The queen goes fur-free

Queen Elizabeth II has decided to follow in fashion’s footsteps and ditch real fur garments for their faux alternatives, but is the latter really that much more ethical?

Queen Elizabeth II, famous for owning a plethora of fur items that she often wears during cold weather appearances (specifically a controversial pair of leopard-skin stoles from the 50s), has officially gone fur-free. According to her personal dresser Angela Kelly, she will be shunning the ‘cruel product’ in favour of faux materials, a new policy that’s received a great deal of praise from animal-rights activists.

‘PETA staff are raising a glass of gin and Dubonnet to the Queen’s compassionate decision to go fur-free,’ said Mimi Bekhechi, the director of international programmes at PETA. ‘This new policy is a sign of the times, as 95% of the British public also refuses to wear real fur.’

Amidst the continued worldwide protests in favour of banning fur, countless brands, celebrities, and designers have chosen to stop using real animal fur. Major fashion houses like Prada, Chanel, Michael Kors and Gucci have all banned it, and the entire state of California passed a revolutionary law prohibiting its sale, donation and manufacture last month.

‘We are calling on the British Government to follow Her Majesty’s example and make the UK the first country in the world to ban the sale of animal fur,’ said Claire Bass, executive director of Humane Society International. ‘In 2019, no one can justify subjecting animals to the agony of being caged for life or caught in steel traps and skinned for toxic fur items.’

Now, as the latest well-known figure to join the ‘no fur’ brigade, Elizabeth II is proving that attitudes to the material have truly changed. Once considered a mark of great wealth, years of animal-rights activism has resulted in a total reversal of this viewpoint and the Queen is definitely right to be following suit.

‘If Her Majesty is due to attend an engagement in particularly cold weather, from 2019 onwards fake fur will be used to make sure she stays warm,’ said Kelly. This does not, however, suggest that she will not be wearing what she already owns, such as the historic ceremonial gowns she is required to sport while carrying out her Royal duties. It simply means that she will refuse to have anything made using real fur in the future, and that she has opted to have mink trims removed from some of her favourite coats.

Stella McCartney and Givenchy have succeeded in showing us that faux fur is prolific and can be pretty much indistinguishable from the real stuff. It’s evolved from a once cheap and relatively itchy material to a luxe and believable version of its real self – one that’s so soft and realistic, brands and consumers alike are struggling to tell the difference.

Although it’s clearly the more ethical option in that it doesn’t require animals to be killed in order for it to be made, sustainability wise it’s rather a big no-no. Not to mention the sometimes appalling and exploitative human conditions in which it can be produced, ‘largely in developing countries where environmental controls are lax, sweatshop conditions common and child labour rife,’ says the International Fur Trade Federation.

Typically manufactured from synthetic polymeric fibres like acrylic, modacrylic, and polyester (all of which are types of plastic that don’t usually biodegrade), if improperly discarded, faux fur is extremely harmful to the world’s wildlife. Especially considering the growing evidence that plastic may play a role in the rising extinction rates of various species (Forbes).

Generally, the opinion of the pro-fur community is that real fur is superior to its faux counterparts because it’s completely natural and will eventually biodegrade. ‘Aside from the chemicals currently involved in the dressing and dyeing processes, real fur really is a sustainable product,’ says Mark Oaten, CEO of the International Fur Federation.

Additionally, faux fur sheds and ‘is going to put more small, tiny fibres into the ocean,’ argues Jeffrey Silberman from the Fashion Institute of Technology in NY. As we know, plastic has been found inside the bodies of more than 60% of seabirds and 100% of sea turtles who mistakenly think it’s food, and if this still doesn’t convince you that faux fur is harming the environment, just imagine the damage when it piles up on landfills around the globe.

The fashion industry is renowned for contributing to climate change and if we genuinely want to save the planet, we need to stop focusing so much energy on uncovering what’s wrong with fur – faux or not – and start diverting our attention to finding solutions for the future of our earth.

Clearly, the animal-free alternative is not faring much better in the controversy stakes so, if fur is killing animals and faux fur is killing the planet, what on earth should we be doing to become the ultimate mindful shopper? Nothing we purchase can ever be 100% sustainable, but we can try our best to seek out brands with a reputation for being environmentally friendly and cruelty-free, as well as turning to technology for innovation. Take clothing companies Piñatex and Modern Meadow for example, both of which are using technology and natural materials to create convincing faux leathers. Or Parley for the Oceans, transforming ocean plastic into knit running shoes.

It’s unlikely that either side of the fur argument will drastically change its views any time soon, but at the end of the day both are hurting the planet and that’s what’s relevant. In my opinion, the Queen’s decision to go fur-free is just the beginning, and it’s only a matter of time before we realise the importance of buying better, buying less, and of course, making sure that we’re always doing what we can to individually reduce our carbon footprint.

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