26 August 2011

Dear fur wearing vegan-environmentalist, you’re not fooling anyone

In a twist of audacity, the fur industry has committed misdirection worthy of Houdini—fooling many a stalwart environmentalist and vegan into becoming walking advertisements for their brutal business. I refer to the bizarre, somewhat recent trend of re-framing the wearing of fur as eco-friendly, and somehow removed from the animal cruelty for which it represents.

The perceptions of vintage fur as sustainable and (in a stunning leap of logic,) not contradictory to a life of lesser harm has given some vegans/vegetarians the delusion it’s somehow cruelty free, simply because the animals were killed years or decades earlier. The eco-minded individual has accepted the spoon-fed “green” platitudes of the fur industry, believing fur environmentally friendly as it’s been stripped from a mink, fox, lynx, dog or cat. In other words, animals are from nature and thus, are an ever-renewing “fabric.” Both of these arguments are entirely false and as tiresome as “I can’t go vegan, because I love cheese too much.”

Those who wear fur utilize the same justifications made by those who eat meat and/or dairy—they flail with logic, insist that it’s good for this reason or that, but in the end, they do it because it satisfies a superficial whim. Fur is not ethical, it isn’t sustainable, nor is it environmentally friendly. Wearing a fur decades old does not expunge its barbaric representation of cruelty, and it idolizes the fur industry of which continues to pollute on a global-scale.

Nevertheless, some of you may argue, “Isn’t the fur already dead?” In the instance of vintage fur, the animals were killed so long ago, it seems reasonable to walk around in its skin (i.e. why let it go to waste?) Well, a hamburger is dead, so is a steak—this strain of judgment invalidates one’s reason for choosing veganism altogether. If we extrapolate this logic to other areas of our lives, there is now no reason not to reap the rewards of all inhuman acts, secure in the justification that you did not have a direct hand in committing the cruelty. Conflict diamonds? Absolutely, those earrings will look smashing on you! Child labor? Hells yes, wrap those sneakers up! GMC keeps building Hummers, why let 8,000 pounds of steel go to waste? Environmentalism seems ridiculous with this particular brand of wisdom, and it completely excuses any accountability that we have as individuals.

In other words, it makes it easier for you to look like a complete idiot.

Wearing vintage fur often comes with the reasoning that it’s simply too “beautiful” to part with, or that parting would be wasteful (and therefore, not environmentally friendly.) Here is why the vintage fur-wearer really doesn’t care about any of these issues; if they are really keeping a fur coat to avoid creating needless waste, the solution is simple. Create a positive from a brutal act and donate it to an animal shelter for use as bedding, or to the homeless. If the concern is truly one of environmentalism, then donating to those in need should be an obvious and easy choice. Donating repurposes the use of fur into one that does not propagate the cruelty for which it stood.

Torn over what to do with your vintage fur? Turning that blight on humanity into a benefit and congratulate yourself on not being full of crap for taking the sustainability argument of vintage fur to its logical end.

“But, but, it’s been passed down in my family and represents generations before me!”

This familial justification is weak—many objects that are also “vintage” and held meaning to generations passed, e.g. Jim Crow signs, The Turner Diaries, or just a nice poster selling men’s slacks. Someone, at some point, found these objects important or simply visually pleasing for the feelings they invoked. Today, such objects represent a failing in our humanity. Simply because we can commit an act to satisfy our base desires is not a justification. Vintage fur still represents billions of deaths in painful, morally repugnant ways that should repulse us in the same way as looking upon a Jim Crow sign.

To state that you played no direct hand in the act, or that the animal died x-number of years ago does not erase or minimize its needless violence. With very, very few exceptions, fur is reduction of lives to a mere object to satisfy a meaningless and superficial whim—fashion.

Visit this excellent fashion blog for more ideas on how to do some good with that fur coat. 

“Nevertheless!” Some of you may persist, ‘Isn’t fur eco-friendly? Isn’t it all natural and good to the Earth and entirely sustainable?”

This is my favorite as it’s the most inexplicable, simply because a resource is natural does not make it sustainable. The nutria, commonly known as the river rat, is a sizable rodent indigenous to South America. The nutria currently holds an “invasive-species” status, wreaking havoc on the Louisiana coastal wetlands. The fur industry is holding the nutria as a shining example of its sustainable efforts, utilizing a species of animal that is destroying a natural habitat. This is nothing more than ecological Munchausen syndrome by proxy—the nutria only exists in North America because the fur industry imported the species in the 1950s and bred them in a fervor that eventually outgrew demand. Today, the fur industry attempts a sustainable label for profiting from wetland destruction that they played a direct part in decades earlier.

We’ve already seen instances where eradication of a single species by hunting had a catastrophic effect on an eco-system. In the late 19th century, hunters nearly wiped wolves out of Yellowstone, which resulted in an intensely destructive series of events, elk overpopulation, vegetation reduction and waterway instability. Wild trapping, the fur-industry insists, is entirely selective about which animals they catch and kill. I researched endlessly for the sentient traps that knew when to “spring” and could recognize a mink from a lynx to no avail. Wild trapping unavoidably injures and kills indiscriminately—those animals that are “released” have a significantly reduced likelihood of survival. If you don’t believe me, break your ankle and try to walk home. Animal rights groups sued the State of Maine in 2007 for allowing Canadian lynx deaths (an already stressed species,) inadvertently, in fur traps. Here is a report on this from Trapping Today, of which the fur industry’s contempt for the Endangered Species Act is apparent,
Incrementalism is how these [animal rights] groups eventually end up getting what they want. I know many trappers in Maine and elsewhere who would not be able to operate a trapline on a 24 hour check. I certainly wouldn’t. Think of the guys who have a full time job and are running 50-100 marten traps on the side to supplement their income. The full time trapper has been virtually eliminated from the state based on previous restrictive regulations. I think this request is the last straw.
Wow, but we’re to believe that wild fur trapping is done with a cautious and respectful eye on the at-risk animal species in a given area? Even if we ignore these facts, as the fur-wearing environmentalist is bound to do, only 15% of fur is wild. The other 85% of fur coats and trim originates from fur farming. As most are familiar, animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions, land and water destruction than automobiles. Fur farms, massive waste pollution aside, import the majority of fur pelts to Asia countries, who have dramatically increased demand for fur in the past few decades. From the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service,
According to industry sources, a growing number of international fur traders, processors and fashion designers, have gradually shifted business to Asian countries, where cheap labor and skillful workers are plentiful. Fur manufacturing in Asia was first established in Hong Kong because of low labor costs and common use of English in the business sector. Later, some of the employees that used to work for these Hong Kong fur companies, started their own businesses in mainland China. These mainland fur companies mainly focus on garment manufacturing and usually outsource designing jobs…Industry sources told ATO/GZ that over 80% of fur garment manufacturing and raw skin processing, i.e. dyeing and dressing, takes place in South China...

Shipment from the States to China
Once the buyer completes his payment in full, most likely in cash, he can collect the pelts. Given the high value, they are shipped to Hong Kong via air. The major export ports in the world include Seattle, Copenhagen, Helsinki and Toronto. The industry estimates that a total value of US$500 million mink pelts of all origins are eventually shipped into China. Most buyers ship pelts through gray channels to their manufacturing plants in mainland China to avoid paying of tariffs and taxes of 39% (including 17% VAT) of the furs’ value. Industry sources told us that because profit margins from making fur garments are so slim, going through legal channels to import fur skins makes them less competitive. For example, in north China, the retail margin is said to be 10% or lower.
Well, that’s a lot of fuel used, and we all will just trust that the environmental standards are followed properly throughout. Let’s not forget about the “cleaning, softening, preserving, dyeing and drying” that must occur to prevent the pelts from rotting while you cherish their beauty. This process doesn’t include the necessity of extended care to keep that fur in top shape! The Canadian Fur is Green website states,
Summer Vacation
Nothing shortens the lifespan of a fur like keeping it cooped up in the closet during hot summer months. Home storage, even using air conditioning or a cedar closet, will not protect your fur from drying out or from dust, dirt and insect damage. Fur vaults are specially designed environments, with carefully controlled temperature and humidity. When furs are not professionally stored, though the fur may appear undamaged, the natural oils in the leather may have dried out, prematurely aging your garment and leaving it more vulnerable to rips and tears.

Spa Treatment
Furs should be cleaned once a year, and by a fur specialist, never a dry cleaner. Your fur may not look dirty but it needs freshening nonetheless to remove small abrasive dirt particles and chemicals, and keep it soft. The cleaning process includes a glazing procedure, which enhances the lustre of your fur. It is also the ideal opportunity for your furrier to spot-check for any necessary repairs - before minor problems become more serious.
Oh, nothing says, “Environmentally sound” as an air conditioner for animal skins processed with chromates, formaldehyde, bleaching agents, and dyes after transport half across the globe! And let’s not forget that the preferred method of killing animals in fur farms is gassing them with carbon dioxide!

For the eco-fur wearer, this is the point of which they grasp at the last argument of the comparison between fake fur and real fur. Fake fur, they will say, is made from petro-chemicals and is therefore, not sustainable (i.e. a hybrid SUV is better than a plain, gas-guzzling SUV.) Yes, many fake furs are made from unsustainable petro-chemical sources (that do not poop billions of tons of waste, natch.) However, this is a non-starter, as fake fur is far from the only alternative in cold weather gear.

Many eco-conscious US clothing manufactures have seriously stepped up their game in terms of sustainability. Patagonia is a leader, developing clothing from recycled PET bottles and in 2011, will being production of Reprev100—a line of all-weather gear made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottles. Plastic is spun into thread, woven into fabric with a 5% waste ratio. Patagonia isn’t the only game in the market; REI and Timberland are working to develop a close-loop program of recycling clothing and outerwear.

So there you have it—fur is unsustainable, and it certainly isn’t cruelty-free, regardless of how long ago animals died to make a coat. If you’re going to wear fur, drop the pretense that you’re somehow eco-conscious, or animal-friendly. At best, you’re a tool for the fur industry, glamorizing and perpetuating the mother of all greenwashes, as fur (vintage or new) will never be “green.”

Nathan Rivas 
Nathan is a passionate animal advocate and vegan in the Seattle-area, who lives with a crazed dachshund, an enormous Maine coon and a judgemental short haired black cat. Nathan graduated with a Bachelors of Science (summa cum laude) from Northeastern University. He is preparing for his Masters of Science program in the fall and likes to make jokes that involve the chemical compound arsole (and is totally addicted to gardein).
Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/echoforsberg