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Should we feel as guilty about wearing faux fur as we do with the real deal?

Alexandra Lapp
Influencer Alexandra Lapp wades into the faux vs real fur debate Credit: Getty Images

This week, it was revealed that the Queen will no longer wear real fur, a move that has been applauded equally by animal rights activists and the fashion industry.

Her Majesty is following in the footsteps of a growing number of fashion behemoths including Gucci, Chanel, Burberry and Coach, as well as retailers Net-a-Porter, Matches and Selfridges, all of which no longer sell fur. Even London Fashion Week has banned brands from showing fur on the catwalk.

It’s about time. Fur farming has actually been illegal in the UK for almost two decades, so any fur sold here is imported, and the ongoing shift towards faux alternatives means that volume is dwindling. 

But faux fur is far from perfect. No animals are harmed in the making of it, sure, but much of the man-made fur on the market is acrylic or polyester, which are forms of  plastic, making it non-biodegradable, a significant problem when discarded garments that cannot be donated are sent to landfill.

It’s an argument that pro-fur organisations use to their advantage. According to the International Fur Foundation, real pelts are the more sustainable option. “Natural fur sourced from farms or from the wild is subject to many government regulations and controls,” says a spokesman. “Natural sustainable fur that is subject to high animal welfare standards is part of the solution to the problem of fast fashion whilst faux alternatives are made from plastics that unlike natural furs are polluting and do not biodegrade and is why people are choosing to wear the real thing."

For those who share that opinion, there are a number of high-end fashion brands that defiantly continue to use fur, among them Louis Vuitton, Valentino and Fendi, while Charlotte Simone and Saks Potts are reinventing the image of real fur for a younger audience.

Fendi is one of the designer brands that continues to use real fur in its collections Credit: Fendi

But animal rights organisations argue that faux fur is better for the environment than real fur, as well as being cruelty-free. “Studies show that producing a garment made of real animal fur is up to ten times more environmentally damaging than making one from faux fur, in part because real fur often comes from animals raised on fur farms, and breeding, feeding and slaughtering live animals has a grave ecological impact,” says PETA’s director of corporate projects, Yvonne Taylor. 

“Government agencies around the world have identified the fur industry as a major polluter that poisons land and waterways, and the World Bank ranks ‘fur dressing’ as one of the five worst industries for toxic metal pollution,” Taylor continues. “This is because skins … must be treated with chemicals that stop decomposition. ... Ammonia, formaldehyde, hydrogen peroxide, and other chromates and bleaching agents - are used to preserve and dye fur.”

So what’s the answer? It really depends on your personal perspective on animal rights and the environment. There’s vintage fur, fans of which argue that it’s ethical because they are not fuelling demand for new fur. Buying second-hand clothing is one of the most sustainable ways to shop, too. Others feel uncomfortable about wearing fur regardless of its age - so for those who have inherited furs, or have found that their feelings about fur have changed, PETA operates a fur donation programme, through which the organisation will donate them to people who are homeless, and provide bedding for needy animals.

There’s also a new generation of ‘sustainable faux furs’, made from recycled plastic bottles, so even if they aren’t biodegradable they are still reducing the volume of non-biodegradable rubbish sent to landfill. It’s known as ECOPEL and Gucci is already using it. And in September, at Stella McCartney’s Paris Fashion Week show, ECOPEL unveiled the world's first bio-based faux fur, KOBA.

The lesson the fashion industry is learning here, is that it can no longer get away with opacity when it comes to fur and faux fur. More transparency about manufacturing and supply chains is badly needed, and consumers like you and I are demanding it.

If you’re not sure about a product’s provenance, encourage fashion brands to be more transparent by asking questions and only put your money behind companies that share your values. In any case, nobody ‘needs’ to wear fur, faux or real. If you don’t feel comfortable with the options available to you, just choose a different kind of coat.