A look from Astrid Andersen Bespoke

LONDON — As many fashion brands in the U.S. and Europe declare their aversion for fur, British fur manufacturers and trade organizations are fighting back, arguing for freedom of choice and asserting that real fur is far more sustainable — and environmentally friendly — than the faux alternatives.

On April 18, members of Britain’s pro- and anti-fur lobbies will be giving oral evidence as part of an ongoing inquiry by Parliament’s environment food and rural affairs committee into the fur trade in the U.K. The committee is looking at the current fur trade “and how the industry can be made more transparent for the consumers.” The committee added that, in the longer-term, “Brexit may provide an opportunity for the U.K. government to look at legislation around the import of fur.”

The industry has come under scrutiny — and fire — of late with anti-fur organizations including PETA, Surge and the Humane Society pursuing a petition demanding that the British Fashion Council impose a fur ban on London Fashion Week runways. Anti-fur protesters staged multiple protests outside London Fashion Week earlier this year, standing outside show venues in eerie skeleton costumes and spitting or screaming “Blood on your hands” and “Shame on you” at showgoers (who were not wearing fur).

The BFC said that while it keeps an ongoing conversation with the industry and promotes sustainable working practices, it cannot dictate what a brand chooses to create. “As representatives of the British fashion industry we support the creativity of our designers and do not believe that it is our position to define or have control over their creative process. That said, we believe in the human rights of people and animals and would encourage any designer who is using the platform of London Fashion Week to make ethical choices,” a company representative said.

Most recently, the anti-fur lobby has also started to put pressure on the government to ban fur imports to the U.K., post-Brexit, following a number of labeling issues last year during which retailers such as House of Fraser, Missguided and Boohoo.com were found to be selling real fur products that had been labeled as faux. All of those retailers have said they were not aware of the labeling mix-up.

While the anti-fur movement has been agitating for actions against the use of fur, the pro-fur lobby has been fighting back on multiple fronts.

“What about freedom of choice? We are not all vegan, and most of us believe in the use of animals in one way or another, whether that’s for meat or the use of silk,” said Mike Moser, chief executive officer of the British Fur Trade, in an interview.

He added that if animal rights activists want to play the morality card then the fur debate will soon spill into other industries, impacting the use of feathers, wool, silk, exotic skins and, eventually, leather. “These are vegan ethicacy organizations that want to stop all forms of animal use,” he claimed.

During the interview, he also talked about improved industry welfare and farming standards, the impact of faux fur on the environment and the importance of supply chain management.

“The industry has demonstrated that its welfare standards are actually very high. In terms of farming, we have the highest standards in the world,” Moser added. He said animals are no longer produced for their fur alone, and the environmental impact of fur production can be positive. “The whole animal is now increasingly used. In European fur farms, the meat is sold to other livestock industries, the fat is used to burn biofuels and the bones and the skeletons are used to make organic fertilizers.”

European fur manufacturers, he said, have also developed a certification program to monitor animal welfare in fur farms, and by 2020 all fur produced in Europe and North America will be certified.

He pointed to the “devastating effects of faux fur on the environment,” with some fake fluff taking 1,000 years to biodegrade in landfills. He also said that microfibers end up in the food chain and have even been detected in tap water.

As for the labeling scandal, which erupted last December and saw items including keychains, earrings and shoes with real fur details billed as fake, Moser said the issue is largely a result of poor supply chain management on the part of fast-fashion retailers. The debate, he said, should be more focused on the responsibility that retailers have toward the consumer and how they can gain more visibility in their supply chains.

Moser said he believes that anti-fur activists will use the labeling scandal to demand the complete abolition of fur in the U.K. post-Brexit.

“With Brexit looming, the government will have to look at individual laws. The Humane Society is using this as an opportunity to [impose] a fur ban as a means of rectifying the labeling issue,” Moser said. He described the current labeling regulation in the U.K. as “very broad,” but easily fixable. “Textile regulations do not specify fur, or give the consumer much information.”

According to the Humane Society, the government should use the opportunity of Brexit to revise it all and implement a fur ban, in order “to reflect the British public’s distaste” of buying and selling fur.

In response, Moser talked about the ramifications of banning a profitable industry, especially at a time when Brexit presents multiple financial risks for the country. Retail sales of fur products, he said, reached 162 million pounds in 2016, a 350 percent increase on 2011. “I question why would we want to ban a legitimate industry, one that is thriving and one that should be free to exercise its freedom of choice? We would lose business of a value up to 162 million pounds and there would undoubtedly be an employment hit.”

When it comes to big luxury brands choosing to stop using real fur — Maison Margiela, Versace, Furla, Gucci and Michael Kors, are some of the names that have recently said they’re abandoning fur — Moser admitted their stance will undoubtedly influence public perception.

He also believes that consumers need to take into account brands’ ongoing quest to remain relevant and part of the latest movements, and their decision to renounce fur but to continue using exotic skins, leather and feathers.

“Top brands such as Versace are using leather, a primary product. They produce specific high-quality leather which comes from calves that are three months old,” Moser said.

He added that despite the growing public sentiment against fur, young designers and students remain interested in experimenting with the material, and the British Fur Trade is working alongside the BFC to educate the industry about animal welfare standards.

In addition, key retailers such as Harvey Nichols are reversing their no-fur policies and big labels such as Canada Goose have chosen London as the location for their first European flagship, a signifier of “economic confidence,” according to Moser.

Earlier this year, Danish designer Astrid Andersen also presented a collaboration with the Finnish fur company Saga Furs and Noomi Rapace during London Fashion Week Men’s. “I think fur is actually going to become more relevant because it is one of the things that is actually so sustainable. When you really look into the process of the fur, there is zero waste,” the designer said.

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