It’s official: The Queen will no longer wear clothes with real fur. "If Her Majesty is due to attend an engagement in particularly cold weather, from 2019 onwards fake fur will be used to make sure she stays warm,” says Angela Kelly, the Queen’s long-time dressmaker and confidante. The royal’s decision to 'go faux’ is a sign of the times. Just last month it was announced California would ban the sale and manufacture of new fur products (the first state to ever do so) and many designers are now riding the faux fur fashion wave. On the one hand, it’s cruelty-free (good news) and that’s important. There are strides being made in terms of technology and manufacture that have enabled a new wave of brands to explore fun, fashionable and real-feeling fur. All with no animals being harmed.
And on the other, there’s the matter of the environment. Which, with the current mood of social responsibility, can be easy to mistake for ethics. They’re similar, but not quite the same. And this is where it gets complicated.
‘[Faux fur and real fur] are as bad as each other,’ suggests Orsola de Castro, founder and creative director of Fashion Revolution. ‘We are dealing with a moral issue. In protecting the welfare of animals with fake fur, you’re simply killing another animal,’ she says of the matter, which recently hit the headlines owing to fashion’s biggest houses declaring domino style they’ll no longer use real fur among their collections.
Chanel, Burberry, Versace, Michael Kors, Gucci and the retailer Net-a-Porter (among an increasingly lengthy list) were this year joined by Prada in an industry-wide move akin to that of the 1990s campaign fronted by supermodels Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Cindy Crawford in which they posed to the slogan: ‘We’d rather go naked than wear fur.’
SUPERMODELS UNITE FOR PETA, 1994 I SHUTTERSTOCK
‘I think it started with veganism, which has now spilled over into fashion,’ says Jakke’s Nina Hopkins. ‘People are also more educated [about animals].’ And we’re all more aware of cultural signifiers that say we’re with the ‘right group’ and doing the right thing. Eating vegan, clean or gluten, or wearing faux fur. Thanks to the rise and rise of faux fur’s popularity, however, that’s not a promise they’ve ever actually had to follow through on. The mid-2010s especially has been a heyday for young labels launching playful and colourful faux fur collections, such as Shrimps, Charlotte Simone and Jakke, which are as animal-kind as they are Instagram-friendly. And, notably, Shrimps plants a tree every time you shop on its website.
‘We have alternatives that keep you just as warm and look just as beautiful because I believe an animal’s fur was meant to be on an animal and not used as a fashion statement,’ says Julee Merill, whose Californa-based and PETA-approved boot brand Pawj offers a cosy cruelty-free tweak on traditional styles.
Even so, that doesn’t stop the finger wagging when it comes to faux fur’s toxicity, its non-biodegradable nature and a production chain that has ample room for scrutiny. But as Kym Canter, CEO and creative director of the New York-based House of Fluff, suggests, these are likely ‘not worse than most of the things you probably have on at the moment’.
Launched in 2017, House of Fluff’s mission has always been to be as sustainable and as earth-friendly as possible in addition to promoting animal welfare. But when it first began, being able to source such a product was difficult – because it didn’t exist yet. Canter is hoping to change that and has been working with chemists to create a faux fur that is biodegradable – it’s not ready for market yet, but developments are in the works. And in the meantime, she continues to use only recycled polyester (polyester is used in faux fur) and produce her pieces in New York to reduce the carbon footprint. This winter she’ll be launching a ‘shearling’ made from 100% recycled post-consumer waste such as plastic bottles.
She’s also keen to follow up on other technologies but points out that some are not quite there yet, certainly not for the luxury market. After all, fur has always had a certain association with luxury: red carpets, Hollywood starlets, wardrobes of the aristocracy. ‘We make a real luxury product,’ she says. ‘There’s no way you’re throwing this in landfill, it’s made to last. We don’t really even want to call them faux fur any more.’
And if you’re not throwing it out, surely that can be considered another avenue of sustainability? Certainly, it’s one that’s being pushed elsewhere, faux fur or no faux fur, the aim is not to waste, right?
‘What is important about this conversation is that we should use this as a metaphor to bring us further knowledge because it is a conundrum,’ admits de Castro. ‘Individuals will react very differently.’ And this is probably the only point upon which we can all agree.