Furs And Fashion

If you thought that wearing fur was outdated—what with all those green movements and animal rights activists who put this cruel sense of fashion in its right place with the likes of Cruella de Vil-fashionista’s say, think again.

            Last month the fashion world went literally “wild” in New York, Paris and Milan during the unveiling of their fall collection. They had models strutting the catwalk in so much fur, it was scary enough to make animal rights activists and environmentalists jump out of their skins.

            In this era of global warming and dwindling animal species, one would think that we humans would come to our senses and rethink our actions. Not so, it seems, as there is a whole other world out there—the fashion industry of the west—whose endorsement and use of fur and exotic animal products simply encourages the mass slaughter of many endangered species.

            A dealer’s bounty at the Quartzite annual show for art and crafts. Image by Flickr user cobalt123. Used under a Creative Commons License.

            To name a few, the Chiru or Tibetan antelope, whose underbelly fur is used to make “Shahtoosh” the world’s most expensive shawls, also known as “shawls of death”. It takes 3 dead antelopes, to make one shawl, so fine it can fit through a finger ring, and each one can cost between $5000-$20,000 in the international market. Even babies, and mothers who have just delivered, are not spared.

            According to WWF, the population of this species has declined by over 50 per cent in the last 20 years and the Tibetan Plateau Project says that it was the fashion-driven demand for Shatoosh in the US that resulted in as many as 20,000 antelopes being slaughtered. It is alarming to know that the animal could become extinct in the next three years at this rate.

            In a blog run by Uma and Hurree called Animal Rights India, they argue how farming of Chiru’s – like Eider ducks in Iceland for eider, will not make a difference to the dwindling numbers.

            But hello: Eider ducks are now a protected species, and farmers in iceland use a technique of collecting the down without harming the bird. And no, it is not possible to obtain the shahtoosh wool without killing the chiru.

They go on to say: It’s impossible to justify killing three beautiful wild animals every time you want to push a length of shawl through a ring, blah blah. And to farm them just to kill them for shawls?

Raja Basu, another blogger said: The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which controls the trade in endangered species products has completely banned international trade in Tibetan antelope products (including Shahtoosh). It is illegal to import Shahtoosh into many countries, including the USA (ironically, Shahtoosh products are so popular in the US fashion industry). Unfortunately, despite such laws being in place, the Shahtoosh trade is going on in full swing. This is because it is not enough to have laws. There must also be a strong public protest across the board against every person who is by any means related to the Shahtoosh trade. There should be a widespread public sensitisation campaign to educate the common people.

            Bloggers in the west, however, were giving this some thought and debated:

Rachel Menashy wrote on her blog:

  1. People eat rabbits at restaurants. These rabbits have been killed to

provide “dinner” for people like us (I would like to point out that I have never eaten rabbit and by ‘us’ I mean people who eat in restaurants). Why is it right that rabbits can feature on a menu in a restaurant but wrong to wear a fur coat? These rabbits inevitably are skinned in preparation to be cooked—what else should we do with the fur?

  1. Is it more acceptable if the coat is Vintage? Why?
  2. Is rabbit fur better/worse than Mink? Some argue that rabbit fur is not as bad because rabbits are not in danger of becoming extinct, unlike mink which is. Then again, people keep rabbits as pets so is it more cruel to wear rabbit than mink?
  3. If a fur coat is hanging on a rail at a store and one customer refuses to buy it, somebody else will…
  4. Should role models such as Kate Moss be seen wearing fur? Kate’s style is copied by millions of girls (and women) – is she giving a bad impression?

To which Denise replied:

  1. I would personally be more likely to wear rather than eat rabbit. The eating of it seems less acceptable somehow.
  2. Vintage coats have been around for a while and should be recycled – which I’m definitely into.
  3. Mink are feral creatures and even though their fur is more desirable, mink are not aiming for extinction, so why not wear it?
  4. Agreed.
  5. I don’t mind fur being worn by anyone, and Kate Moss is just showing that this is acceptable. Too many people are on the “fur is bad” bandwagon. I bet most of these people eat meat and wear leather, so what’s the difference?

But there is a difference as Barry Williams responded to a thread: Wearing Fur is not immoral on www.helium.com. If we go around killing cattle for leather, alligators for shoes, deer for chamois and see nothing morally wrong in that, why it is immoral to wear fur. What I see as immoral is the killing of animals simply for the fur alone. It really is such a waste, isn’t it? Apart from the leather we obtain from cattle not much of the animal is wasted. Beef cattle supply our meat.

            There are a multitude of arguments out there, but in the meantime the Humane Society for the United States, says that Canada will slaughter 388, 200 harp, grey and hooded seals this year, an increase of 50,000 from 2009. This, because of the overall demand for fur. The site of the Fur Council of Canada shows styles and celebrities modelling various furs in what it describes as a fashion trend of 2010.

            And unfortunately in the US, and much of the west where Global Fashion trends are set, laws don’t seem to be enough to curb their greed. According to the International Fur Trade Federation Blog: the shift in the attitude towards fur can be attributed to “changes within the fur trade, such as the introduction of the new Origin Assured initiative, which guarantees that fur bearing the label comes from a country with animal welfare regulations”. This shows that the fur trade efforts and initiatives to challenge the outdated ideas of our industry have been noticed. We are a transparent and well-regulated industry that supports high animal welfare standards and we welcome the confidence and support shown by the fashion designers as well as the European Commission, who recently recognised the importance of the Origin Assured label.

            Fashion designers who have been courted by Furriers say they are “confident using fur after examining the chain of production and finding it humane”. But could this confidence be based on a lack of investigation or knowledge? According to an endangered species handbook: The New York luxury department store, Bergdorf Goodman, advertised shahtoosh in 1995 as a “royal and rare” fabric, making incorrect statements about the wool having been obtained from the Mountain Ibex goat of Tibet which “sheds its down undercoat by scratching itself against low trees and bushes” from where it is gathered by local shepherds (Schaller 1998).

            And if the clubbing of baby seals and mass slaughtering of Chiras, mothers and babies, is “humane” then its sad to think of what “humane” means anymore, and what we are willing to condone in the name of “fashion”.

By Sonam Ongmo

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