Before You Shop for a Winter Coat, Read This: Your Faux Fur Might Not Be Faux

This post , by Francesca Willow, originally appeared on Ethical Unicorn, and is published here with permission.

And I know it's still technically summer time - but winter will be here before you know it. So before you go out and purchase a new winter coat, please equip yourself with this information first!

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Since I first saw the faux vs real debacle hitting the headlines last year, I naively thought this was an issue a lot of people knew about. However it seems that this may have flown under the radar for some; I’ve seen a fair few people I know who are definitely anti-fur, wearing pieces that I wouldn’t be 100% confident declaring as faux.

Even within communities that don’t care about sustainable fashion at all, in Britain at least there’s a general anti-fur consensus. But here’s the thing. Because fast fashion just loves to cut corners whenever it can, over the last few years multiple retailers have been caught out, as their ‘faux fur’ products turned out to be anything but. Today I wanted to talk about this, because it’s inherently linked to the larger issues we see in fast fashion. While we’re here, I also want to add my voice to ending the myth that faux fur is sustainable, because it is not.

Whilst market stalls, small independent boutiques and e-commerce sites are the most common places where the selling of real fur under a faux label occurs, larger brands that have also been caught out include, but aren’t limited to, Urban Outfitters, Boots, Tesco, Fat Face, BooHoo, TJ Maxx, Amazon, Miss Bardo, Missguided, House of Fraser, Forever 21, Debenhams, Romwe, Neiman Marcus, Kohl’s and Nordstrom (various reports I link to through this piece have discussed these brands by name, most of these names have been specified more than once). These ‘fake’ furs have been found to actually be made from animals such as mink, fox, chinchilla, rabbit, raccoon and even dog and cat fur. It seems that a lot of this selling is happening by accident, but why is it happening at all? Well the answer is both straightforward and very common for fast fashion: cheap prices and lack of supply chain transparency.

How real fur enters the supply chain

Most ordinary consumers lack the ability to distinguish between fake and real fur from simply looking at it, and it’s the same for fast fashion brands too. Although fur farms have been banned in the UK for over a decade foreign fur, particular from Asia, has been making its way into supply chains because  brands simply don’t know who is making their clothes. It’s very common for brands to contract with one hub factory who then subcontract out to various spoke factories. This accounts for both why brands can say they have ‘ethical working conditions’ when they definitely don’t, because they only see the parent factory and ignore the rest, and how these materials end up in their clothes. The Sky News investigation reported that all the items they found mislabelled as fake fur were labelled as made in China and priced at £30 or under. Fast fashion equals cheap prices, and cheap prices often equal unethical, unmonitored supply chains. While there are differing circumstances surrounding inclusion of real fur in products compared to unethical worker conditions, at its core it’s the same concept of conveniently slipping under the radar. The brand is able to easily claim ignorance, whilst it may have actually been knowingly looking the other way.

At the same time, pushing products out for a lower price often means that brands put pressure on factories to produce clothes at lower costs, otherwise they move on to a cheaper supplier. It’s this pressure that pushes factories to subcontract in the first place, and to swap out fake fur for real, especially as it is often only used for small sections on clothes or accessories.

‘Premium-grade faux fur is becoming more expensive. “It is because of this discrepancy in quality and price that there is a temptation to use real fur instead of faux fur,” says Moore. “When customers demand a better product the easy alternative for sewing factories is to use a real fur [as] it is cheaper to buy small scraps of real fur than lengths of high quality faux fur. Cat and rabbit fur is cheap to produce, especially where there is very little regulation.”’ (source)

When this fur has entered the supply chain, brands who sell these products are often then ill equipped to spot it or stop it.

‘Larger retailers, however, who rely on multiple suppliers for inventory, are not always as vigilant — Human Society investigations in the US and the UK have found it common practice to rely on the naked-eye judgement of buyers, copywriters and quality control staff to determine the authenticity of trims and smaller fur items.

“When the product reaches the point of sale we find often there can be different quality control mechanisms in place within the same company for their in-store sales versus their online sales,” explains Bass. “A lot of times it would go down to a copywriter who was putting the information on the website,” agrees Smith. “It would come to the fur and they would use their judgement to know if it was real or not.”’ (source)

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Additionally, the legal requirement around using the word fur on labels are pretty complex, both in Europe:

Although it is technically illegal to mislead customers, according to HSI, the regulation is very rarely enforced.

“There is no legal requirement to use the specific word ‘fur’ on items containing real fur. EU regulations do require items defined as ‘textile products’ to carry the confusing wording ‘contains non-textile parts of animal origin’ but as well as not clearly telling consumers it means ‘real animal fur’ in practice this wording requirement is rarely adhered to at all,” HSI noted in a press release.

HSI also said that footwear, accessories, and e-commerce, are exempt from that requirement.’ (source)

And in America:

Initially Smith found that a loophole in US federal law didn’t require any fur valued at less than $150 to be labelled. “This is what led to a lot of problems where consumers that don’t want to buy fur were being duped into purchasing real fur because they didn’t see it on the label,” he says.

In 2010, US President Obama signed in The Truth in Fur Labelling Act, a bill designed to close the loophole and put legal safeguards in place so consumers could make more informed purchasing decisions. However, Smith says the problem of missing or inaccurate labelling still persists: “Even though the law is passed, it’s not being enforced. We’re still finding lots of garments without any sort of fur mentions. And then that’s just quality control on the retailer’s side.”’ (source)

So essentially, it’s a bit of a nightmare. Here are some things you can do.

How to tell if your fur is real

Don’t go by price

Most of the time real fur is actually cheaper than fake and, seeing as most of the products we’re dealing with are things like trims or pom poms, cheap prices doesn’t mean that the fur is fake. In fact, it may mean the opposite.

as technological advances boost the quality of artificial fur, telling it apart from authentic fur is becoming more and more difficult. Bass says that common feedback from roundtable meetings intended to discover where things went wrong with retailers caught falsely selling animal fur as faux was that they were using price as a guide to deciphering its legitimacy. “A cheap price point is no indicator of [whether] a product will be fake,” she explains, pointing to China and Poland as good examples of where mega-fur farms are producing animal fur very cheaply.’ (source)

Don’t go by color

I think there’s an ingrained belief that if the fur is colourful, it must be fake. After all, bright yellow, blue or purple are colours we’d normally associate with a man made material. Well, real fur can be dyed too. A quick google search will reveal real fur in orange, teal, baby pink and green, to name a few, so colour alone does not determine substance.

Beware of buying online

EU regulations state that “textile products” (ie clothes) containing fur should be labelled as containing “non-textile parts of animal origin”. However, HSI says this doesn’t need to be included in online product descriptions. If it’s a brand with little supply chain transparency, I wouldn’t trust their online store.

Look at the ends and base of the hairs

The tips of the hairs in real fur taper and have pointed ends, whereas the hairs on faux fur are blunt where they have been cut in manufacture….

Part the hair to see how it is attached. “Animal fur has a leathery backing because it’s attached to the animal’s skin, whereas faux fur will have a material woven backing.” Hairs on real fur will also be different lengths, while faux fur tends to be more uniform.’ (source)

Additionally you can try pushing a pin through the material. If the fur is real this will be difficult, like trying to push a pin through leather, while it should pass easily through material.

Continue reading on Ethical Unicorn for another tip to tell if your fur is real, but also to learn why FAUX fur is also bad for animals...

Ethical Unicorn aims to take a holistic, fact-based approach to sustainable living and social justice. As well as the larger problems that are obvious to us, the blog aims to thoughtfully discuss systemic and hidden cycles that also need to be broken.

Here's another article by Francesca:

Curb Impulsive Shopping Habits With the Psychology of Decision Making