With so many major fashion labels ditching animal fur, the once-prized material is now outdated.
London Fashion Week (LFW) takes place every September, but this year's showcase of top designers from around the world will be a bit different. After surveying participating designers to see what materials they'd be using, the British Fashion Council announced that LFW is the first of the major fashion weeks to be fur-free.
This follows increasing pressure from animal welfare groups. The number of anti-fur protesters at LFW rose from 25 in 2016 to 250 in 2017, and earlier this year a petition with more than 110,000 signatures triggered a debate in Parliament as to whether or not fur imports should be banned. In other words, it's a hot topic in the UK right now.
Many leading fashion brands have already taken an anti-fur stance, with Gucci phasing out all fur-containing pieces in its spring-summer 2018 collection. Burberry announced it was going fur-free (and no longer destroying unsold products!) just in time for its new creative director's debut at LFW this year. Versace, Armani, Calvin Klein, Givenchy, Hugo Boss, Tom Ford, and Ralph Lauren have made similar commitments.
Going fur-free is not an official policy of the British Fashion Council, as its chief executive Caroline Rush says it does “not define or control the creative process of the designers” showing their collections (via the Guardian). But some, including singer Paloma Faith, hope this will change. Faith has teamed up with PETA to write a letter to the Fashion Council, asking the organization to take a stance on fur:
"'The BFC shouldn’t be endorsing a material whose production is deemed so cruel that it is outlawed in the UK,' referring to the ban on fur farming which was implemented in the UK in 2003, despite the import of animal fur remaining legal."
While Faith's view is shared by many, simply ditching fur for synthetic faux fur is not as simple as it seems. As I've stated before on TreeHugger, current vegan alternatives are mostly plastic-based, which makes them terrible for the environment, both when produced and disposed of, and consequently bad for animals. Rachel Stott, creative researcher at The Future Laboratory, in speaking to the Guardian last month about Helsinki Fashion Week's recent decision to ban leather, gave one of the most comprehensive explanations I've read so far:
“Fashion brands should be commended for taking steps towards a cruelty-free supply chain, but the elimination of all animal products, regardless of whether they are ethically sourced, sends out a confusing message... It can give rise to low-value synthetic alternatives such as plastic-based PVC or ‘pleather’, which harbours its own environmental and ethical issues.
“The manufacturing processes used to create these involve toxic chemicals and cause pollution in surrounding rivers and landfill sites. Currently there is no safe way to produce or dispose of PVC products, therefore consumers can be misled into thinking ‘vegan’ is entirely environmentally friendly.”
Don't get me wrong: I fully support an end to cruel fur farming and the killing of animals for their furs or hides, but we cannot substitute plastic-based products and assume there is an overall environmental benefit. It's more complicated than that.
Sustainably-minded designers could embrace materials like Pinatex, made from pineapple leaf fibers, or Modern Meadow, a bio-fabricated leather made from collagen-producing yeast, or MycoWorks, a leather-like material grown from mushrooms. The point is, green alternatives do exist, and no doubt more will be developed, but they have yet to become mainstream.
LFW's announcement is a sign of the times, that people are no longer content to consume mindlessly and want to understand the story behind the sourcing of materials. I wouldn't be surprised to see this catch on among other Fashion Weeks.