The fur industry has long been a byword for cruelty, killing millions of animals a year in horrific ways in order to profit from their skins. Row upon row of cages stacked on top of each other in foul-smelling sheds that resound with the screams of distressed animals – this is a fur farm.
More than 85 per cent of the fur sold today comes from such facilities, where minks, foxes and other animals are locked up for their entire lives before being killed for their skins. Living in these conditions – far from their natural environment and with no opportunity to play, hunt, jump or run – often drives inquisitive, intelligent wild animals insane during their short lives. Fighting, self-mutilation and cannibalism are common on fur farms.
Within the past 18 months, Yoox Net-a-Porter, Gucci, Michael Kors, Versace, Furla, Burberry, and DVF have all announced anti-fur policies, while this year’s September London Fashion Week became the first of the major fashion weeks not to show any fur on the catwalk.
Within the luxury space, the balance has tilted against fur. In the 1980s, fur was synonymous with luxury, representing a status symbol for many women. The global fur trade is valued at $40 billion, but today fur is central to the image — and revenue — of only a handful of major brands. Meanwhile, anti-fur messaging is being amplified by social media and a millennial customer base that is paying closer attention to the values represented by the products they buy. For brands like Gucci, the goodwill generated by banning fur outweighs the sacrifice of a few million dollars in sales of fur-trimmed loafers.
The anti-fur movement has ebbed and flowed for decades. Calvin Klein stopped using fur in 1994, the same year Peta ran a campaign featuring supermodels including Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington, who claimed they would “rather go naked than wear fur.” Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, and Selfridges barred fur in the mid-2000s. More recently, Hugo Boss joined the no-fur list in 2015, followed by Armani the following year.
Gucci kicked off the latest wave of brands announcing fur bans in October 2017. Winning over luxury’s hottest brand was a coup for animal-rights activists who had been targeting specific companies for almost a decade via a mix of behind-the-scenes talk and public protest. In July 2017, more than 20 animal rights activists heckled Michael Kors during a speech, while in September 2017, Burberry’s London Fashion Week show was disrupted by about 250 anti-fur protesters. Michael Kors agreed to ban fur in December, Burberry last month.
Numerous investigations of fur farms across many fur-producing countries have documented atrocities, including animals with eye infections, sores on their feet from filthy wire cages, missing limbs and festering, untreated open wounds (some so deep that their brains are visible); babies kept in cages with the rotting corpses of their mothers; and animals who exhibit neurotic behaviour as a result of psychological damage.
The methods used to kill animals on fur farms include vaginal or anal electrocution, gassing, and poisoning. All are gruesome, painful and terrifying for the animals. In 2000, fur farming became illegal in the UK, but it still takes place across Europe and the rest of the world, inflicting intense suffering on animals.
Every year, trappers worldwide kill millions of raccoons, coyotes, wolves, bobcats, opossums, nutrias, beavers, otters and other fur-bearing animals for the clothing industry. Animals who are trapped in the wild can suffer for days from blood loss, shock, dehydration, frostbite, gangrene, and injuries sustained in attacks by predators. Mother animals caught in traps sometimes chew off their own limbs in a desperate attempt to get back to their babies.
Even brands that still use fur are acknowledging shifting attitudes. Fendi, which started as a furrier in 1925, re-branded its Couture Week show this past July as haute couture, rather than the haute fourrure description it used in recent seasons. And while fur was still present in the label's Spring 2019 collection, it was less prominent than in past seasons.
Prada, too, has been decreasing its use of fur. Recently the brand has come under pressure as a result of a targeted campaign spearheaded by the Fur Free Alliance, a coalition of 40 animal rights groups. According to the company, thousands of e-mails demanding it bans animal fur has been sent to the Prada Group and personal addresses of employees. However, the company has not announced plans to stop using fur.
Studies show activism is impacting purchasing decisions. Prior to announcing its fur-free policy last June, Yoox Net-a-Porter surveyed 24,000 customers: 72 percent said social or environmental considerations drove their purchasing decisions at least some of the time, while 58 percent said having more information about the ethics and sustainability of a product would influence their shopping choices.
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