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Is Fur Finished?

A horde of painted skeletons wearing “blood”-splattered fur coats stormed Copenhagen on Tuesday, lurching up and down the streets as they brandished bouquets of moldering roses and headstone-shaped signs with the slogans “Fur is Dead” and “I Wouldn’t Be Caught Dead in Animal Skin.”

They were part of a call by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Anima International and Dyrenes Alliance for Copenhagen Fashion Week, which opened the same day, to permanently boot fur from the catwalk.

They needn’t have bothered. Animal activists in the Western hemisphere have all but won the culture war against animal cruelty for fashion’s sake. Whatever foothold fur has managed to retain is quickly slipping over pandemic-era fears of disease transmission to and from mink, foxes and raccoon dogs.

One recent defector is Oscar de Renta, which allowed its fur license to lapse in April after deciding to eliminate the material from its collection two years ago. The last of its fur-containing products are expected to sell out by the close of October.

“Oscar de la Renta does not use fur in its fashion collections or sell fur in its stores, and will not in the future,” the luxury nameplate declared last week. “In addition, once the license ‘sell-off’ period ends, no new products that use fur and bear the Oscar de la Renta trademark will be offered for sale.”

The victory was a sweet one for PETA, which has been lobbying Oscar de Renta for the better part of three decades through runway disruptions, demonstrations and several well-aimed tofu cream pies.

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“Nothing can bring back the scores of animals who were electrocuted, gassed or otherwise killed for this fashion house’s profit, but it’s never too late to do the right thing,” Tracy Reiman, the animal-rights group’s executive vice president, said in a statement. “PETA is celebrating Oscar de la Renta for following the lead of other designers—and practically every department store—in cementing the demise of the cruel and grisly fur industry.”

Another company joining fashion’s fur exodus is Mackage sister brand Soia & Kyo, which next week will fete its first 100 percent fur-free collection of outerwear. The fall/winter lineup, it says, is the culmination of a multi-year effort to weed animal pelts from its e-commerce and retail offerings. It will also see the introduction of a new size range—XXS to 3X—for its most popular styles, marking the brand’s “dedication to size inclusivity.”

“With Soia & Kyo’s ever-growing sustainable initiatives put in place, there is no time like the present to be part of an important era of change with impact, while committing to continue to inspire sustainable fashion innovation and to raise awareness throughout our industry and to our valued customers,” Ilan Elfassy, its founder and chief creative officer, said in a statement. Recycled fabrics, she added, will be making a prominent appearance across its lightweight, medium and heavy categories.

In July, Selfridges Group, whose Selfridges department store is already fur-free, said its Irish companies Arnotts and Brown Thomas would be joining Canadian subsidiary Holt Renfrew in removing both fur and exotic skins by the end of the year, apparently following several PETA-staged protests.

“No kind shopper today would dream of wearing a snake’s skin or a fox’s fur,” Yvonne Taylor, PETA U.K.’s director of corporate projects, told Sourcing Journal. “Selfridges Group’s decision is right on trend—and it’s helping PETA push the fashion world towards a day when no animal is caged or killed for a clutch or a coat.”

Soia & Kyo's fall/winter 2021 collection
Soia & Kyo’s fall/winter 2021 collection Courtesy

What started as a minor movement has become a groundswell over the past several months, with high-profile brands such as Kering’s Alexander McQueen and Balenciaga, Canada Goose, Moose Knuckles and Valentino trumpeting plans to halt or phase out their use of the material and rarified retailers like  Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus announcing the closures of their hallowed fur salons. They join a ballooning anti-fur alliance that already includes Armani, Burberry, Chanel, Farfetch, Gucci, Hugo Boss, Nordstrom, Macy’s, Prada and Versace.

Sometimes bigger targets are swayed. In June, Israel became the first country in the world to outlaw the sale of fur. The United Kingdom, which has banned fur farming since the early 2000s, is thinking of following suit.

Earlier this month, the City Council of Ann Arbor in Michigan unanimously voted in favor of a measure, due for final approval next week, that would make the sale of most fur-containing products—exceptions include vintage products and those used in practicing religion—verboten. If approved, Ann Arbor would be the seventh municipality in the country—and the third outside California after Wellesley and Weston, Massachusetts—to nix fur sales.

“Considering the availability of faux fur for fashion and apparel, the City Council finds that the demand for fur products does not justify the unnecessary killing and cruel treatment of animals, harm to the environment, and the public health risks to the people of the city of Ann Arbor caused by these practices,” the ordinance states. “The City Council believes that prohibiting the sale of fur products in the city of Ann Arbor will decrease the demand for these cruel and environmentally harmful products and promote community awareness of animal welfare and will foster a more humane environment in the city of Ann Arbor.”

Meanwhile, as Oregon mulls a potential ban on mink farming, mink-fur production in the United States is plummeting, according to a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

In 2020, American farms generated 1.41 million pelts, a 49 percent decrease from the previous year. Wisconsin, the largest mink-producing state, produced 403,540 pelts, and Utah, the second-largest, produced 386,880. The value of the 2020 crop, too, took a beating, dropping 19 percent to $47.4 million.

“This means that more than a million mink were spared from having to endure an unnatural life in a filthy cage and a death in a gas chamber,” Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, wrote in a blog post. “It’s also a sign that our campaigns against fur in the fashion industry and consumer markets are succeeding in making the point. No animal should suffer so much for something so frivolous.”

With fur fading into the rear-view mirror, there are hints that leather could also be on its way out in certain markets, particularly in light of sexier, less baggage-laden versions made from plant-based sources such as mushroom mycelium.

Crocs earned a Compassionate Business Award from PETA after proclaiming last month that it will be a 100 percent vegan brand by the end of 2021 as part of its pledge to achieve net-zero emissions. “Crocs is taking the most effective action possible to cut its carbon footprint and preventing gentle cows from being strung up and slaughtered,” Reiman said. “PETA is celebrating this conscientious company for taking a big step to bring about the vegan world we all need.”

And in a recent survey of Chinese consumers by the Material Innovation Institute (MII) and North Mountain Consulting, 90 percent of respondents said they preferred “next-gen alternatives” to the genuine article. The number stands in contrast with a previous poll of U.S. consumers, which found 80 percent open to non-animal leather and 55 percent actively preferring “next-gen alternatives.”

Nicole Rawling, co-founder and CEO of MII, called this a “momentous shift” in attitudes and an important one considering China’s outsized share of the global consumer pie. While critics of plant-based leather say many ersatz hides still rely on plastic, which undermines their claims of being better for the environment, Rawling believes there’s room for further innovation.

“Consumers want to buy products that are in alignment with their values, and they are becoming increasingly aware that animal leather is not,” she said in a statement. “Creating next-gen leather alternatives that outperform leather both functionally and ethically could lead to a total transformation of the leather market away from animal options.”