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.”

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