Is the Fashion Industry Duping Consumers Into Believing Fur is a "Trend"?
Fur suppliers often sponsor designers behind the scenes
Every fall, Fashion Week runways and magazine pages are populated by fur-wearing models whose opulent extravagance aims to appeal to the masses despite the evident effects of the economic downturn and the increasingly public presence of animal protection organizations.
Subsequently, consumers fondly eye the fuzzy accessories in an attempt to keep on track with the industry-declared trend. But they are likely unaware that fur isn't always an organically-built fad, but instead a style solicited from designers by the fur suppliers who financially back them.
According to the International Fur Trade Federation, global sales of fur increased 70 percent from 2000 to 2010, with the market's net worth nearing $16 billion last year. Almost $1.5 billion of that figure came from the U.S., the least amount when compared to the money spent on fur by consumers Europe, Asia and Russia.
But Danielle Katz, campaign manager of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), believes the big numbers could be the result of what she sees as bribery.
"The fur industry puts out this press release every year, that 'Fur is Back!' but fur is not popular to the general public." Katz said. "The fur industry often has to pay designers to promote its product—they're flying them out, they're wining and dining them, they're manipulating the public, really. And what a lot of people don't know is that even if fur shows up on the runway it doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to be in the collection. It's duping the public."
Indeed, when Justin Timberlake debuted the "New America" collection of his William Rast clothing line at New York Fashion Week in 2010, several looks included real fox fur accents, but later, CEO Colin Dyne assured PETA that those items wouldn't be for sale.
That same year, the New York Times reported that popular designers—including Alexander Wang, whose Doodle Print Jeans were spotted on "fur-free" first lady Michelle Obama last summer—were "lured" by Saga Furs, an international auction house that represents 3,000 breeders, and flown to Copenhagen to attend paid-for week-long junkets at its design studios. The designers were then given unconditional and unrestricted power to use fur with state-of-the-art techniques.
"Apart from offering product development for our skin-buying customers, representatives of fur and fashion industries, Saga is closely networking with international design schools and design teams in customer companies," said Päivi Mononen-Mikkilä, drector of communications. "In most cases, these extended services are part of business deals and our best customers are entitled to them. Fur is an expensive luxury material, and we also support some individual designers and design schools by giving them material for certain specified purposes in order to facilitate their work."
Steve Gold, marketing director for fellow supplier North American Fur Auctions, once told the Times, "We want to make sure fur is on the pages of magazines around the world. The way to do that is to facilitate the [designer's use]."
Though popular designers Proenza Schouler, Prabal Gurung, Derek Lam, Richard Chai, and Thakoon have all accepted incentives from fur suppliers—the latter another favorite of the first lady who wore his frock to the 2008 Democratic National Convention—Miriam Silverberg, a publicist who formerly worked with furrier Antonovich, denies they're influencing consumer interest.
"The fur industry doesn't have to 'give' designers anything," said Silverberg. "Women love fur. I'm one myself. There's something primal about it. The average woman, if she can possibly afford it, wants a fur coat or jacket. In many cases, women say they're against it because they can't afford it, but once they can, it no longer bothers them. All the fur industry has to do is provide it. Even today, in the worst recession since the 30s, women are still buying furs."
According to PETA, 1 billion rabbits are killed each year for their fur and, after a process that Katz calls the "bloodiest and most violent on the planet," designers like Michael Kors sell rabbit-trimmed hats for $60, a method that fur trade federation CEO Mark Oaten believes is making the trend all the more accessible. "With color, light designs...the use of trim...you can wear fur in hot climates...which is opening up the market to so many people,” he told WWD.
But whether fashion industry execs are pulling the strings of equally powerful puppets behind the scenes or not, Pierre Grzybowski, research and enforcement manager of the fur-free campaign for the Humane Society of the United States, insists consumers don't have to be victims of the system, much like the way the animals are.
"Consumers should protect themselves from being duped by the fur industry by seeing for themselves how the animals are mistreated," said Grzybowski. "And by double-checking any 'faux' fur they buy to make sure it isn’t actually false advertised fur from a raccoon dog. Whether or not a trend is truly organic, promotion- and marketing-driven, or even a trend at all, should not affect a consumer’s decision to reject live skinning, anal electrocution, or drowning of animals for an unnecessary product."