Image: Gucci

Beginning in 2017 (en masse) and continuing full steam in 2018, many fashion brands and retailers announced one by one that they would stop using animal fur in their collections and in the case of retailers, offering up fur products for sale. Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele, for instance, swore off fur last year, saying that use of the textile is “not modern.” Donatella Versace revealed this spring that her brand will distance itself from fur, stating, “I don’t want to kill animals to make fashion.” And as recently as this month, Chanel announced that it would join the likes of Net-a-Porter, FarFetch, Armani, Burberry, Calvin Klein, Givenchy, and Bottega Veneta, among others, in discontinuing its use of fur.

The fashion industry, the media, and PETA – which has been focusing its efforts on fashion brands with increasing vigor in recent years – have met such decisions with widespread approval and glowing headlines, praising the fashion trend as a momentous step in the animal rights movement. However, 2018 also brought a much more pronounced position from the opposition, those that have pointed to the problems associated with the alternative: the faux fur that brands like Givenchy, Gucci, Versace, and Michael Kors have put on their runways in light of real fur falling out of favor.

This past week, Mary Creagh, a Member of Parliament of the United Kingdom, spoke out about the ugly downsides of the fossil fuel-created synthetic fibers that go into fashion’s flashy fur replacements and that are contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Speaking to The Independent, Creagh highlighted several of the main points put forth by pro-fur parties, saying that in addition to the fact that faux fur “garments are made entirely out of artificial fibers like polyester that are a byproduct of the petroleum industry,” fake fur garments are also “almost impossible to recycle” and often end up landfills as a result of a fast fashion culture.

MP Creagh is not alone in voicing the nuances of the fight over fur. Veteran blogger BryanBoy, for one, has been a leading voice in fashion in connection with the practical downsides of replacing fur with oil-based alternatives. The 36-year old routinely uses social media to highlight that faux furs are typically made from synthetic polymeric fibers such as acrylic, modacrylic, and/or polyester, all of which are essentially forms of plastic that are harmful to the environment.

Sustainability-centric journalist Alden Wicker agrees. She told CR Fashion Book recently that there is likely more to the anti-fur effort by brands than meets the eye. “Fashion companies can save a lot of money and increase their profit margins by making faux fur coats and selling them at a similar price to real fur coats,” she says.” The motivation is money, not altruism.” (As we noted last summer, there are, in fact, business benefits to swearing off fur).

These voices are joined, of course, by lobbyists, such as Mark Oaten, CEO of the International Fur Federation, who has voiced concern about “how it is possible for a chemical-based product, such as faux fur, to be more sustainable than a natural-based product.” He notes, “Some of the fake fur is saying that it’s being developed using recycled plastic, and that’s great, however, it’s still plastic.”

It is clear that 2018 brought more nuance to the conversation about the merits of using – or swearing off – fur. What will be interesting to see is whether this is something that fashion sticks to in the long run. Fashion brands are well known, after all, to cling to movements – whether it be See Now-Buy Now collections or gender-inclusive runway shows – only to walk back from them after some time. There is no guarantee that fur will not take the exact same course, especially if the fur industry lobbying parties and the anti-plastic narratives continue to grow in volume.