by Kate Radin and Layla Hopkins
Photography by Angela Wang
The saying goes that there are three sides to every story: side one, side two and the truth. While the verdict on this may be hard to determine, the fashion industry has once again found itself victim of a bitter divide: are you for or faux?
For centuries, fur has been used for practical reasons, such as keeping people warm during harsh winters. As society progressed, fur became less of a necessity for survival and more of a luxury statement—a statement that not all companies and consumers agree needs to be made.
Fur is a $40 billion industry as of 2015, According to the International Fur Trade Federation (IFTF). In 2011, the fur industry was worth about $15.6 billion—meaning it has more than doubled in four years. Fur is becoming haute again and both companies and consumers are responding.
From as far back as 1994, companies such as Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and H&M Group have declared themselves fur free in efforts to promote a humane business plan, throwing around terms such as ‘ethical’ and ‘environmentally conscious.’ Other brands, such as Fendi, Gucci and Alice + Olivia, are very public about their use of fur.
“The reality is that in an ideological battle, you’re never going to win,” Mike Moser, the British Fur Trade Association’s chief executive, told the Business of Fashion in an interview in 2015. “Fur’s an easy target because fur is still seen as a preserve of the super-wealthy.”
Pamela Paquin owns Petite Mort Fur, a Boston-based fur company. Some have deemed the company’s products as “ethical fur” because of their practices—they take road kill, what Paquin calls “accidental fur,” and utilize it for their garments instead of actively slaughtering animals.
In her 20s, Paquin refused to wear fur and was an active supporter of PETA. Now, she wants to standardize accidental fur and help “bring humanity” back into consumption patterns. She notes heat retention, durability and fur’s overall look as reasons why it remains popular—despite many brands’ inhumane sourcing.
“Once I started wearing my fur I understood immediately why so many disassociate from the sourcing,” said Paquin. “It’s ridiculously warm and tactile.”
Paquin recognizes that the animals utilized in her production do suffer when they die, but notes the distinction that it is not a purposeful act.
“Seeing the study from the humane society,” said Paquin. “With the number of 365 million animals lost on the roads which are often the very same species caged and killed each year globally such as mink, fox, coyote, beaver and raccoon. That was and remains nonsensical.”
To Paquin, replacing the estimated 60 million caged animals that are annually killed for fur with animals killed on roads is “an obvious solution.”
Fur doesn’t always mean mink coats—while it’s often seen as a luxury, high street brands and stores popular across BU’s campus also utilize fur in their products.
“I’m surprised about Free People, Urban Outfitters and Madewell because those are kind of the hippie companies in clothing,” said Sydney Foy (COM ’19) “I would think they would be more in support of animal rights and animal cruelty just based on the vision I have of them.”
Canada Goose jackets, one item notorious across BU’s campus, recently faced scrutiny due to their use of coyote fur in their lining.
“I usually don’t consider if a brand or company uses fur, I’m kind of indifferent on that matter,” said Lauren Carbone (Questrom ’17), who owns a Canada Goose coat. “I was not fully aware of Canada Goose’s fur policies when I first purchased my coat, but I have been told about it after the fact.”
The company dedicates a large portion of its FAQ to justifying their use of fur and sourcing methods. They cite reasons such as coyotes being “highly abundant” and “a pest as they attack livestock, endangered prey species, pets and sometimes people” in Canada, where they use fur trappers to source their fur. They consider their fur policies ethical and responsible.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) disagrees and a graphic video they posted on Facebook of a trapped coyote went viral. It has been viewed over 16 million times on Facebook alone.
“I don’t think that’s fair justification,” said Carbone. “[Coyotes] are still animals and creatures. They need to have a better rationale or think about changing their product.”
A number of companies have changed their rationale. After an expose by PETA on angora (rabbit wool) sourcing, over 100 companies, including Topshop, ASOS, Forever 21, Gap, Inc. and Anthropologie, stopped the use of angora in their products.
Notably, UGG Australia, a company once known for using angora in their boots, was also included on the list and began to only use sheepskin. In a statement on their website, UGG says that it only sources from tanneries in countries with regulated treatment of animals.
“UGG® only selects suppliers who meet our strict standards of ethical sourcing, including animal welfare,” the statement says. “UGG® requires all of our suppliers to use humane animal treatment in order to prevent animal abuse and animal cruelty. UGG® believes that no sheep should ever be raised for their sheepskin alone.”
Brittany Nierman (COM ’17) has had UGGs since she was in fifth grade and notes that she’s accustomed to them, so she has not thought about the topic as much.
“If it was something like a big fur jacket or like a mink coat,” said Nierman. “Then I [would] stop and think about how it was made since the use of fur is so in your face.”
She notes that the difference between fake UGGs and faux-UGGs (‘FUGGs’) is an obvious one, primarily due to comfort. “[Knock-off] brands usually wear down more quickly,” said Nierman. “And don’t have as much of a “walking on a cloud” feel.”
What remains clear is fur doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
“Bullies are bullies,” said Paquin. “Those in the fur industry take it out on animals, those against the fur [industry], I’m sorry, take it out on other people. Neither is an acceptable way forward for those who advocate compassion and kindness.”