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Fake Fur: An Ethical but Environmentally Damaging Alternative


The use of animal fur is a topic which gets people on both side of the debate animated. For the last couple of decades or so, a widely known and used alternative to real fur has been fake fur; often made from synthetic, sometimes petroleum-based, materials.

Recently, fashion houses have turned away from the traditional use of real fur in garments following a wide backlash. Most recently, Gucci announced that as of spring 2018, animal fur will not be used in any more of their products. In doing so, Gucci joins a host of other designers including Tommy Hilfiger, Versace, and Stella McCartney, which have also disavowed the use of animal fur in their clothing.

(A quick look at the Fur Free Retailer website shows which companies have taken the pledge against animal fur.)

Whilst this is a good step in an ethical direction, new research from the Organic Waste Systems laboratory in Belgium has revealed that fake fur may not be all that it is cracked up to be. This is due to the fact that it does not biodegrade anywhere near the rate of its real counterpart. The result of this is that fake fur can lay in landfill or drift in our oceans for centuries.

(Street style images right by Sherion Mullings show how popular fur, real or fake, is with the fashion pack.)

Acrylic, the main component in many fake furs, had the worst environmental impact of nine fibres studied in a 2014 report by the European Commission, coming last in four out of six categories including impact on climate change, human health, and resource depletion.

With more and more designers and suppliers now advocating for fake over real fur, the environmental implications of fake, synthetic fur could be about to multiply exponentially.

Speaking of the sustainability of fake fur, Keith Kaplan, director of communications at the Fur Information Council of America states: “right off the top, petrol-based plastic fur is extremely harmful to the environment. It isn’t biodegradable. It’s harmful to wildlife.” 

Startling figures have revealed that the textile industry is the second largest polluter in the world after oil, with eleven million tonnes of textiles thrown into landfills in the US alone each year. With this in mind, the increased use of fake fur by an ever-growing proportion of fashion houses and suppliers could further this environmental damage by selling and supplying fake fur apparel.

This news has set minds in motion in the fashion industry to come up with a sustainable and biodegradable alternative to fake fur. This alternative has taken the most notable form in the way of denim “fur”, a material being pioneered by Tiziano Guardini, who, by working with ISKO Creative Room, has managed to produce the “fur” by using certified organic cotton and pre-consumer recycled cotton.

As it is made from natural materials denim fur biodegrades and won’t sit in landfills for nearly as long as fake fur. It was also be recycled into other denim products, should the need arise. Fake fur can only ever be fake fur once it has been synthesised.

Whilst this new type of “fur” will biodegrade, being a denim derivative it comes with sustainability issues of its own, as reported on FashionCapital last week. The amount of water required to grow the cotton and the pollution created from treatment of the fibres is a big concern for many groups in the denim supply industry. As such, it is crucial that the denim supplied to create the denim fur is produced in a sustainable way; and from sustainable practices.

Speaking to the Independent, Fabio Di Liberto, brand director of ISKO said “we believe that denim ‘fur’ can be a responsible, fun, hype and cruelty-free alternative to animal fur”.

While the denim fur doesn’t look identical to real or fake fur, ISKO, the world’s largest producer of denim, thinks that it can be used as an embellishment on clothes, in the same way that real fur and fake fur has done in the past.

It seems when it comes to fur – real, fake or imitation, we are still a long way off from achieving a satisfactory goal that is both sustainable and ethical. However, the tide is turning, bio-science and fashion are making exciting developments; from growing bio-leather in the lab to artificial spider silk. The idea that a bio-fur may soon be in the offering is no longer a farfetched notion, great news for animals and the environment!

By Callum Cliffe


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