A handful of retailers and brands were put on the defensive on Friday after a “Today” show “Rossen Reports” exposé revealed that some of their merchandise labeled as faux fur was actually made of real fur.
This story first appeared in the December 22, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
For the five-minute segment, the “Rossen Reports” team bought an assortment of jackets, a sweater and boots that were advertised as faux fur from Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom Rack, Belk, Jacadi and Gilt Groupe, but the product proved to be otherwise. The random selection of goods included styles from Michael Michael Kors, Aquatalia and Cluny.
Neiman Marcus, for example, came under fire for selling faux-fur-trimmed Aquatalia ankle boots that were made with real rabbit fur, but a Neiman Marcus spokeswoman on Friday said the mislabeling was Aquatalia’s fault. Federal Trade Commission “guidelines require us to make sure that what we advertise is exactly what the vendor told us was the origin and makeup of the item and that it matches the labeling of the item. In this case, that is what happened. The information the vendor supplied to us states that the fur trim is faux (55 percent polyester/45 percent acrylic). That is also how the boot was labeled. Clearly, a mistake has been made on the vendor’s end,” she said. “We have removed the boot from the Web site and from our stores.”
She also said all Neiman Marcus customers who purchased the boot had been notified “to make them aware of this mistake by our vendor so that they can return for a full refund, if they choose to do so.”
Reached by phone on Friday, Pierre Gryzbowski, who runs the fur-free campaign of the Humane Society of the United States and who was featured in the segment, said, “There is no excuse for Neiman Marcus, with the size of its financial resources, to not have a system in place to keep real fur from being sold as faux.”
He noted, as did the Jeff Rossen-led “Today” show piece, that Neiman Marcus was charged last year by the FTC for marketing real fur items as faux fur. The Fur Products Labeling Act maintains that items made with real fur must be identified as such; further, the animal species and country of origin of the real fur also must be identified. Gryzbowski estimated that Neiman Marcus could face $16,000 in fines levied by the FTC.
He added, “We hope the FTC takes action on their own [regarding the ‘Today’-identified labels and stores]. But we are looking into what steps we can take to encourage the industry to do so.”
Spokesmen for Aquatalia and Jacadi did not respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for Michael Kors didn’t provide a comment by press time.
While the purchases were said to be limited, the exposure was considerably greater since the “Today” show averages five million daily viewers.
A spokeswoman for Belk said the chain investigated the issue as soon as they were notified by NBC and found that “a clerical error led to the Michael Michael Kors tailored fur-collar coat’s description as having faux fur. We had six of the coats in question for sale on our Web site, and those have all been sold. We apologize to our customers who would not have otherwise purchased the item and will honor full refunds on those pieces. In addition, we have verified that similar styles for sale online are accurate, and we are taking additional steps to ensure this kind of error does not happen again.”
Nordstrom also chalked up the incident to human error. A spokeswoman for the chain said an online copywriter had mislabeled the Cluny sweater, which was made of real fur, not faux fur as advertised. “This was an error on our part,” she said.
After conducting its own investigation, Nordstrom determined that five units of the Cluny sweater had been sold, but three already had been returned, including the one purchased by the “Today” show team. The items were purchased from Nordstrom Rack and the company’s HauteLook Web site. When the other two customers were notified and offered a reimbursement for their purchase, one opted to keep the item, the Nordstrom spokeswoman said.
Another company featured in the Today show segment, Gilt Groupe also attributed the oversight to human error. A staffer misidentified the item in question, according to a company spokesman. Shoppers who inadvertently bought the style have since been notified and offered reimbursement, he added.