Going fur-free is the newest form of virtue-signaling in fashion

Down jacket maker Moncler has just sworn off fur.
Down jacket maker Moncler has just sworn off fur.
Image: Reuters
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Moncler is the latest fashion brand to declare it will stop using fur. Earlier this week, the French-Italian label pledged to phase out the material from all of its collections over the next two years.

It joins a long list of fashion brands to recently renounce fur. Kering, a major luxury conglomerate that owns houses like Gucci and Balenciaga, said it would nix fur from all of its brands, as did Canada Goose, another purveyor of expensive puffer jackets. Burberry, Prada, and others have also committed to dropping it.

With every new announcement, sustainability advocates applaud the move as a step forward. But just how much of a step forward is it really?

Moncler and many of these brands were barely using fur to begin with. A Moncler spokesperson said the brand “makes limited use of fur in its garments mainly for edges, trims, collars,” declining to provide detailed figures.

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Had Moncler, a brand that was built on the puffer jacket, pledged to stop using down instead of fur, it would have scored a much bigger animal welfare win. Down processing is also linked to cruel practices, such as live-plucking. The same goes for leather, a material that requires mass slaughter, but remains acceptable to mainstream fashion.

Fur-free’s limited impact

Fur, it seems, has morphed into the plastic straw of fashion. Single-use plastic straws were pinpointed as a hot target for anti-plastic campaigns. Nearly overnight, restaurants switched to biodegradable straws or got rid of straws altogether. The eco-conscious set started carrying their own metal straws. But straws represent less than 1% of the plastics pollution problem.

Like straws, forgoing fur is an easy win from a corporate social responsibility perspective: Companies give up something negligible to the business and rack up brownie points with consumers.

That’s not to say there isn’t cruelty or a cost involved in using fur. Every year, 100 million animals are killed for fur, but that’s only a sliver of the billion or so slaughtered to make leather products.

As Fendi CEO Serge Brunschwig said in 2019, “I’m amused by these people who say ‘we don’t do fur.’ So you do plastic? Fine. Or, in fact, they were not doing much fur anyway.”

Fendi is the reason why LVMH, which owns the brand, can’t easily jump on the anti-fur bandwagon. The Italian house’s DNA is deeply intertwined with fur and it operates a fur atelier that has trained artisans in the craft for nearly a century.

Going fur-free is only step one

To be fair, many of the brands that have gone fur-free also have other public commitments to working in more sustainable ways. But the marketing machine is disproportionately loud on the issue.

For instance, a pressing issue that fashion brands should be talking more about is Xinjiang cotton. The US banned all products from the region in December due to serious human rights abuse allegations. But Xinjiang cotton remains embedded in the supply chain via intermediary suppliers, and brands are reluctant to investigate more closely over fear of boycotts and other reprisals from China.

Still, Sonalie Figueiras, the founder of the sustainability publication Green Queen, sees the fur boycott as a tipping point. “It’s a symbol of a much bigger thing,” she said. “It’s a gateway drug for these companies to engage with an animal-free future.”