Chanel Ditches Furs and Animal Skins

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Public Domain. MaxPixel – Chanel signs outside a store in Monaco

No more crocodile skin handbags. Chanel is going cruelty-free in all future collections.

Chanel is the latest high-end fashion label to go cruelty-free. The luxury brand announced this week that it will ban furs and animal skins, including crocodile, lizard, snake, and stingray, from its collections. A spokeswoman for Chanel told CNN that it was impossible for the company to source animal products ethically:

"At Chanel, we are continually reviewing our supply chains to ensure they meet our expectations of integrity and traceability. In this context, it is our experience that it is becoming increasingly difficult to source exotic skins which match our ethical standards."

Why Did Chanel Change Now?

Karl Lagerfield, who has been creative director since 1983 when he took over from founder Coco Chanel, said that change is in the air, but that it was not "imposed" on the company: "It's a free choice." But no doubt the company has been influenced by a societal shift in people's attitudes toward furs and leathers. Chanel joins Gucci, Versace, Armani, Calvin Klein, Burberry, Michael Kors, Vivienne Westwood and others in choosing to phase out animal materials.

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is celebrating the announcement. It said in a statement,

"The champagne corks are popping at PETA, thanks to Chanel's announcement that it's kicking fur and exotic skins – including crocodile, lizard, and snake skin – to the curb. For decades, PETA has called on the brand to opt for luxury, cruelty-free fashion that no animal had to suffer and die for, and now it's time for other companies, like Louis Vuitton, to follow the lead of the iconic double C's and do the same."

What Cruelty-Free Actually Means

Chanel's path forward is not yet clear. The Independent reports that "it will work on developing new sustainable materials that have a low environmental impact, though Chanel has yet to clarify exactly what this will entail." Synthetic alternatives to fur and leather have come a long way in recent years to a point where "advancements in textiles have made faux fur and vegan leather nearly indistinguishable from animal pelts and skins" (PETA quote).

President of fashion, Bruno Pavlovsky, says it may take some time for the animal products to move through the distribution chain, but that new innovative products will eventually replace them that do not compromise on luxurious aesthetic standards.

I am all in support of going cruelty-free, but jumping aboard the petroleum-based alternatives ship is not quite so cut and dry. Plenty more research is needed into the long-term effects of plastic fake fur and 'pleather' on the environment and how these materials, too, can harm animals indirectly during production and following disposal. (Read: Vegan fashion is not always eco-friendly.) Hopefully Chanel's innovation will focus on truly sustainable alternatives that are plant-based and fully biodegradable. Now that sounds like luxury worth paying for.