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If fur is killing animals and faux-fur is killing the planet, what on earth should you do?

There are similar questions being asked in silk and leather industries.

It’s the most divisive material in fashion. Many have sworn they would rather go naked that wear it; but its animal-free alternative is not faring much better in the controversy stakes. Because faux fur is not immediately the good guy in this scenario.

The same predicament can be rolled out to all manner of ethical fashion debates. While the production of silk sees silkworms killed, and real leather sees cattle and calves killed, man-made polyesters and PVCs are absolutely not the answer, and are in-fact immensely problematic in terms of sustainability.

Which raises a real problem for shoppers, who discover that the ‘solution’ to questions raised within the ethical fashion space is often an enormously unsustainable one.

While, of course, no animals have to meet-their-maker so you can have that pom-pom bobble hat, the environmental impact of faux fur almost matches that of fur’s, not to mention the often appalling and exploitative human conditions in which it can be produced.

Aim to be an ethical shopper and you can often find yourself in a sort of cross section of caring; between the ethical issue of animal and human rights, and the sustainability issue of product that negatively impact the environment.

So, is it really that much more conscious to go faux?

First, let’s go through what it actually takes to make that faux-fur coat. More often than not, it is made from polyester, materials typically made from polymeric fibres, which contain acrylic. Great, you think, polyester didn’t come from a defenceless bunny rabbit or a mink, ravaged on a fur farm. True, but it is made from spun plastic, which can take up to approximately 1000 years to biodegrade once it comes to landfill.

“Acrylic had the worst environmental impact of nine fibres studied in a 2014 report by the European Commission,” explains Mina Jugovic from the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, “It came last in four out of six categories including impact on climate change, human health and resource depletion.”

There is also the huge environmental impact of microfibres – these are the tiny plastic particles that synthetic fibres shed in the wash that can be extremely detrimental to the environment. Brands like Patagonia have been savvy enough to sell laundry bags that help trap these fibres in the wash, but they are one of precious few manufacturers taking action on this issue.

“We now know these man-made fibres to be an absolute nightmare for the environment,” says Meg Pirie, a vegan stylist; “Not only are they made from non-renewable resources and often dyed with toxic chemicals, but these fibres will also take hundreds of years to biodegrade and are a massive cause of microfibres in our oceans and waterways.”

Though she is staunchly anti-fur, she cautions against believing that all faux fur is the answer; highlighting that you still have to place vegan fashion in the bigger picture of sustainability.

Huge steps have been made in high fashion away from fur - with Gucci, Versace, Burberry, Coach, Maison Margiela and Jean Paul Gaultier all having committed to banning fur in recent years. Yet, among fur-free high-fashion houses, Stella McCartney remains the only brand of this status to avoid animal skins completely. And whilst it may feel like fashion is turning its back on fur, the global fur industry was valued at a whopping $40 billion just a few year ago.

Yet the fur industry is not just bad for cute and fluffy animals. It’s seriously bad for the planet, too.

A study back in 2015 found that a mink coat has five times the environmental impact of a faux-fur coat,” says Yvonne Taylor, director of corporate projects at PETA, “In fact, the production of one kilogram of mink fur results in an emission factor of 110 kilograms of carbon dioxide. That’s the equivalent of driving a car 775 miles.”

“Real fur is also treated with a whole host of chemicals, many of which are toxic and associated with health risks,” she explains.

Mina Jugovic agrees, saying that, if sustainability is important to you, a material seen as ‘natural’ like fur (despite what you may think about the way it is acquired) is actually not as natural as you may think, nor as environmentally conscious; “The C02 emissions associated with keeping and feeding tens of thousands of minks on a single farm, the manure runoff into lakes an drivers, the toxic chemicals used…these are all massive contributors to environmental hazards.”

So, where does that leave you? If fur is killing animals and faux-fur is killing the planet: what do you do? Nothing we purchase can ever be 100% sustainable - after all, everything comes with varying degrees of carbon footprint - but it all comes down, as Meg says, to “asking the right questions”.

Seek out brands that take their cruelty-free and sustainable badges of honour seriously. Stella, Shrimps and Dries Van Noten all produce super high-quality and sustainable faux fur in particular, the brand Ecopel makes great faux-fur out of recycled plastic bottles and Komodo makes wool-free coats made of recycled polyester.

Maison Atia and Unreal Fur both make concerted efforts to be sustainable with their faux-fur production, and innovative new designers like LCF alumni Tara Mooney are making fur from plant-based materials; like moss collars and pelts. A recent LCF student, Ashleigh Chambers, is working on creating biodegradable faux fur, from a new eco-friendly cellulose fibre created from rose bushes.

Until plant-based fabrics like these become more developed and mainstream, there is a simple solution: embrace slow fashion. Our disposable culture is the greatest overall factor in planet destruction. If we committed to shopping vintage, second-hand or to severely reducing our sartorial waste; there wouldn’t be piles of slowly ruining the environment or polluting our water.

So, buy better, buy less and, if you go faux, make sure you’re in the know.

This article was originally published on Glamour UK.

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