In the days following the Fall/Winter 2014 season of New York Fashion Week, press outlets and fans alike noticed a strong resurgence in fur and animal skins on the catwalks. From ombré-dyed bomber jackets at Marc Jacobs to thick furry frocks in neutral tones at Michael Kors, it seems as though fur is back to its spot as one of fashion’s most coveted materials. That being said, perhaps the time has come for designers to ditch the fur and leather for chic alternatives. But can it really be done across the entire industry, and should it? I am not so certain.
Fur and animal skins have been an integral part of the fashion industry, dating back centuries. However, with the growth of animal rights organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and increasing worries about human impact on the planet, there has been scrutiny in regards to the use of animals for clothing from a moral and environmental standpoint. Most people know PETA for their bold demonstrations outside fashion events and their past attacks on Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, an outspoken advocate of fur.
Regardless, the organization does raise a valid argument — the fur industry, as well as the trading of leather and other exotic skins is not humane in it current practice, especially when carried out on such a large scale perpetuated by the momentum of designer collections. Disregarding PETA’s moral objections — which can be taken as solely subjective — the fur trade is not a sustainable practice, as it pollutes thousands of gallons of water, consumes valuable plant resources and fossil fuels and releases toxic waste chemicals into the atmosphere.
The fashion industry execs and designers know this, but one must consider the basics of supply and demand. If consumers want to buy it, designers will make it. On the other hand, designer Stella McCartney has made quite a name for herself without the use of leather or fur in any of her designs and she follows humane methods when using other animal-derived products including wool. Animal skins are not a necessity of life and if designers suddenly stopped using them demand would slowly decrease.
However, if the commercial need for furs diminished, so would the jobs of thousands of workers involved in the trade across the world. The animal skins trade is lucrative for the farmers who raise and produce the goods, even with the health risks posed by farmers when handling the animals. Similar to the meat industry, there are many different facets of the issue to consider outside of simply morals or the environment. Individuals and world economies are involved. Animal skins are luxury items and yield a significant amount of money in stores. Think of a fur coat as a burger — if companies simply stopped making them, their absence would make a monetary impact. Of course, a burger is much cheaper and more popular than a mink stole in the consumer market, but both are controversial items and are so ingrained in human society that removing them would make a sizable difference.
I would not mind replacing fur with alternative fabrics. They are usually cheaper to buy and produce than their animal counterparts. It is worth noting that I am a vegetarian and often presumed to be anti-fur, though I am not. I own a coat with a raccoon fur collar and half of my shoes are made from leather. My explanation? I buy leather and fur goods because I like them. Fashion is a complicated business, and so is the fur trade. For the same reasons that I do not condemn meat-eaters, I do not condemn the production and sale of animal skins. Both industries involve the use of animals, but with the inclusion of better work practices for animals and handlers it is possible for both to continue in a way that is more sustainable than the current model. After all, there is more to fashion than clothes, and removing animals from fashion altogether will not come without a price.
Gianna Collier-Pitts is the Violet Vision Editor of the Washington Square News. Email her at email@example.com.
This is in response to an article that appeared in the Wednesday, Feb. 19 print edition of Washington Square News. It can be accessed via nyunews.com