full look. Such potentially long-term and lucrative customer loyalty will, however, only ensue if the moral stance of the company chimes with an emerging wave of socially-conscious fashion punters.
This new mood is now recognised, for example, at Maison Margiela (which announced it was going fur free in early 2018), clarified by its creative director John Galliano's comments during an interview with French Elle: “Today we don’t want a product, we want ethics, a firm that defends the values that we admire,” he explained. “You can be outrageous and fun without fur! Come and party with us, you’ll see!” Donatella Versace similarly made her no-more-fur-at-Versace feelings clear, telling 1834 magazine back in spring: “Fur? I am out of that. I don’t want to kill animals to make fashion. It doesn’t feel right.” Both designers were preceded by Gucci, in October 2017, when its CEO Marco Bizzarri revealed the brand's newfound fur-be-gone intentions to an audience at London College of Fashion. "Technology is now available that means you don't need to use fur. The alternatives are luxurious. There is just no need. Gucci is so visible, so well-known -- we need to use that in a positive way.”
During the past year or so, Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, The Kooples, Tom Ford, Donna Karan, and Jimmy Choo have joined the fur-free chorus, including adding to the ban on fur which has been longer-upheld by design stars including Stella McCartney, Tommy Hilfiger, Hugo Boss, Armani and Vivienne Westwood. Just today Diane Von Furstenberg announced they were stopping using fur too.
Burberry declared that it was ending the use of fur, to tie in with the debut collection from its new Creative Director, Riccardo Tisci, presented at London Fashion Week, in September 2018. Burberry CEO, Marco Gobetti, announced: “Modern luxury means being socially and environmentally responsible. This belief is core to us at Burberry and key to our long-term success.” Tisci's own succinct acknowledgement via Instagram -- “NEW ERA @burberry #modernluxury” -- similarly underlines the brand's view of fur as being dated and no longer desirable.
"There is now scope for the BFC to implement an outright ban on the use of fur within the collections at LFW, rather then merely relying on designers to decide among themselves to not use fur."
At London Fashion Week, just days before the spring/summer 19 collections were shown, the British Fashion Council suddenly announced the catwalks would be totally devoid of fur. This was the result of a BFC survey conducted beforehand, among all of the LFW participating designers, which found that none were using fur within their collections. Many animal welfare campaigners were cheered by the news -- a step in the right direction, surely? -- while others more cynically interpreted it as a pre-emptive tactic from the BFC, intended to minimise negative publicity for LFW arising from protests planned by Surge, the London-based activist group, who have maintained a presence on the streets outside LFW show venues for the last few seasons.
However, noisy protests still took place outside Victoria Beckham's show, for example, prompting her to confirm her eponymous label is and will always be fur free. As well as outside the Prada store on Bond Street, with the Italian brand still unabashedly using fox and mink fur within its collections. “Prada is feeling the pressure with protests erupting outside their stores across the world, from Russia to the UK, from Ukraine to Denmark,” Connor Jackson, President of the Open Cages organisation, explains. “We urge them to listen to their customers and make the business savvy decision to go fur-free. By continuing to endorse fur they risk their entire reputation."
Arguably, there is now scope for the BFC to implement an outright ban on the use of fur within the collections being presented at all future London Fashion Week events, rather then merely relying on designers to decide among themselves to not use fur. Going even further, the BFC could lend its support and prestige to increasing demands that the sale of fur should be totally outlawed in the UK. To not do so could be seen as sitting on the fence.
I contacted Caroline Rush, Chief Executive of the BFC, to ask about this and in response to my questions she emailed a fairly substantial statement - an extract of which defines the BFC's position in terms of encouraging best practice among designers, rather than dictating to them: “As representatives of the fashion industry, we keep an open dialogue with designers, media, retailers, business leaders, government and global brands,” Rush says. “We support the creativity of our designers and do not believe that it is our position to define or have control over their creative process. That said, we encourage designers to consider the environmental impact of the materials they choose to use throughout their collections. As an organisation we believe in the rights of people and animals and encourage designers to make ethical choices. What we are seeing is a cultural change based on ideals and choices made within brands.”
"Anyone can utilise social media and online petitions to share information and encourage discussion. Anyone can join the aforementioned activist groups. Anyone can write to politicians and demand action."
For some, the cultural change identified by Rush needs to be accelerated. Not least Claire Bass of Humane Society International. Enthused by the recent banning of fur sales in San Francisco and L.A., she asserts that “Now it is time for the UK government to show equal compassion and listen to the vast majority of British people who want the UK to become the first country in the world to fully ban the sale of animal fur. Our government has stated its ambition for the U.K. to be ‘a world leader in animal welfare’, blazing a trail as the first country to outlaw the cruel and unnecessary fur trade would show that this ambition will be delivered with actions, not just words. The sale of cat, dog and seal fur is already banned here so now let’s finish the job and ban fur full stop.”
What more can be done to get to a place where fur is simply no longer on the fashion agenda? Well, anyone can get involved with the campaigns and protests on city streets around the world. Anyone can utilise social media and online petitions to share information and encourage discussion. Anyone can join the aforementioned activist groups. Anyone can write to politicians and demand action. Boycotting designers who prioritise profits over ethics seems perfectly reasonable. And young and established designers alike, who have yet to commit to being fur free, should stop dithering about and do so.
For the millions of animals that have across the decades been hunted, trapped, tormented, terrified, bred in captivity, caged and killed, purely to furnish the demands of humans who desire their fur as a fashion statement, the long-awaited shift in attitude towards their plight has arrived too late. Maintaining a relentless pressure upon the fashion industry - now, next week, next month, next year, as long as it takes - is therefore key to finally ending this prolonged era of cruelty. By doing so, a much fairer and more stylish future can finally emerge. One in which fur only ever belongs to animals, not to us.