For several seasons now, fur has been fashionable on city sidewalks, turning up as trims and linings for hooded parkas, boots, and hats. As the anti-fur movement also continues to gather steam, lots of that fur is fake, made from synthetic fibers such as polyester and acrylic, and dyed to match the fur of real animals (or sometimes colors not found in nature).
But some of these “faux fur”-labeled items are actually made from real animal pelts. On Friday, NBC’s Today Show ran a segment in which the reporter Jeff Rossen took five items labeled as faux to be examined at a laboratory. Three coats, a sweater, and a pair of boots—advertised as faux by brands including Michael Michael Kors, Jacadi, and Nordstrom Rack—all turned out to be real fur.
Naturally, finger-pointing ensued, with retailers blaming brands and brands blaming suppliers, calling attention to opaque and convoluted supply chains. Indeed, the mislabeling happened at different stages of production and selling. In the case of a fur-collared coat by Michael Kors’ diffusion line, Michael Michael Kors, the material was correctly labeled on the coat itself, but falsely identified as “faux” on the store’s website—”a clerical error,” according to a spokesperson from Belk. (It was coyote fur.) Nordstrom acknowledged a similar error; Spokesperson Tara Darrow told Quartz that a copywriter for the company’s Haute Look website was at fault for the misidentified sweater featured on NBC.
Another retailer included in the report, Neiman Marcus, blamed the supplier of a pair of rabbit-fur-trimmed boots, which were labeled as faux fur. ”Clearly, a mistake has been made on the vendor’s end,” said a spokeswoman in an email. “We have removed the boot from the website and from our stores.”
The vendor in this case was the shoe brand Aquatalia. “We regret that, due to an inadvertent error, a small quantity of rabbit fur boots were mislabeled as ‘faux fur,'” an Aquatalia spokeswoman told Quartz, in an email. “We are in the process of having this product properly labeled.”
Incorrect labeling of fur is a disturbingly common occurrence. Last year, Neiman Marcus settled a similar case with the Federal Trade Commission, after jacket collars and shoe decorations labeled faux were found to be real fur.
Why substitute real for fake? Some animal furs (such as those of raccoons and rabbits) are relatively cheap, while high-end faux fur that feels as soft as the real thing can be quite expensive.
It also happens that varieties of pelt are labeled incorrectly. A Chinese member of the Canidae family often called a “raccoon dog” made news when activists and fashion brands couldn’t agree on a name for it. It had been labeled as Finn raccoon, raccoon, and even faux fur when the Federal Trade Commission weighed in earlier this year, ruling that the animal’s fur could be marketed as “Asiatic raccoon”—good news for retailers who don’t want the labels to deter dog lovers.
For those seeking to avoid animal fur, Rossen offered some tips for determining whether a piece is real or faux—but the only way to know for sure may be to source it yourself.