Welcome back to benpechey.com dear reader. Today is a serious post, and there are mentions of animal cruelty and the fur trade, so if this is not the type of thing you like to read about, then please feel free to not read any further...
Fur, a controversial concept at best. Ask people about their opinions about fur and most take a deep intake of breath and say "ooo no, I could never wear fur". I am not sure if this a real opinion or what people think they should believe. I have always been on the side of fur. I have never seen an issue; I eat meat, wear leather, wear perfumes with ambergris within them and own a pair of genuine pony hair boots. A recent survey by the RSPCA, 95% of British women say that they would not wear fur. I wanted to find more out about fur, this was triggered by a Rich Brown Mink stole given to me by my Grandma. It belonged to my great grandmother and its life started in the 1950s. I instantly fell in love, but I began to question my own opinion of fur. It seems that in the UK the idea of fur is archaic and unnecessary. This is something that has never struck a chord with me, it is not that I am an uncaring person, but that perhaps I had never fully thought it through as a concept.
The facts of fur are somewhat astonishing. In just one year 21 million mink skins are sold within the fur industry. On average one mink skin is worth around £70, making the raw material of mink worth around £1.47 billion. This shows that there is no shortage of people willing to spend money on fur- but they aren't from England apparently. The fur market is predominantly based in Western and Eastern Europe, Russia and the Americas, where perceptions surrounding fur differ. It would appear that some countries rely on the fur trade, indeed 40% of Denmark's export is mink. In terms of popularity mink is right up there, with female pelts the most sought after. In Europe as well as mink; fox, racoon, chinchilla and rabbit fur is bought and used. This is mirrored in the US, but also Wild otter, Muskrat (a small beaver like rodent) lynx and wild red fox are bought and used. In Russia sable dominates the market (a sable is a type of marten similar to the Pine Marten in Europe, resembling an otter). And there is a trade of some polar furs such as seal, however this is not necessarily legal. Most furs used have been bred in Europe and America- most people believe more fur comes from China, however due to lack of regulations the fur qualities are poor.
Mink farming is heavily regulated in Europe, in the wild minks tend to be semi aquatic. However, mink used for fur is bred in captivity, their cages are calculated to a specific size (45cm high, 30cm wide and 90cm long) these must be adhered to: not just to stick to the regulations but also to ensure the quality of the pelts. Therefore it is within the mink farmer's interest to maintain the welfare of the animals to a high standard. The life span of a mink is around six months. Their death is as humane as can be expected when something is just killed for fur; they are gassed with carbon monoxide. Within 20 seconds they are unconscious and then they are gone. It is mass slaughter but it is essentially humane. The use of fox appears to be less humane. Unlike the mink, foxes find adaption to life in a cage much harder. There are horror stories of foxes gnawing and chewing their feet off and having oozing sores along their bodies from repeatedly rubbing the sides of their cages. Even when compared to mink, their death is rather unsavoury, they bite down on an electric current passed through a stick or a rod. It is instant but it doesn't seem to be painless.
Rabbits are slaughtered by the millions for meat, around the world. Fur from the rabbits was once considered a by-product of the meat industry (making it more palatable, almost like leather) however the rabbit-fur industry demands the thicker pelt of an older animal. Rabbits used for food are killed at around 12 weeks old, suggesting that rabbits are now just bred for fur. The United Nations reports that at least 1 billion rabbits are killed each year for their fur. They are kept in small cages, the regulation of these animals is not as closely watched as mink. The price of rabbit can be so low, some unscrupulous retailers have been known to use real rabbit and pass it off as fake for customers who like the look and feel but not the moral aspects, involved in fur.
However awful that may sound it is not the worst by far in my opinion. Astrakhan, a soft and tightly curled fleece which comes from lambs is highly controversial to say the least. The most 'desirable' form is from a lamb 15-30 days away from being born therefore is sourced by killing both the ewe and the unborn lamb. There is no other use for the animals and once the pelt is removed both mother and child are destroyed. For me, the method of sourcing Astrakhan and the lack of utility for the ewe and the unborn lamb makes this type of fur beyond cruel, there is just no need for this pointless killing. I would never be able to wear Astrakhan, new or vintage. Should I be saying this about all fur, I'm not sure. However there is the argument about the Astrakhan producer- it is their livelihood. Is it fair for us to condemn this and take away their livelihood?
The high street has always seemed like a place where fur is non-existent. However it is there. The Kooples stock racoon and mink trimmed parkas. Comptoir des Cotonniers use rabbit fur in coat collars and Joseph stock fox fur hats and rabbit fur mittens. Harrods stocks fur, but nowhere near as much as they used to. This is the extent of the fur available. The rest of the high street appears to not want anything to do with fur. The Arcadia group is associated with PETA and will not stock fur. House of Fraser, Jigsaw, Karen Millen, John Lewis, Zara and New Look all have anti-fur policies. This is reflected by some designer fashion houses. Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Tibi and Armani all have a fur ban. But both the designers and the high street will all happily use and stock leather in collections and some will use pony skin. Is this hypocritical? I think that the retailers sell what is socially acceptable in their market. We don't have a problem with Leather as it is a by-product of the meat industry- at this point I will state a lot of the leather we use is not a by-product of the meat industry. Fur it would appear, is completely unnecessary and has no real point apart from producing luxury goods. I like Stella McCartney's approach, she uses no animal products in her entire product line. Even her shoes are made with synthetic leathers. This would suggest if we can face leather, should we really care about fur so much.
Vintage fur appears to be the answer to those who like fur but can't face the reality of the process. Fur farms were banned in the UK in 2000, but production had been in decline since the 1980s. The majority of the vintage furs available are from the 1940's up to 1980's. This was a different time and it perhaps seems more socially acceptable to wear this fur. However the standards will have been much lower and cruelty levels would have been higher, is this really the ethical choice.
Of course there is faux fur, the cruelty free option for fur lovers. Fashion recently has shown its love for fake fur with pieces so obviously fake with lurid colours and patterns. Natural and imitation furs have been eschewed showing that our opinion on real fur is not positive. There is such a large and varied selection with high end pieces coming from Shrimps in beautiful pastel hues of thick faux fur, to supermarket Tesco offering pieces for even the tightest of budgets. It would appear that these pieces are far more comfortable to wear as they don't carry the heavy guilt that comes with mink, rabbit or fox. This makes me wonder has the new wave of faux fur made real fur pointless?
Having thoroughly researched this, I find it a hard concept to swallow. I would have to think long and hard about purchasing new fur, and even then it could only be mink- the most humane of deaths out of all the animals. I could never contemplate wearing Astrakhan, new or vintage. I am happier wearing vintage fur, the animals were less of a waste and perceptions surrounding fur were different then- there was a need. I also feel that faux fur offers me a way to embrace this season’s trend for bright colours and a variety of textures, without the guilt of buying new fur. I still love my mink, but I will be less quick to judge those who question my choice to wear it.
A deep one today, but I felt it must be discussed.
I will see you on Tuesday, have a lovely weekend everyone...
Shot by Rachel Pechey
What I’m wearing:
Mink Stole: Vintage
Coat ASOS, Similar
Boots: Bellfeild, Similar