Monday, 10 September 2012

The Ethics of Fur

Six months ago I asked three students what they knew about ethical fashion.
‘umm,’ they replied, ‘it’s like not using fur isn’t it.’
‘Is that important to you?’ I asked.
‘Yeah, I guess.’
‘How about making sure your clothes aren’t made by slave labour?’ I asked, good naturedly.
And the students were silent. Awkward.
Ultimately, the woman who began PETA, Ingrid Newkirk, is a clever marketing guru as well as an ethically minded individual, who has managed to pull a lot of stunts to get the attention of the press, the worldwide community and students. People really do remember and often adhere to her cause, fur is not as fashionable as it used to be. We probably need someone like her in the ethical fashion community, pulling high profile political stunts directed at the labour behind the label and sustainable materials. For although PETA is impressive, I believe that the no fur campaign has over shadowed the general ethical fashion campaign somewhat. Do people care more about animals than they care about people in poverty when they list no-fur as the main ethical choice in their purchases? And what is the real problem with fur in the first place, especially when it is second hand?

The truth about fur is (unless you’re a vegetarian who does not wear leather) in principle using fur from animals you already eat, is theoretically not a bad thing. It’s actually waste efficient. Of course there are farms that breed animals just for their fur, which can seem cruel, places that treat animals badly which is horrible. But just like the choice between buying a free-range chicken or a battery-farmed chicken, can we make a similar choice when buying fur? Is there a way to buy fur ethically?

There is a website called which argues “For many trappers and aboriginal communities living far from urban centers, beaver and other wild animals are part of their everyday diet. Whatever they don’t eat is returned to the forest to feed other wildlife. Nothing is wasted.” Which all sounds like a rather lovely eco cycle, if it does indeed take place amongst the fur-coat gathers of the Canadian hemisphere. In any case there must be a way to establish more transparency in the fur industry, so that just like free-range chickens, there can be the option of free-range fur. Just as we must try to establish more transparency in retail generally, fur needs to fall in line.

I spoke with a very good friend of mine (Maxine) who always has a more considered stance than most, about what she thought of fur and buying ethically. She takes a more anti-fur stance, yet does not necessarily have the labour behind the label as a high concern when she is shopping, as many people do not, yet. She offers this:

“I think the problem is that the fur campaign was ultimately far easier to push onto people, because the people it targeted are a smaller group and because it's a luxury item people can live without. A person's basic wardrobe is a necessity. As is their child's school uniform. So the pressure consumers can place on the brand/product isn't the same as there's no affordable alternative. If, however, an affordable alternative did exist, then maybe people could be more choosy about where they shopped. Even something as simple as organising charity shop stock so that it was organised by size could help.”

Luckily House of Beth offers both an organized way of ethical shopping, offering only quality clothes at affordable prices, so an alternative now does exist!

As affordable recycling is key to all modern life, I see no problem with second hand fur. In England we are blessed with icy winters, and a second hand fur coat, is a way to keep warm and glamorous all winter long, like Narnia’s winter queen. Besides which I am on a new bridesmaid mission to find the bride a second hand white fur vintage coat to keep her warm in her wedding dress. So far I have checked charity shops, Ebay and I am soon to go Portebello. Wish me luck. (Any retail suggestions are welcome)

By Rosalind Kendal

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