I get asked this question a lot so decided to write a blog post on it. Deciding which is better, real or faux fur, is not straight-forward, as there are many different issues to consider, from environmental, economic, social and ethical. To focus this blog on the environmental considerations, here are some of the things I think you should reflect on.
There is no way around this one. Faux fur is a plastic product derived from petroleum, a non-renewable material, and is therefore the definition of an unsustainable product (unless recycled). One day we will use up all our petroleum and the production of faux fur contributes to that. Animal fur is sustainable because the animal reproduces and creates a future supply, provided that it is either harvested sustainably from a wild, self-renewing population (e.g. Swiss Fox which we use at Tallis) or bred on a farm. It goes without saying that using furs from endangered or over-harvested species or populations in the wild is not sustainable.
Waste and recycling
There are two points here: longevity/resilience of the product and post-consumer disposal.
In terms of disposal. Fur is a natural, biological product and completely biodegradable, entirely disappearing within one year. Acrylic (which is what faux fur is made from) will typically take 20-1000 years to biodegrade. Tens of thousands of tonnes of used clothing goes to landfill globally every year and 60% of this is some form of acrylic (we only manage to recycle about 15% of textile waste).
This brings me onto the second point. As soon as a faux fur garment is made, it will stick around on the planet for up to 1000 years, most of that time being in landfill (because it will cease to be wearable after a few years of use). Whether one year or 1000, that is still time in landfill and that makes it important in my view to create clothing which is used for a long time before a new garment replaces it. One aspect of that is using hard-wearing materials which stand the test of time and don’t degrade or fall apart. Fur can last 100 years if you take care of it correctly, being remodelled when you feel like a more modern look. Clothes should also work hard in my opinion, a scarf which can be worn as a poncho or cape is likely to stay in your wardrobe longer (see my tippets).
A lot of chemicals are used in the tanning process of fur (as for leather). Manufacturers need to meet environmental standards but they are still dealing with toxic materials such as chrome. One solution is to use vegetable tannins (extracted from tree barks) and this is beginning to be used in leather production. Faux fur has a similar issue as real fur, the production of faux fur fibres and subsequent treatment to soften them, produces some unpleasant by-products on an industrial scale.
Another recently discovered pollutant coming from faux fur is plastic microfibers. Scientists at the University of California found that, when washed, acrylic garments release an average of 1,900 micro particles of plastic (1.7 grams) that end up in our seas, polluting our oceans with a devastating impact on marine life. These microparticles are also found in many cosmetics and the US, UK and Canada among other countries have now banned their use.
Reduce, reuse, recycle
So what is the answer? Is real or faux fur better for the environment? In terms of sustainability, waste and life-cycle, real fur is a better choice for the environment without doubt, but we need to work towards using fewer chemicals in its processing. But please always choose responsibly sourced fur.
As always, whatever your choice, you can minimize your impact on the environment by considering the three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle. Reduce your consumption by investing in quality items that last, invest in things which will stay in your wardrobe for years. Reuse what you have, buy versatile pieces and look to brands who are creative with their materials. Recycle, donate and up-cycle: keep products out of landfill.
- Lilly Milligan Gilbert, Tallis Founder - Geneva 18 May 2017