Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Animals, ethics, and clothing

Fur is a big deal this year.  It is everywhere.  When I was in Las Vegas this October (which is almost as cool as being in New York or Paris or Milan fashion wise) nearly every house was featuring fur in some shape or form.  Someone was quoted in Vogue as saying it was the fashion industry saying "enough" to the idea of recession and showing off a bit of luxury.  And traditionally fur is a luxury item.

I've always found the controversy over fur interesting.  When I was in 5th grade I lived in Germany.  One of the teachers at the American Military Base where we attended school was very pro animals and had her 4th grade class join a club.  My brother was in her class.  I leapt in too- my goal at the time was to work for the World Wildlife Federation saving Panda Bears and I was busy trying to teach myself Chinese in preparation.  My mother regrets to this day our involvement with the animal group.  The exchange rate - dollars to duetschmarks, was something like 1 to 3 at the time and my father had offered to purchase her a very nice fur coat while they were out shopping.  She turned it down, afraid of whatever psychological effect that would have on her young impressionable children.  It never occurred to me to question the ethical ramifications of wearing leather shoes.  During my college years I once asked a rather fashionable vegetarian how she could wear cow but not eat cow and received nothing but an open mouthed stare in response.

Because fur is such the fashion item this year - fake fur is also everywhere.  I caught myself wondering about that recently.  Really - fake fur is made of polymers - which I always interpret as plastics (my very rudimentary understanding is that plastics do not decompose easily or quickly- so fake fur is around for a long time?) so I found myself wondering - if one is going to have an item - is it better to have a fake fur item that adds to pollution through the factory making it and the fact that it is made out of plastic and will be in a landfill LONG after you are gone or is it better to wear an animal fur?

So first I googled fake fur:

fake fur according to enotesFake fur is a type of textile fabric fashioned to simulate genuine animal fur. It is known as a pile fabric and is typically made from polymeric fibers that are processed, dyed, and cut to match a specific fur texture and color. First introduced in 1929, advances in polymer technology have tremendously improved fake fur quality. Today's fake furs can be nearly indistinguishable from the natural furs they imitate.

polymers according to Wikipediapolymer is a large molecule (macromolecule) composed of repeating structural units. These subunits are typically connected by covalent chemical bonds. Although the term polymer is sometimes taken to refer to plastics, it actually encompasses a large class of natural and synthetic materials with a wide variety of properties.

And so, fake fur is not necessarily made out of plastic.  Okay - good I think...
but really - are these other fibers any better?

So I googled "environmental effects of fake fur" and google directs me to: Natural Living for Women: Fur Free Faux Fur:
Here Mod-acrylic Fibers are discussed:

"These are synthetic fibers which when made are not very environmentally friendly. They are made with non-renewable resources, frequently produce toxic waste and aren't biodegradable to name just a few of the possible problems.
But not all synthetic fibers are created the same. Some are made with more care for the environment than others. Tissavel is one of those fibers popularly used.
Tissavel has been tested by Oeko-Tex an organization concerned with the safety of textiles both for the consumer, the people involved in the manufacturing and for the environment. According to the Oeko-tex Standard 100 , Tissavel was awarded a "Confidence in Textiles" license.
It conforms to the standards described in the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 protocol and it has been tested by an independent organization and awarded a license to display the certification label.
Oeko-Tex looks at all stages of manufacture to determine environmental impact but their highest priority is the effect the production of the fiber or the fiber itself can have on people.
I was not able to find any such testing or rating of any other mod-acrylics. But that may change with time. Ask the manufacturer if the mod-acrylics used in their faux fur have been tested for harmful substances."

Hmm, so Tissavel is perhaps a choice but how to know if that is what the fur you are looking at is made out of?

On the flip side:
There is now an Origin Assured label I've seen advertised in fashion magazines.  It seems to have been around for at least a little while, the website is showing contests from 2009.
Origin Assured is real fur, that claims to be committed to sustainable and responsible practice.  Their fact sheets include a list of approved countries and species, agreement on humane trapping standards, suppl chain, IFTF fact sheet, Finnish Fur Sales, Kopenhagen Fur Fact Sheet and others coming soon.

What do you do about the indigenous peoples who use the fur trade to make a living?  I am not asking about indigenous peoples who wear fur as part of their culture - I do not think that is any of my business.  But with things like regulations - well I'm just curious how it all works.

I am frankly not sure what I think.  Being one who adores all things canine - I cannot imagine wearing coyote or fox.  Can't do it.  For whatever reason, rabbit or sheepskin, or deer or cow isn't nearly as upsetting.  Pony - goodness no!  Python - gross and no.  No alligator boots for me either.  

I'm very curious what others think.  How do they reconcile if they wear leather, but won't eat meat.  Or prefer organic foods and eco fabrics but go for faux fur.  


Lydia K said...

Wow, you really did your research! I learned a lot here.
I'm not a fur fan but I'm not vegan everything, either. Ultimately, I don't think I like wearing hairy things, synthetic or real!
Thanks for stopping by my blog. I'm a follower here now!

Meg said...

Having been vegetarian off and on for nearly 2 decades now, I had to also come to terms with being a chef and the whole meat issue. Then there's the whole leather thing too.

So, here's what works for me. May not work for everyone, but I can live with this.

If I am going to eat meat, I have to be willing to consume the whole animal. A cow can't give it's life just for the NY Strip steak portion, right? So I eat nearly every edible part I can. I still won't eat intestines, but that's a sanitation issue. I have embraced eating the weird mystery bits and feel like I am honoring the animal more. I also try to make good choices about where my meat (and eggs) comes from as well.

I do wear leather shoes, but not hats, gloves, clothing, or handbags. I see leather shoes as more of an environmental necessity in some ways. One pair of leather Danskos will last me minimum 5 years. A pair of non-leather shoes might last one. I am hard on shoes and leather ones will last me longer and thus (in my mind) I consume less. Any non-leather shoes I do get are Birkenstocks that can be resoled for years and years.

Because I do not wear leather clothing, I will not wear fur. Fur rarely comes from animals that are also food animals. I feel it's unnecessary.

JJ said...

I individualize it. I am a vegetarian, because I have control over what I eat. I do not condone harming animals in any situation, but I know it takes place. I don't need a fur coat, but I do need and wear shoes. I would not, however, kill an animal for shoes, unless it was a survival situation. I can't change the world, but I can do my part to make it a little better. Brutalizing animals by fattening them with junk while they are crammed shoulder to shoulder into pre-slaughterhouse holding pens is not my thing. However, I do not condemn people for eating chicken. It is not my world to rule, but I do attempt to go with the flow of Nature.

CailinMarie said...

thank you, I appreciate your comments.

Meg, I particularly like your view that if you are going to eat an animal then you ought not to waste parts. I get that, though I think it goes back to childhood in europe because the butchers still offered EVERYTHING in the 1980s. I stop at feet though, tried pigs feet once as a ten year and that was enough.

I think I shall skirt the issue and stick to items from 2nd hand stores :-)

Meg said...

One of my favorite things I ate in France this summer was beef snout. It was pretty much like head cheese, but on a salad. Some muscle meat and some fat/liquid with lots of collagen. Pretty good. I'd definitely eat it again.