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It’s hard to imagine a fashion industry without fur. Fur connotes luxury, status, expense. It adds a premium to an item, something brands are quick to jump on in an era of declining sales. And yet, there seems to be change afoot in the fashion industry.
This week, British luxury brand Burberry announced it would no longer sell merchandise with fur; London Fashion Week confirmed this week that it too was going fur-free. Earlier this year John Galliano pledged to stop using fur at Maison Margiela, and Gucci, Michael Kors, and Jimmy Choo (which is owned by Michael Kors) all plan to phase out their use of fur by the end of 2018.
Tom Ford is working towards a fur-free future at his brand. Donatella Versace has said her brand will stop using fur by 2019, as have DKNY and Furla. Last year, Yoox Net-a-Porter committed to going fur-free, and in 2016, Armani swore off fur too. These brands now join the likes of Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Stella McCartney, and Vivienne Westwood, who have all been fur-free for more than a decade.
Why this seemingly sudden shift? Fur is outdated and unnecessary, so say the brands. At a 2017 London College of Fashion event, Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri said that the company was interested in more modern materials, explaining that with “technology now available, you don’t need to use fur. The alternatives are luxurious. There is just no need.” Burberry noted in its announcement that going fur-free was part of the company’s quest towards a more sustainable footprint, with the ultimate goal of being carbon neutral.
These assertions about sustainability have been met with pushback from the fur industry. International Fur Federation, a trade group, accused Gucci of wanting to “choke the world with plastic fur” and called Burberry’s announcement a contradiction.
“Substituting natural fur with plastic petroleum-based materials, like fake fur, is in no shape or form neither luxury nor responsible and sustainable,” IFF CEO Mark Oaten said in a statement about Burberry. “Any fashion business with a commitment to sustainability should be using natural products such as wool, cotton, leather, silk and natural fur. Fur is farmed to the very highest standards, it is sustainable and many designers and brands continue to work with it. We think Burberry should allow its customers freedom of choice in purchasing natural or plastics.”
The animal rights group PETA can take some of the credit for some of the recent brand action. The activist organization constantly petitions the fashion industry to stop using animal derivatives, often doing so with controversial tactics. Take, for example, that time in 1996 that the group tossed a dead raccoon onto the plate of Vogue editor Anna Wintour at the Four Seasons restaurant. More recently, the group publicly applauded a PETA supporter for flour-bombing Kim Kardashian on the red carpet.
PETA targets many of the brands who have recently decided to give up fur. Galliano said his decision to go fur-free stemmed from his relationship with PETA senior vice president Dan Mathews. Michael Kors’s abandoning of fur may be PETA-related too. In a blog post, PETA wrote that supporters of a fur ban sent more than 150,000 emails to the company. The label’s stores and fashion shows have long been a target for PETA, and protesters even shut down a talk Michael Kors tried to give at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last summer.
PETA executive vice president Tracy Reiman tells Racked she believes going fur-free was inevitable for fashion brands.
“Today’s shoppers are seeing fur for what it is: the skin of animals who were electrocuted, bludgeoned to death, or caught in steel-jaw traps and often left to die slowly from blood loss,” says Reiman. “Fur fell out of favor years ago, and the high-end designers are finally catching up, now that they see the writing on the wall.”
Reiman says that young shoppers today “wouldn’t be caught dead in fur.” She cites ethically minded millennials and Gen Z consumers, who often identify with politically active brands that speak up on social media (see: Nike’s ad with Colin Kaepernick). PETA believes young shoppers equate fur with cruelty.
Still, not everyone is convinced millennials are killing fur, just like they allegedly have bar soap, cable subscriptions, department stores, and gym memberships. A fur supplier from Saga Furs, which works with labels like Fendi, told Business of Fashion last year that the fur business was rife with young shoppers.
“Our future is bright because of millennials,” the supplier said. “The fastest growing category in fur is fur trim. ... The consumer is younger and they’ve done their homework on sustainability and they’ve made their decision.”
There’s also the case to be made that younger shoppers are actually seeking out some specific brands because of their fur — specifically high-end outerwear brands Canada Goose, Moncler, and Mackage. These brands have made winter coats a luxury staple and status symbol. As Bloomingdale’s fashion director Brooke Jaffe told Racked in 2016, “For many people, especially those living in cities like New York, your coat is sort of like your car.” Though PETA continues to hold aggressive protests outside of Canada Goose stores, the company’s sales are exploding.