We’re living in a plastic world. Quite literally. We have too much plastic and
we don’t know how to get rid of it – it’s either pilling up on landfills or
floating around the ocean – but it’s not going away. As companies, such as
Coca-Cola is working on making its plastic bottles completely recycable by 2030
and Johnson & Johnson are switching from plastic to paper cotton buds, the
fashion industry is welcoming plastic into the world of luxury concealed under a
label of faux fur.
A shift towards an anti-fur fashion industry became apparent when fashion-giant
Gucci last fall announced its distance from fur, only to be joined by brands
such as Versace, Donna Karan and latest Maison Margiela.
“With leading luxury brands including Gucci, Versace and Tom Ford announcing a
move to fur-free, we are expecting to see a massive shift in the fashion
industry following their influence,” says Rebecca Wallace content manager at
Positive Luxury, an online platform promoting positive consumption and
And the change hasn’t only been limited to the brands. At the beginning of this
year Norway pledged to close its fur farms by 2025 making it the first Nordic
country to do so while UK MP’s are looking to completely ban the import of fur.
Likewise, San Francisco will be the first major US city to completely ban sales
of fur by January 2019.
“Ethical fashion has become the top priority for the new breed of consumers, and
therefore also for the entire supply chain,” Wallace argues. “Millennials view
themselves as global citizens with a responsibility to live more ethically and
sustainably, and are deeply into the brands and companies they purchase from,
expecting full disclosure of their values and practices. Many luxury brands have
realised this, and are taking strive to connect with the new wave of conscious
consumers by going fur-free.”
And while these initiatives indicate a more united fashion industry standing
against cruelty and unreasonable killings of animals, anti-fur hasn’t exactly
implied fur-less with several designers opting for the plastic replacement
The man-made material featured in Gucci’s latest resort collection and was also
heavily visible on the fall 2018 catwalk at Givenchy, a brand that has equally
declared its goodbyes to animal pelts. On top of that the phenomenon has greeted
high-end faux fur designer brands such as Shrimps and Charlotte Simone.
And it is not without reason, consumer demand for faux fur has increased 10 per
cent over the last couple of years suggesting the material as the next big
However, faux fur might not involve the use of animals but it is made
predominantly from non-biodegradable plastic materials giving it a complicated
lifecycle. The assumption that a shift to faux fur is equivalent of a shift to
sustainability is therefore not entirely true since fake fur wasn’t created as a
sustainable option. In fact, it wasn’t even made to save animals. Originally the
material was created as a fast and cheap substitute to imitate luxury fur of the
upper-class centuries ago.
“It used to be called fun-fur, and some of it was hideous actually,” Sandy Black
recalls. She’s a professor of Fashion Textile Design and Technology who works
with Centre for Sustainable Fashion to create awareness around the environmental
impact of fashion.
“Natural doesn’t equal good and synthetic doesn’t equal bad. It’s not as
simplistic as that,“ she argues. “It’s animals versus minerals, and there isn’t
always one answer. We have to look at it holistically. It’s easy to pick up one
issue and think good or bad but I feel that’s too naïve. There needs to be much
more information and then consideration.”
Although there is a current rise in the use of fake fur it hasn’t completely
ended the sale of animal fur. The fur industry still turn over a double-digits
billion revenue yearly. Indeed, none of the brands relying on fur sales has
conveyed to its synthetic opponent. Although the move from Gucci was considered
a turning point, fur sales only accounted for piddling 0.16 per cent of the
brand’s turnover last year.
Instead of persuading fur regulars faux fur caters for a new consumer-base who
would never touch animal fur to begin with. Rather than resolving the fur
problem a move to fake fur leaves us with two furry dilemmas.
“While faux fur caters for a new consumer base of Millennials and Gen Z, who
believe in positive fashion, real fur is unlikely to disappear from fashion
completely,” Wallace says. “It is somewhat similar to the vegan versus
vegetarian debate – meat eaters still exist, just like fur wearers do.”
Fur has a culture in many countries as being a symbol of status and wealth. Of
course, the idea of wearing animal skins stems back from when our ancestors used
to hunt animals for food, but later it turned into a product reserved for royals
and the mere elite, outlining the luxury standing of the material. By the
beginning of the nineteenth-century fur moved into Hollywood and became a staple
of the trophy wives giving weight for the production of cheaper faux fur copies
for people of lesser rank.
“It’s about what fur does for people,” Black argues. “We have to look more at
the cultural aspect as to why they want it in the first place because I think
that’s difficult to substitute with a synthetic of any kind. What you get from
the physical quality of fur is very hard to replicate.”
Naomi Bailey-Cooper, a PhD candidate researching alternative embellishments to
exotic animal materials such as fur, agrees that the fake fur options currently
on the market might not appeal to neither fur-buying customers or designers
working with fur. She suggests the industry start looking for other
replacements. “Many fur alternatives focus on an engineered aesthetic replica
product rather than opening up and exploring other appealing factors that fur
has,” she says.
“I think there could be a product which accommodates both sustainability and
animal rights issues. You see this being developed in leather alternatives such
as Modern Meadow and leathers from waste such as Vegea and Frumat. So there is a
lot of work that can be done for furs and other types of animal materials too,”
Faux fur might save the animals but if it ends up killing the planet instead we
need another alternative because as we’re learning; there really is no such
thing as plastic fantastic.