For the last official day of the winter, we focus on the fur industry. That is despite that unfortunately, as explained in this text, fur is no longer seasonal and luxurious, but year-round and causal.
Once considered a fading industry, in the past decade and a half fur has been making a comeback. After being branded politically incorrect during the 90’s, fur is back in fashion since the beginning of the 2000’s. The fur industry has not only recovered from the decade of slow business during the 90’s, it strengthened and it’s now stronger than ever. The industry’s value has increased year-on-year over the past two decades. Global fur sales rose by 70% from 2000 to 2010. In 2017, fur generated global retail sales of $30 billion. More than half of that was in China, Europe with $7 billion was the second largest market, followed by Russia with $2.2 billion. And in the U.S. the industry accounts for about $1.4 billion.
On average, about 70% of catwalk shows worldwide featured fur in recent years. This turn out might come as a surprise to some activists who hear every now and then of another fashion brand, and designers, and recently even a city (San Francisco became the largest city to ban the sale of fur) dropping fur, but these positive steps simply don’t reflect the current global trajectory. These specific achievements must not be a source of consolation, as the frightening overall picture is of an industry which not long ago appeared to be defeated via public campaigns, but actually is on a scary reemergence.
There are several reasons for this dreadful outcome, and one major conclusion for activists to take from it.
Some of the reasons for fur’s comeback are changes in the fur industry.
The first and most important one is changes in the way animals are treated while still alive.
What affected humans’ views regarding fur the most, was the idea of wild charismatic animals, all the more so from an endangered species, viciously caught in a leg trap, as well as baby seals being viciously clubbed to death. However, once the industry became more industrialized and regulated, with about 85% of fur coming from non-endangered species who are bred in factory farms, humans, who are active supporters of factory farms, find themselves much less concerned with the terrible situation of animals in this industry.
Once again human psychology and ability to empathize is at odds with the reality of industrial exploitation. As shown consistently in studies, as well as in everyday life – a single victim, all the more so a “wild animal”, whose limb was crashed in a trap, gets more response than a great number of victims who are confined all their lives in tiny cages, with some also suffering from severe limb injuries (we addressed this human bias and several others in a previous post).
A 2013 YouGov poll conducted in the UK, found that just 58% of 18 to 24 year-olds believe it’s wrong to use fur compared to 77% of over-55s.
Obviously many still oppose it, mainly since they see wearing fur as an unnecessary luxury, ignoring that the same can be said about any other animal exploitation industry, but many others are much less enraged by the much more horrible idea of imprisoning animals for their entire lives in atrocious conditions. The image of caged animals in service of humanity, is way too familiar for most humans to seriously be appalled. So the animals in the fur industry are caught in a cynical and vicious circle in which the more industrialized and intensified their exploitation is, the smaller the chances of it to stop.
Another change in the fur industry is how skins are treated after the animals’ are murdered, a change which highly affects the number of murdered animals.
Furriers realized that they must learn how to dye fur, and make it more flexible and lighter, so they can expand their target audience. In recent years, furriers and fur designers have learned to work with fur in new ways such as dyeing it in whatever color is considered most stylish. Laser cutting was also assimilated, increasing the use of fur trim on various cloths. But the most significant change is inventing methods of thinning the fur to make it lighter by combining it with other textiles such as wool and silk. Lighter versions are making fur an option in warmer climates, and indeed there are now 400 fur-selling stores in Dubai.
Instead of selling a fur coat once a decade in cold regions, they are now selling lighter versions of fur in warm regions, as well as trying to appeal to younger generations by various tactics such as: re-imaging the idea of fur in a way that makes it accessible for younger generations, dying it to provide varied and younger looking items, gifting celebrities with fur produces, targeting future designers through fashion school competitions by providing free fur garments to use, producing and promoting “educational” materials about fur for use in school curriculum, providing an “origin assured” to reassure customers that the fur they are buying is from a country with rules governing its production.
A fur trader from Kopenhagen openly revealed a common tactic: “We start with the young consumer buying a fur key ring, then maybe a little later she has more money for a fur bag. Eventually she buys a full coat. It’s all part of the agenda, to inspire the upcoming generation of women.”
The industry aim was to move beyond furrier shops and fur departments, and make fur just another “fine” fabric, available wherever clothes are sold. And unfortunately they have succeeded. Fur became a standard part of fashion, turning up now in all seasons, and on scarfs, shoes, purses, pillows, key chains, furniture (the furniture industry has been increasingly using fur in chair coverings, and expenditures on fur goods in that sector grew by 10% from 2011 to 2016), and even lampshades, as well as on clothes of course. And fur clothes are not only coats, jackets and wraps, designers treat fur as a trim – around the necklines or hemlines of dresses, or on the collars and cuffs of sweaters and jackets, on skirts, belts, pockets, bags and even wedding dresses, helmets and on the hem of a trench coat.
The fur industry response to the campaigns over the years created a situation that now there are more fur items on “regular” clothes and they are worn by “regular” people. They have trivialized the use of fur. Once found only in the most luxurious departments, unaffordable for the average consumer, fur can now be found in ready-to-wear collections sold throughout department stores.
The struggle against fur was once a class struggle as well as animal rights struggle. Today, as fur became a cheap and trivial item, it is a moral struggle against the current trend.
A crucial factor in the success of the anti-fur campaign in the 90’s was that it was part of a wider change in public attitude. As opposed to the 80’s, when it was perfectly acceptable to flaunt one’s wealth through one’s outfit (and fur is the most ostentatious way to do it), in the 90’s the trend was anti-ostentation and minimalism (grunge for example), a very good ground for an anti-fur campaign. The last decade on the other hand, is dominated by the bling-bling look, with rappers singing about their love of champagne, grandiose cars and diamonds. A horrible social ground obviously. And the most horrible thing is that a moral campaign needs a ground at all…
In a trends-oriented world, the shift back to fur was predictable. Every action has its reaction. Just a decade ago supermodels said that they’d rather go naked than wear fur. Not wearing fur was the trendy position, and that is precisely the problem, when a trend becomes too popular, the backlash is only a matter of time. The animal rights movement used celebrities (which are the air that trends breathe) to oppose the fur industry and now its celebrities who promote fur by wearing it frequently.
The most ridicules example is of course Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell who were the face of PETA’s anti-fur campaign and later both became fur models.
As genuine spotlight-seekers, many celebrities used the ‘compassion is the fashion’ trend for self-promotion and for a slight image make-up. Good publicity is good for business. But every trend has an expiration date. And the current trend is boastfulness. Nowadays, celebrities are increasingly seen supporting fur coats and fur-trimmed garments from Justin Bieber, to Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and even Kendrick Lamar.
Now “real” has become a buzzword for success, wealth and is a trend.
There are more than 28,000 posts with the hashtag #realfur on Instagram. Fashionistas brag on social media about their love of authentic animal pelts, posting selfies wearing real fur and give advice on where to buy it.
A different cynical use of the “authenticity” of fur, can be seen in the fur industry’s efforts to re-legitimize and de-stigmatize their cruel industry by branding it as more sustainable and better for the environment than synthetics which contribute to pollution. Fur is seriously branded as “eco-friendly”.
Even the appalling undercover footage, that veteran activists probably can’t forget, from Chinese fur farms in 2005 of raccoons and foxes being skinned alive, and another one from an angora wool farm in 2013 of rabbits having their fur painfully plucked from their bodies while fully conscious, even these highly publicized investigations, as well as years of campaigning against the cruelty of the industry, didn’t stop fur’s resurgence.
The number of tortured animals in the fur industry has more than doubled since the 1990’s, standing on about 100 million. 24 million minks are tortured annually, up from 14 million in 2000. And that estimation, of 100 million victims, is without considering the most exploited species in the fur industry, who are also the ones who get the least attention – rabbits. When including them, the total number of individual animals tortured every year for fur, is over a billion.
The fur industry comeback since the beginning of the 2000’s is an irrefutable evidence of humans’ feeble morality, and of the major significance of trends in human behavior and public political views.
It is not empathy and compassion or rationality and morality which dictate humans’ behavior, it’s trends. In the 90’s compassion was the fashion, at least when it came to fur. Now it is not. Not even when it comes to fur.
The fur case challenges the notion, popular both in the wide population and within the movement, of a one-way path forward towards progression. “Expending of the moral circle” is a common terminology, relaying on changes that occurred in inter-human relations, as if a historic and current review of the way human treat each other is an optimistic model (as we argue and elaborate in the articles about poverty, the state of women and of children, in a video about wars, and in a post about modern slavery, while also stressing that as inviting and popular as the comparison between slavery and animal exploitation is, it is flawed, ungrounded and misleading).
The fact that what is probably the most powerful campaign by the AR movement ever, is failing against what is probably the most luxurious exploitation industry, should alert us activists about the chances to ever end the rest of the exploitative industries. Especially when most of them are much bigger, and all are considered much harder to give up on by humans.
Obviously that doesn’t mean we might as well give up on changing animals’ reality, but that we must give up on humans so animals’ reality would change.