For years now, consumers and brands alike have been eschewing furs and leathers, and with the quality of faux fur and leather having improved significantly, it’s hard not to. Gucci dropped fur from their lines as of Spring/Summer 2018, Versace in March 2018, Vivian Westwood in 2007, and Calvin Klein as far back as 1994. Any self-declared animal lover wouldn’t disagree with the fact that harming animals for fashion and beauty is wrong, but is faux indeed the way to go?
FAUX AS WE KNOW IT
Faux fur can be almost indistinguishable from the real thing, with the same luxurious softness with the bonus of being far easier to dye louder, more vibrant colours. Faux leather offers the same supple smoothness and can last a long time if well maintained.
WHERE THE PROBLEM ARISES
The problem with faux fur is that though we hail it for saving animals, we are merely taking a more roundabout way of harming them -and ourselves-. The fashion industry is responsible for 20 per cent of global wastewater. Half a million tonnes of plastic microfibres are released into the water each year from people simply washing their clothes, and 40 per cent of those microfibres will end up in the waterways because of how tiny they are. The microfibres are made up of the very stuff spun together to create faux fur. These microplastics end up in not only end up in the stomachs of sea creatures but also work their way up the food chain to land animals and eventually to humans.
Chemicals used in making faux leathers are known carcinogens. Humans can absorb certain chemicals through their skin, but there isn’t enough evidence to conclude that faux leather will cause cancer. It can, however, cause the same problems for the environment as faux fur. It never biodegrades, slowly breaking apart into smaller and smaller pieces until it too becomes a microplastic.
ALTERNATIVES TO THE ALTERNATIVES
It’s hard to find a true alternative to faux fur, so we turn to the various forms ethical fur can take. Whether or not you wear fur is a personal choice, but if one chooses to it’s essential to acknowledge the sources: an animal.
Wild fur is considered by some to be a better choice than fur farm animals. Similar to free-range chickens versus caged, the theory is that an animal that spent its life in the wild was happier and healthier than one that spent its life in a cage. This ethical fur belief can also encompass the hunting of invasive species. Invasive species wreak havoc on local ecosystems, so one could argue that trapping an invasive animal serves the greater good of the ecosystem. Fur from roadkill is another solution, though a little bit shocking at first! Millions of animals a year die from being hit by vehicles, and they are disposed of or left to decompose, so brands out there are using pelts from those animals to create fur fashion without the slaughter. Vintage or repurposed fur is most likely the most straightforward and cost-effective. Fur was predominant for years, so there are plenty of coats, hats, muffs and stoles in second-hand and vintage shops, as well as the attics of older relatives! These can be worn as-is or turn into new garments.
Unlike alternatives for fur, options for leather are plenty! Some materials we’re already familiar with in other forms, such as cork, which is water-resistant and easily recycled; recycled rubber; and waxed cotton, which is an excellent alternative to patent leather. There have been impressive innovations in leather alternatives made from natural resources. Fruit-based leathers such as Piñatex, which is a leather alternative made of cellulose fibres extracted from pineapple leaves; mushroom leather, which is biodegradable and can be grown to size; and wine or coffee leathers, created from the by-product of these making them biodegradable as well.
FAUX OR NO?
All this isn’t to say that real furs and leathers are necessarily better. Furs come from animals that must be killed and skinned for us to wear them. Leather comes mainly from cows, using the skins left over from the slaughter process, but also sheep and pigs. It requires an immense amount of water, a pair of leather shoes has a water footprint (the amount of freshwater used in the production or supply of a good or service) of 3,626 gallons.
As you can see, there are pros and cons to both sides and how much each weigh depends on the individual. Faux fur and leather contribute to the problem of microplastics, but the real deal requires a lot of water for production as well as, of course, animal lives. There are a host of alternatives to classic faux leather but none for faux fur. Switching from real to faux may not be the be all end all solution, but more of a personal choice based on your values and what works best for your life. Instead of swaying one way or the other, perhaps changing the way both processes work is the solution or cutting it all out entirely to dress ourselves without real or faux. There most likely isn’t one solution, but one thing is clear: things have to change.