Kering, parent brand to Gucci, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen and other well known fashion houses has announced a company-wide ban on the use of fur. Fashion house Oscar de la Renta promised to stop selling fur after Billie Eilish made it a condition of her wearing the label to the 2021 Met Gala. This surge of companies banning the cruel, violent and frankly out-of-date practice of breeding and killing minks, foxes and rabbits for their fur has once again brought the topic of ethical fashion to the forefront of the industry. However, since faux-fur alternatives have been popular and even the norm for years, fashion brands should not expect ethical and sustainability credentials from banning the use of fur. They must do more to combat the ethical issues inherent in the fashion industry, before we can believe in a brand’s commitment to animal and environmental welfare.

“Why should we praise fashion brands for something that is essentially a business move? Banning fur has become a highly performative display”

Whilst the BBC reported in 2020 that Europe’s fur industry had taken a significant knock following mass outbreaks of COVID-19, and the pandemic made the future of the industry even more uncertain, the demand for fur has been declining rapidly for years. Fur farming has been banned in the UK since 2003, and many young consumers have grown up in a world where the wearing of animal fur is seen as distasteful, if not unacceptable. This younger generation is driving change in the industry, with companies forced to appeal to those who will soon become their primary clients, shown by Billie Eilish’s highly public threatened boycott. Increased awareness of the harm that factory farming fur does to the environment is also putting pressure on the fashion industry to change their practices.

In most cases, the banning of fur is to avoid backlash or boycott. Images of blood-stained anti-fur protesters crashing runways and luxury stores became frequent in the 2010s, often embarrassing the labels and subjecting them to ethical scrutiny. However, it is perhaps the threat of clients turning away, put off by a brand using fur that has had more impact. Fashion brands will usually act in their own commercial interests, using a fur ban to cover their backs and ensure they appeal to the widest market possible - why should we then praise them for something that is essentially a business move?

Banning fur has become a highly performative display of ethics done for profit, as brands claim to care about sustainability and animal welfare whilst ignoring the more complex and deeply rooted issues in the industry. This reflects a growing trend for using buzzwords and publicity stunts to capitalise on the growing market for sustainable and ethical clothing. Whilst high-fashion companies might do this by banning fur, fast fashion companies may release small collections of ‘sustainable’ clothing whilst continuing to over-produce and contribute to a throwaway culture. For example H&M’s ‘Conscious Collection’ - in their words, ‘at least 50% of each piece is made from more sustainable materials’. Here only a fraction of a fraction of their output is sustainably made, whilst the brand continues to produce cheaply made, unethical clothing for the majority of their sales.

Banning fur is now one of these easy ways for brands to appeal to the ethical fashion market. Not only does it distract from ethical issues, but it shows the hypocrisy of their attitude towards animal welfare. Whilst fur is now widely no longer socially acceptable - we seem to hold fluffy animals in higher regard - most high fashion brands are still happy to use leather, wool, and other materials that cost animal lives, and contribute to producing alarming amounts of fossil fuels.


Mountain View

Fast Fashion, Feminism and Molly Mae

Why praise these brands for stopping the production of fur then, when there are others who have been consistently committed to animal welfare? Good quality alternatives have been around for years, and are now more readily available than ever. Luxury London-based brand Shrimps founded in 2013 became famous for its faux-fur outerwear, and has continued to provide cruelty-free alternatives to fur and leather. Launched in 2015, Jakke, also a London label known for colourful faux-fur coats, uses no animals whatsoever in its clothing production. Even as far back as 2001, fashion house Stella McCartney was committed to making products without leather, fur or feathers.

The announcement of Kering to ban the use of fur therefore, falls a little flat. Brands should be focused on sustainability and animal welfare in a way that not only seeks to score points with consumers, but that shows true commitment. Much more needs to be done to develop effective and sustainable alternatives to fur, leather and wool, so that animal cruelty and factory farming can be removed from the industry. In 2021, we need to demand more of the biggest fashion companies, and they need to be prepared to do more than what has become an ethical publicity stunt.