Something is shifting on international catwalks: after decades of pressure from animal rights organisations and activists, top-name designer brands like Gucci, Michael Kors, Versace, Burberry, Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier and Prada all former supporters of the fur trade have now refused to work with animal fur.
The Fashion Weeks of Oslo, Helsinki, Amsterdam, Melbourne, and Perth are fur-free. And the change is happening outside of Fashion Week too: in 2019, California became the first US state to ban the sale and manufacture of animal fur. The fashion industry is finally giving animal fur the cold shoulder that has been coming for a long time and in the age of sustainability, the separation seems to be final this time.
Its clear to see why fashion is rapidly moving away from fur: the industry, which kills 100 million animals per year by gassing, poisoning, electrocution or drowning, is responsible not only for large-scale death and suffering (animals in so-called high-welfare countries have been found by undercover investigators to be living in filth, denied veterinary care and basic necessities such as food and water, and resorting to cannibalism and self-mutilation), but also for pollution and environmental destruction. In order to keep the pelts from biodegrading (ie rotting) on the wearers back, the industry treats fur coats with harsh chemicals such as formaldehyde and hexavalent chromium, which arent only highly polluting, but can also be harmful to the wearers health. An independent study has proved that a mink coat will always be five times as harmful to the environment as a faux-fur coat.
Even so, animal lovers and environmentalist alike cannot close their eyes to the eco impact of furs vegan counterpart, faux fur. Mostly made from petroleum-derived plastics, faux fur can be highly toxic to produce. Furthermore, it contains microplastic particles that contaminate waterways whenever the fur is washed (this issue can be helped by adding a GuppyFriend washbag when washing synthetics in the washing machine the washbag contains particles that capture the microplastics and keep them from reaching waterways). Faux fur is also non-biodegradable, further adding to its status as an environmental villain.
But maybe today, conscious fashionistas no longer have to choose between two evils. French faux-fur artisans Ecopel are revolutionising the faux-fur landscape to provide options that are both kinder to the planet and the animals. Today, Ecopel supplies some of the most prominent brands in the world that use faux fur, and their luxurious offering is produced with a closed-loop technology, meaning that the water and chemicals used in its production are re-used. This way, a circular approach to fashion is prioritised and waste is minimised.
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But Ecopel are aware of faux furs image problems when it comes to environmental impact and they are at the forefront of a new faux-fur industry that aims to be more eco-friendly. The company is currently experimenting with recycled faux fur: they have developed a system at their mills in Asia where they collect post-consumer plastic bottles with the goal to transform them into a luxurious faux-fur material, helping to minimise the plastic waste crisis as well as provide a durable faux fur fabric that is kinder to the planet than newly produced fur, whether it is real or faux.
Faux fur, and other synthetics, have the potential to be part of a closed-loop system that isnt possible for animal-derived fabrics, says Ecopel Communications Manager Arnaud Brunois. Millions more animals will always have to be brought to life to keep the trade alive.
Arnaud Brunois also has no doubt that animal fur can never be anything other than unsustainable: Its false to imagine that animal fur can ever be sustainable in any shape or form: in Finland, the factory farming of foxes for the fur industry is responsible for 10% of ammonia emissions, a contributor to air pollution with a documented effect on human health. A fur coat is loaded with petrochemicals this is why it lasts, not because its natural.
Another common narrative from the animal fur industry is that faux fur is made from plastic and we all know the harm that plastic does to the environment. But that is no longer the case when considering Ecopels latest venture: a plant-based faux fur. Very recently, the company premiered KOBA, a faux fur partly made from corn-based ingredients from the biofuel industry, incorporating the Sorona technology developed by Dupont. This bio-based faux fur means using 30% less energy and emitting 63% less greenhouse gases than traditional faux fur production. Stella McCartney premiered a coat made from KOBA, worn by supermodel Natalia Vodianova, which won the Innovation Award at the PETA Fashion Awards in 2019.
As for the future, Arnaud Brunois believes its a balance: We need to fight against an over-idealisation of natural fibres and against the techno-phobia linked to synthetics. But of course, we need to find solutions to reduce environmental impact while remaining animal-friendly.
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Feature image supplied by Ecopel.