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Global: Furs And Fashion

If you thought that wearing fur was outdated – what with all those green movements and animal rights activists who put this cruel sense of fashion in its right place with the likes of Cruella de Vil – fashionista's say, think again.

Last month the fashion world went literally “wild” in New York, Paris and Milan during the unveiling of their fall collection. They had models strutting the catwalk in so much fur, it was scary enough to make animal rights activists and environmentalists jump out of their skins.

In this era of global warming and dwindling animal species, one would think that we humans would come to our senses and rethink our actions. Not so, it seems, as there is a whole other world out there – the fashion industry of the west – whose endorsement and use of fur and exotic animal products simply encourages the mass slaughter of many endangered species.

A dealer's bounty at the Quartzite annual show for art and crafts. Image by Flickr user cobalt123. Used under a Creative Commons License

A dealer's bounty at the Quartzite annual show for art and crafts. Image by Flickr user cobalt123. Used under a Creative Commons License

To name a few, the Chiru or Tibetan antelope, whose underbelly fur is used to make “Shatoosh” the world's most expensive shawls, also known as “shawls of death”. It takes 3 dead antelopes, to make one shawl, so fine it can fit through a finger ring, and each one can cost between $5000 to $20,000 in the international market. Even babies, and mother's who have just delivered, are not spared.

According to WWF, the population of this species has declined by over 50 percent in the last 20 years and the Tibetan Plateau Project says that it was the fashion-driven demand for Shatoosh in the U.S that resulted in as many as 20,000 antelopes being slaughtered. It is alarming to know that the animal could become extinct in the next three years at this rate.

In a blog run by Uma and Hurree called Animal Rights India, they argue how farming of Chiru's – like Eider ducks in Iceland for eider, will not make a difference to the dwindling numbers.

But hello: Eider ducks are now a protected species, and farmers in iceland use a technique of collecting the down without harming the bird. And no, it is not possible to obtain the shahtoosh wool without killing the chiru.

They go on to say:

It's impossible to justify killing three beautiful wild animals every time you want to push a length of shawl through a ring, blah blah. And to farm them just to kill them for shawls?

Raja Basu, another blogger said:

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – which controls the trade in endangered species products – has completely banned international trade in Tibetan antelope products (including Shahtoosh). It is illegal to import Shahtoosh into many countries, including the USA (ironically, Shahtoosh products are so popular in the US fashion industry). Unfortunately, despite such laws being in place, the Shahtoosh trade is going on in full swing. This is because it is not enough to have laws. There must also be a strong public protest across the board against every person who is by any means related to the Shahtoosh trade. There should be a widespread public sensitization campaign to educate the common people.

Bloggers in the west, however, were giving this some thought and debated:

Rachel Menashy wrote on her blog:

1. People eat rabbits at restaurants. These rabbits have been killed to provide ‘dinner’ for people like us (I would like to point out that I have never eaten rabbit and by ‘us’ I mean people who eat in restaurants). Why is it right that rabbits can feature on a menu in a restaurant but wrong to wear a fur coat? These rabbits inevitably are skinned in preparation to be cooked – what else should we do with the fur?

2. Is it more acceptable if the coat is Vintage? Why?

3. Is rabbit fur better/worse than Mink? Some argue that rabbit fur is not as bad because rabbits are not in danger of becoming extinct, unlike mink which is. Then again, people keep rabbits as pets so is it more cruel to wear rabbit than mink?

4. If a fur coat is hanging on a rail at a store and one customer refuses to buy it, somebody else will…

5. Should role models such as Kate Moss be seen wearing fur? Kate's style is copied by millions of girls (and women) – is she giving a bad impression?

To which Denise replied:

1. I would personally be more likely to wear rather than eat rabbit. The eating of it seems less acceptable somehow.
2.Vintage coats have been around for a while and should be recycled – which I'm definitely into.
3. Mink are feral creatures and even though their fur is more desirable, mink are not aiming for extinction, so why not wear it?
4. Agreed.
5. I don't mind fur being worn by anyone, and Kate Moss is just showing that this is acceptable. Too many people are on the “fur is bad” bandwagon. I bet most of these people eat meat and wear leather, so what's the difference?

But there is a difference as Barry Williams responded to a thread: Wearing Fur is not immoral on www.helium.com

If we go around killing cattle for leather, alligators for shoes, deer for chamois and see nothing morally wrong in that , why it is immoral to wear fur. What I see as immoral is the killing of animals simply for the fur alone. It really is such a waste, isn't it? Apart from the leather we obtain from cattle not much of the animal is wasted. Beef cattle supply our meat.

There are a multitude of arguments out there, but in the meantime the Humane Society for the United States, says that Canada will slaughter 388, 200 harp, grey and hooded seals this year, an increase of 50,000 from 2009. This, because of the overall demand for fur. The site of the Fur Council of Canada shows styles and celebrities modelling various furs in what it describes as a fashion trend of 2010.

And unfortunately in the U.S, and much of the west where Global Fashion trends are set, laws don't seem to be enough to curb their greed. According to the International Fur Trade Federation Blog:

..the shift in the attitude towards fur can be attributed to “changes within the fur trade, such as the introduction of the new Origin Assured initiative, which guarantees that fur bearing the label comes from a country with animal welfare regulations”. This shows that the fur trade efforts and initiatives to challenge the outdated ideas of our industry have been noticed. We are a transparent and well-regulated industry that supports high animal welfare standards and we welcome the confidence and support shown by the fashion designers as well as the European Commission, who recently recognised the importance of the Origin Assured label.

Fashion designers who have been courted by Furriers say they are “confident using fur after examining the chain of production and finding it humane.” But could this confidence be based on a lack of investigation or knowledge? According to an endangered species handbook :

The New York luxury department store, Bergdorf Goodman, advertised shahtoosh in 1995 as a “royal and rare” fabric, making incorrect statements about the wool having been obtained from the Mountain Ibex goat of Tibet which “sheds its down undercoat by scratching itself against low trees and bushes” from where it is gathered by local shepherds (Schaller 1998)

And if the clubbing of baby seals and mass slaughtering of Chiras, mothers and babies, is “humane” then its sad to think of what “humane” means anymore, and what we are willing to condone in the name of “Fashion”.

11 comments

  • For me, humane means we use as little as we need of an animal or other resource (since using any resource affects living things). So, if we kill an animal, then we should use up as much of it as we can and make it go as far as we can.

    When it comes to high fashion it gets more difficult – I am a jewelry designer-maker and I constantly consider whether the ethics of the use of my materials fits with what I would like to uphold. It’s not an easy equation.

    In general I do also feel that the welfare of the humans in the remote places where a lot of the scare resources are obtained, is the last thing we consider when agitating for bans – which is not humane either.

    I keep coming back to the conclusion that there is a lot more work to be done in figuring out what a real balance is and unfortunately, I don’t see the world really heading towards that resolution in any hurry.

  • I don’t support wanton killing of animals at any time…if we need to eat them, it needs to be done humanely, and only for what we need, and not extra. It should also be done with gratitude for them being provided for us, remembering that life is sacred, and no one can create life. (Women bear children, but can’t have a child without a man, and no man can have a child without a woman taking part. Even when you have women and men wanting to have children, it doesn’t guarrantee that they’ll be able to, so we should give the credit for giving life to whom it rightfully belongs….God Himself.)

    Killing an animal just to make a fashion statement is self-centered and disrespectful…. If we need animals’ fur or skin to keep warm or protected, as well as for food, I agree, that we should find a way to use as much of the animal as possible. However, anyone who’s concerned about the environment should think about the whole picture of what it takes to keep people warm and clothed. What are the costs, socially, financially, and environmentally, of making man-made cloth, or “fake” fur or “leather”? It may well be that it’s worse for the environment when we do this, (especially in mass production), than if we use animals’ fur (again, for what is NEEDED, not just for a selfish whim).

  • moran

    i think wearing a animal skin is like hiding yourself in corpse it’s cruel also. think that if any animal wears human skin for fashion how it will feels. i don’t think it’s matter of vogue as i like the cotton made products very much they r more comfortable in wearing. killing animals only for there skin is insanity.

  • Allyssa Katz

    I agree that the killing of animals is wrong, and that we should find something else to wear.
    What I disagree with is your focus on the west alone. What about the east? What about things like the killing of moon bears for ancient Chinese medicine? Or the whaling in Japan? The killing of animals is a global problem, not just something focused in one hemisphere.

  • Sarah

    People have used animal skins for clothing and eaten animals forever. It is a part of life and it is how the food chain works. I don’t get why all of a sudden it is such a huge problem now and wasn’t millions of years ago. If we are going to eat the animals, we should use all parts of them and use their skin, however, we should not go and kill millions of animals just for fashion. Native americans used to use every part of the animals in which they killed and did not waste anything, and I think we should follow their footsteps. But I agree, that killing animals just for the use of fashion is wrong especially if it causes the animals to become extinct.

  • Sonam Ongmo

    In the past, human beings hunted and used animals and their products in a sustainable manner. Today, this is no longer the case and that is why it is a problem.

    @ Allysa, if you have read my past post about the Tigers, I complain about the east too and it is a problem. However, with regards to fashion trends, it is something dominantly set in the west.

    If you read the report written by Schaller (who spent years in the Himalayas studying the Chira’s) people the east hunt them because there is a demand. If there is no demand, there is no supply. They get into this illegal business because they need to feed their families, not to look good – and so if there was no demand, they wouldn’t be doing this.

  • Jennifer Mc Cleary

    I’ve heard this supply and demand blame game before. The demand is a moot point. Just because there is a demand does not give them the green light to recklessly kill animals for pelts alone. Two wrongs don’t make a right. If demand is there, and the suppliers have a heart, they would NOT supply and the demand would wane. This is not one side’s fault. All who are involved in this practice have blood on their hands and ALL are to blame for their part in it. It’s like saying a drug dealer is not to blame because there’s a demand for drugs. Give me a break!

  • @ Jennifer. Its good to see that you seem very passionate about this. In some ways you do have a point about the demand and supply issue, and yes, it really isn’t one sides fault at all and I am sorry you misunderstood it that way. But the law of Economic theory alone proves that if there is no demand there will be no supply. If stilettos went out of fashion and women no longer wore them do you think the market would survive? The supply may not be stopped completely but it would surely dwindle, right?

    The drug trade is a different story but again there are some general trends as to supply and demand. Supply always comes from poor lawless countries and the demand or market is usually in the rich countries. But as you say, yes, all who are involved are still to blame for this horrific trend.

  • Jennifer Mc Cleary

    You make a very good point (Supply always comes from poor lawless countries and the demand or market is usually in the rich countries). It is the responsibility of affluent nations to set the example for poor nations (be it environmental concerns, drugs, fashion, etc.), because as these nations grow it is our examples they do NOT want to follow in their upward trajectory to growth and modernization. The “do as I say and not as I do” policy obviously won’t work, so ultimately, at this point in the fashion game it IS our responsibility to end it; by boycotting the purchase and wearing of fur.

  • Trinity

    i feel that many of you are very short sighted about the processes of argian relationships with seditary humanity and eviormental responsiblity.

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