Fur Clothing Bans – Top 3 Pros and Cons
Fur is the “fine, soft, hairy covering or coat of mammals that has been important to humankind throughout history, chiefly for warmth but also for decorative and other purposes.”
Of course, the first function of fur is to protect the animal. “True furs” have both ground hair, a dense undercoat that maintains the animal’s body temperature, and longer guard hair that protects the ground hair from weather. Some animal furs that do not contain both components are still sold as garment furs, including pony and Persian lamb, which have no ground or guard hair respectively.
Animals used for fur include but are not limited to: beaver, bobcat, chinchilla, coyote, ermine, fisher, fox, lynx, marten, mink, muskrat, nutria, opossum, rabbit, raccoon, sable, and sheep. More than 80% of commercial fur is farmed, while about 20% is wild.
Humans have used animal furs as clothing since at least the Pleistocene Epoch. A Sep. 2021 study reports that bone tools 90,000 to 120,000 years old, likely used for fur and leather working, have been found in Contrebandiers Cave, Morocco. The presence of golden jackal, sand fox, and wildcat bones with tool marks stemming from skinning techniques further confirms that Homo Sapiens were, at a very early age in human history, using animals for their pelts. “This new study really pushes back [the date of] the first good archaeological evidence for the manufacture of clothing,” says Ian Gilligan, researcher and author of author of Climate, Clothing and Agriculture in Prehistory, “and it’s coinciding nicely with the beginning of the last Ice Age about 120,000 years ago, so I think that’s really significant. It’s precisely at the time when you’d expect to see the first clothing for protection from cold in context of the glacial cycles.”
By the 10th century, fur was worn as a status symbol in addition to warmth. To the Vikings, fur from beavers, which are not native to Denmark, were “exotic.” As Luise Ørsted Brandt of the University of Copenhagen and colleagues explain, beaver fur was not only “an important trade item in 10th-Century Denmark” but also ”an obvious visual statement of affluence and social status, similar to high-end fashion in today’s world.”
Furs have remained a status symbol ever since. Astrakhan fur, for example, is made from newborn or fetal Karakul lambs of Central Asia; it is named after the Astrakhan traders from the Volga River region who introduced the fur to Russia. It is one of the most expensive furs in the world. The most desirable are the black furs culled from fetal lambs killed 15-30 days before birth (the mother ewe is also killed in the process). Astrakhan fur was popular for centuries in the Middle East and Central Asia before becoming popular among Victorians. U.S. First Lady Florence Harding paid approximately £6,000 for an Astrakhan fur in the 1920s (about $538,413 in 2023 U.S. dollars). Astrakhan fur was used as recently as 2007 in an Oscar de la Renta collection that featured “astrakhan coats trimmed with wolverine.”
Though not all fur was or is as expensive as Astrakhan, the exclusivity and cost of real fur led to the creation and popularity of faux (fake) furs (also called synthetic or textile furs) in the 1910s. Faux fur was first made from pile fabric, which has a looping yarn and is used to make corduroy and velvet. Designers then began making faux fur out of silk and synthetic pile fabrics, paving the way for furs “made from synthetic polymeric fibers such as acrylic, modacrylic, and/or polyester, all of which are essentially forms of plastic; these fibers are made from chemicals derived from coal, air, water, petroleum and limestone.”
Activism against using real fur gained traction in the 1960s and 1970s with celebrities like Doris Day, who spoke out against real fur and in favor of faux fur in a 1971 Timme & Son ad in New York Magazine: “Killing an animal to make a coat is a sin…. A woman gains status when she refuses to see anything killed to be put on her back. Then she’s truly beautiful.”
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) recruited the band The Go-Gos for a 1990 campaign in which the women posed nude with a banner reading: “We’d Rather Go-Go Naked Than Wear Fur.” PETA continued its “naked” campaign for another 30 years, partnering with an array of celebrities including Christy Turlington, Pamela Anderson, Tyra Banks, Taraji P. Henson, Steve-O, Dennis Rodman, and Kim Basinger.
In the late 1980s, the fur industry was worth a record $1.9 billion, but faced with fierce anti-fur campaigns and declining sales, the industry has since slumped dramatically. By the mid-1990s production of mink in the United States had dropped 40%. As documented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there were only 351 mink farms in 2000, which was a sharp decrease from the 2,836 farms recorded in the early 1940s. The COVID-19 pandemic dealt a further blow to the industry. In 2020, all of Denmark’s 17 million mink were culled due to a coronavirus outbreak, a safety measure that was duplicated in other countries. As of 2021, only about 100 mink farms remained in the United States.
PETA’s “naked” campaign ended in 2020 with the daughter of former campaign model Kim Basinger, Ireland Basinger-Baldwin, posing nude behind “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” banners. As explained by PETA Senior Vice President Dan Mathews, who created the campaign, “Nearly every top designer has shed fur, California has banned it, Queen Elizabeth II has renounced it, Macy’s is closing its fur salons, and now, the largest fur auction house in North America [Toronto-based North American Fur Auctions (NAFA)] has filed for bankruptcy.” Hundreds of fashion houses, brands, and stores have discontinued the use and sale of fur, including: Alexander McQueen, Banana Republic, Coach, Dolce & Gabbana, Jimmy Choo, Macy’s, Tommy Hilfiger, and Zara.
However, as of June 2023, some luxury brands still use real animal fur. These brands include Dior, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, and Carolina Herrera. Meanwhile, UGG, maker of the ubiquitous sheepskin boots, and other companies use fur but do so in a way deemed sustainable, either because the whole animal is used or other measures are taken, such as not using vulnerable species.
California became the first state to ban the sale of new furs with the passage of Assembly Bill 44 in 2019. Taking effect on Jan. 1, 2023, the law banned the sale of new fur garments in the state and into the state from online sales, but it did not ban the resale of vintage fur, the wearing and ownership of fur, or the production of animal products like leather or shearling (the materials used in UGG boots). Penalties include a $500 fine for the first violation, $750 for a second violation, and $1,000 for subsequent violations. The statewide ban was preceded by local bans in West Hollywood (2013), Berkeley (2017), Los Angeles (2018), and San Francisco (2018). While many may believe sunny California is too warm for wearing fur, that hadn’t been the case prior to the ban. As the Humane Society notes, “U.S. retail sales of fur garments totaled just over $574 million, with most sales occurring in California at just under $129 million, followed by New York with almost $115 million. Together, California and New York made up nearly 43% of all fur sales in the country in 2017.”
In the U.S., at least 12 cities outside of California have also banned new fur sales. In 2021, Israel became the first country, and thus far the only one, to impose a nationwide ban on new fur sales.
Should Fur Clothing Be Banned?
Raising animals for fur is inhumane.
“Fur is an example of how we have confined wild animals to small, filthy cages in their millions in order to produce frivolous fashion items, the production of which is also destroying the planet. That’s why issues such as fur matter, and it’s so important that we stop supporting this cruel industry,” says Jenny Canham of Four Paws UK.
Indeed, animals farmed for fur are kept in cramped cages that are much smaller than the animals’ natural roaming distances. For example, Arctic foxes naturally roam within a 12-mile family territory and can migrate nearly 3,000 miles. The cages the foxes are kept in on fur farms are smaller than one square meter (about 10 square feet).
Animal rights groups say the animals are frequently sick, suffering from infected eyes and wounds, limb and mouth deformities, obesity, overgrown nails, and stress behaviors including pacing, repetitive nodding, self-mutilation, and cannibalism.
Caging animals like Arctic foxes is even more cruel because they “simply don’t have anything to do. They are predators who haven’t really been domesticated. They’ve been grown in these conditions for less than a hundred years, so they have all of their natural instincts left,” explains Kristo Muurimaa of Justice for Animals.
Fur animals live extraordinarily short lives and are generally killed before the animals are a year old. Animals might be gassed (which is very distressing for mink in particular because, as Fur Free Alliance explains, they are “semi-aquatic and highly evolved physiologically to hold their breath”) or electrocuted through the mouth and anus. The Humane Society International has also filmed fur animals being killed with brutal blows to the head, by having their necks broken, and via other physical attacks.
Even wild-caught fur animals suffer painful deaths after being snared by rudimentary traps to await, without food or water, the hunter who may then beat the wounded animal to death.
“The fur trade would prefer that the grim realities of fur farming were out of sight and out of mind, but… we owe it to these animals not to turn away, and to stop being complicit in their suffering,” says Claire Bass of the Humane Society International/UK.Read More
The fur industry contributes to the destruction of the environment.
Fur is “an environmental nightmare. Most fur is produced on fur farms that are factory farms, and factory farms are one of the worst offenders when it comes to pollution and emissions that cause climate change and producing toxic chemicals that leach into waterways and soil,” says Ashley Byrne, PETA’s associate director.
Mink, for example, produce millions of pounds of feces annually, much of which pollutes local waterways. Feces-polluted water has been linked to eye infections, digestive ailments, and stunted growth in humans. In Denmark, killing over 19 million mink for fur annually releases more than 8,000 pounds of ammonia into the air. Airborne ammonia is linked to human respiratory disease.
The fur industry is one of the world’s top five worst toxic-metal polluters thanks to dressing the fur. Dressing is the process of preparing the fur for use, which can involve a number of toxic chemicals including ammonia, formaldehyde, hydrogen peroxide, and bleach. Toxic metals are especially problematic because they are not biodegradable, accumulate in the human body, and have been linked to DNA damage in humans.
Further, the fur industry decreases biodiversity. The fur animals themselves are culled unnecessarily when trapped in the wild, which can lead to protected status or even extinction. The sea mink was once prized by trappers and is now extinct because of the fur trade. Plus, up to 67% of what the traps catch are non-fur animals, which are often discarded as “trash” because they are not of use to the trapper.
Then there is the situation in Louisiana, in which the nutria, a rodent often described as an “overgrown guinea pig, with a rat’s tail,” was brought to the state from South America in the 1930s to increase the fur trapping trade. The trade did increase for a time, but the nutria literally ate “an area approximately the size of Delaware,” not only destroying the land but denying habitats to all of the animals, bugs, and plants that lived on the land. Nutrias also damage roadways and levees by tunneling under them.
Along with nutria, non-native species were also introduced in Europe for the fur trade, including American mink, raccoon dogs, and muskrats. American mink that have escaped from fur farms now account for 80% of wild mink in Denmark, and they devastate the environment, killing native birds, rodents, and amphibians.Read More
Banning fur clothing, real or fake, will help legitimize humane fashion alternatives.
Fur farming and wild-trapping are not sustainable or humane; neither is making faux fur from plastics. Wearing fur, real or fake, vintage or new, simply perpetuates unsustainable industries and quashes innovation because fashion isn’t being forced to find sustainable options.
Globally, “fast fashion” produces 80 billion pieces of clothing annually, 85% of which end up in landfills. In the United States, 20% of clothing is never worn. In the United Kingdom, that percentage is a whopping 50%. And fashion emits 10% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions along with 20% of wastewater worldwide.
Fur sales bans are one way to force fashion brands and consumers to make better choices. Fashion editor Jenna Igneri says it’s easy to “opt for another sustainable outerwear option, such as a non-animal-fur coat made of recycled materials or vintage wool. If you can’t resell Grandma’s mink with a good conscience, arguing that whoever wears it next will be perpetuating the problem, know that there are plenty of other options than simply keeping it packed away in the deepest depths of your closet. For example… there are organizations that repurpose old furs as bedding for rescued wildlife, which is a great (and… much cuter) option.”
Fashion needs a sustainable overhaul, and fur is a good place to start. “Fashion is often said to both reflect and lead culture — the industry has a once-in-history opportunity to demonstrate that creativity and respect for boundaries can lead to authentic sustainability,” says former Chief Operating Officer of Timberland Kenneth P. Pucker.Read More
Animals raised for fur are treated humanely.
“North America produces the finest quality farmed furs in the world. To achieve this, farmers must provide excellent nutrition and care for their animals,” reports Truth about Fur. There are always exceptions and rule breakers in every industry, but “national codes of practice and certification programs provide assurance that farmed furbearing animals receive excellent care. The standards of care for farmed mink and fox are based on many years of scientific research.”
Animals like mink only travel long distances searching for food and, once food is found, they like to snuggle in their dens. Because the farmers provide mink with nutritious food all the time, the animals are able to stay cozy without having to hunt or compete with other animals for scarce food.
Foxes and mink are also protected from parasites and other diseases by wire mesh floors through which feces can fall. In “natural” enclosures, the animals were too close to their waste, which spread disease. Even truck tires are disinfected before the vehicles enter the farmyard to protect the animals.
The American Veterinary Medical Association sets guidelines for the most humane euthanasia of the animals, and Fur Commission USA follows those rules. As Truth about Fur explains, “While most farmed animals must eventually be killed, it is our responsibility to ensure that this is done humanely, with as little stress as possible to the animals…. From an animal-welfare perspective, it is important that fur animals can be euthanized in their barns by people that feed and care for them daily.”
The idea of a steel trap mangling an animal is outdated and wrong. Fur animal trappers use lethal traps, designed to kill the animal quickly or leg/foot hold traps, which barely injure the animal while it is held for fewer than 24 hours before the animal is killed with a small caliber firearm. The restraining traps are the same ones used by researchers that catch and then release animals after tagging and studying them.
However, the humane treatment of fur animals is left to the farms. The Animal Welfare Act, which protects other animals, expressly exempts fur animals. Instead of regulating or banning sales, governments should simply ensure animals are treated humanely by the fur farmers.Read More
Fur alternatives are bad for the environment, while a humane fur industry is sustainable.
A well-regulated and humane fur industry is far better than the plastics industry whose products are used quickly and then dumped in landfills or the ocean. Faux fur is “typically composed of petroleum-based synthetics and plastics, which pollute our waterways with micro plastics and end up in landfills for centuries to come.”
Some producers of faux furs say their products are “developed using recycled plastic, and that’s great; however, it’s still plastic,” says Mark Oaten, CEO of the International Fur Federation, who also questioned “how it’s possible for a chemical-based product [faux fur] to be more sustainable than a natural-based product.” Furthermore, faux fur sheds, releasing more tiny, plastic fibers into the environment. Real fur also sheds, but the hairs are biodegradable.
A study comparing natural and faux fur coats concluded that the life cycle of a faux fur coat had 300% greater risk of damaging the ecosystem, 169% greater risk of adverse impact on resource consumption, 129% greater risk of contributing to climate change, and a negligible 3% greater risk of damaging human health.
The fur industry can also have the positive environmental impact of controlling the destruction of invasive species. For example, nutrias destroy up to 25 square miles of land annually, costing billions of dollars in Louisiana alone where “an area approximately the size of Delaware has already disappeared into the Gulf of Mexico.” New Orleans designers who use nutria fur for garments and accessories are thereby helping the environment.
Similarly, some producers are using the fur from roadkill to make garments. Pamela Paquin of Petite Mort Fur says, “Here is a resource that’s going to be there, whether or not we use them. We can turn our noses up at them, drive by, treat them with disgust, disdain or we can stop and treat them with respect, and use what’s there.” Using culled invasive species or animals killed on roadways provides a sustainable real fur option for designers and customers.
Finally, responsible farmers are making sure fur animal farming is sustainable by feeding the animals leftovers from human food production. They also use what remains of the skinned animals as well as their bedding and manure for other products, including mink oil, organic fertilizers, and biofuels.Read More
Consumers are opting for non-fur alternatives without bans, which harm related industries in indigenous communities and the developing world.
Consumers have been moving away from fur without bans. The sales of fur have naturally fallen as consumers have looked elsewhere for fashion statements and status symbols. Only about 100 mink fur farms remain in the United States, down from 2,836 in the 1940s.
“As consumers, all we can do is to put in the work and do our own research when it comes to our choice in sartorial purchases. When you factor in what effects an article of clothing can have on the planet, animals, people, and ourselves, would you still feel good wearing it?” asks fashion editor Jenna Igneri.
Leaving the decision to buy fur to consumers also enables more thoughtful legislation that considers ethical farming and fur as a byproduct of other legal industries. Many communities, especially in Africa, China, and Vietnam, survive by sourcing leather and fur discarded by the meat industry and, in turn, producing leather and fur garments. Banning fur would remove a legitimate source of income and work for those communities, while leaving the fur to rot instead of being used.
Additionally, fur is a crucial product in many indigenous cultures and economies. The anti-fur activists and others pushing bans are “not thinking about the damage that they’re doing to… small Indigenous communities where economic development opportunities are scarce,” says Johanna Tiemessen, Manager of the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment in the Northwest Territories of Canada. While many bans exclude indigenous communities, the bans irreparably harm sales to the non-native population.Read More
1. Should new fur sales be banned? Why or why not?
2. In most conversations about new fur sales bans, indigenous communities are exempted from the bans. But should they be exempt? Shouldn’t they be forced to be as environmentally conscious as everyone else? Why or why not?
3. Some argue that vintage real fur and new fake fur send the wrong message and should also be banned. What do you think? Explain your answer.
1. Analyze California’s fur ban legislation.
3. Examine fur alternatives with journalist Jenni Avins.
4. Consider how you felt about the issue before reading this article. After reading the pros and cons on this topic, has your thinking changed? If so, how? List two to three ways. If your thoughts have not changed, list two to three ways your better understanding of the “other side of the issue” now helps you better argue your position.