The 1929 issue of Vogue magazine featured an article called “Fur Story of 1929”, shedding light on the ‘importance of fur’. Initially introduced as early as in the year 1929, fake fur, better known as faux fur, is created out of pile fabric and is designed in such a way that it appears to be the same as real animal fur. How faux fur replaced natural fur then is by creating replicas of Astrakhan, which is a soft, rich fur derived from a new-born lamb. However, the increasing demand for faux fur more recently can be credited to organizations working for animal welfare.
Around the mid-’60s, conservationists started to voice their opinions against the use of real animals’ fur. In the year 1968, few members of the conservationist organization, the Audubon Society did a gig outside luxury retailer Saks Fifth Avenue in New York. Their agenda was to voice opinions regarding the endangered species and not to target the entire fur industry. However, the attacks stacked up in the coming years as social activists widened their goals to involve the overall well being of animals and not just conservation in the wild. By 1957, fake fur-makers or ‘furriers’ started experimenting with creating imitations of various kinds of fur trying to create a market that would replace natural fur with faux fur.
At this moment, the infant faux fur industry got hold of an arising opportunity. During the ’70s, a New York based fake fur manufacturer, called Timme-Tation, launched a campaign that attacked the fur industry. Hollywood A-listers like legendary Doris Day, Angie Dickenson and Mary Moore stated in a magazine: “Killing an animal to make a coat is a sin“. In a well-known 1994 PETA advert, celebrity supermodels Cindy Crawford & Naomi Campbell posed nude, while displaying a slogan that read: “I’d rather be naked than wear fur”. The tremendous support from celebrities gave rise to the faux fur market and created a need for the same. As a result, the faux fur industry capitalized heavily on this.
As times changed and technology improved, fake furriers were able to create fur-like effects on silk, which looked like leopard fur. Soon, synthetic fabrics were created like dynel and orlon. By the year 1957, furs like mink, beaver, chinchilla, seal, raccoon, ermine and pony were successfully imitated.
In the contemporary faux fur market, furs are generally engineered from synthetic polymeric fibers like acrylic, modacrylic, and polyester. The acrylic polymers comprise of chemicals taken from air, water, coal, limestone and petroleum. A chemical reaction of an acrylonitrile monomer under conditions of pressure and heat results in the creation of these fibers.
Secondary monomers also get added to make the acrylic fibers capable of absorbing dyes. Modacrylic fibers and acrylic fibers are lightweight and give the fluffy characteristic to faux fur garments. Also, they are smoke and sun resistant. The process of production of fake fur is mainly an automated process. The main steps include the manufacturing of synthetic fibers, construction of the garment and finally, modification of the garment.
The fur-free brands
“The right thing at the right time. That’s what fashion is about”, stated American designer Michael Kors on the usage of faux fur replacing natural fur in the industry. He said faux fur is more artisanal in nature. Kors’ brand isn’t the only one abandoning fur. Stella McCartney, Versace, Gucci, Armani, MiuMiu, Ralph Lauren, Burberry, Calvin Klein, Victoria Beckham, Coach, and Tommy Hilfiger make the list. Most recently Prada also went fur-free earlier in 2019. Top fashion brands like Gucci, Givenchy, and Stella McCartney have been creating looks and designs with the usage of faux fur. Italian giant – Fendi also includes fake fur in its collections.
Consumer attitudes are changing, and major fashion brands are also responding to these changes in the market. Gucci’s President and CEO – Marco Bizzari commented on fur, stating: “I don’t think it’s still modern”. It seems, the fur really has become a thing of the past and faux fur maybe be taking a while to make a place in the fashion industry. But while faux fur aims to be moral and ethical many debates and questions about its sustainable character.
Synthetic polymers being non-biodegradable, its discards will ultimately land up either maximizing ocean pollution or land degradation. With a new school of thought arising, that indicates towards the ill environmental effects of the artificial or faux fur, the initial discussions on the ethical stands of natural fur and faux fur have a new perspective that should be looked into.