We Won’t Wear Fur, But We Will Wear Leather. Are We Hypocrites?

fur hood

Confession: On a trip to Venice some years back, I literally slept naked in an ankle-length black mink coat a Republican friend had lent me for the week-long trip. Diddy hasn’t had it so good. Talk about texture porn.

There’s a reasonable explanation for how this happened. I accidentally nodded off in the thing the first night, as I am wont to do, and what can I say? I never slept so well, and decided to keep it up for the whole vacation. Why we don’t sleep naked in fur as a matter of nightly course is beyond me. Just try it sometime. No? Oh, well. One woman’s decadent is my yes, please.

Before you comment in horror, consider, my eco babes: why is the knee-jerk reaction to fur one of disgust, while the vast majority of us are rocking leather boots this winter?

Like most people, I can deftly rationalize just about anything if it fills an ego need. As a teen I read Diet for a New America, by John Robbins, and promptly gave up meat/began lecturing my parents daily. Only, I still wore leather all through high school and college, knowing full well that my Steve Maddens were not exactly “making use” of the byproducts of the meat industry, but rather fueling its factory-farming splendor.

Another confession: Possibly the most ironic point in the failure known as my vegetarian career was attending the Farm Sanctuary in Orland, Calif. in the early Noughties with my much more carnivorously pure friend, Dori, an actress who had the sense not to show up to the event in leather clogs. Unlike a certain green editor we won’t mention. Oops!

All this is to say, wearing fur may be more viscerally offensive, but I don’t think it’s any worse than strapping yourself into a leather belt. In fact, it’s possibly better. True, much of the fur industry raises animals in appalling conditions. But do CAFO cows have it any better? Not a chance. It’s completely reasonable to argue that the business of ethically raised animals turned out as fall’s new fur vest still has the moral high ground over a hue-du-jour downer beef belt bought on sale at Nordstrom Rack.

Going further, it’s nearly impossible to separate the issue of animal welfare from environmental principles. Even if you think, as I do, that it’s perfectly acceptable to raise animals for human use (if done in a way that is certifiably humane), there’s still the fact that animal products of any kind – from fur caps to leather bombers to tonight’s dinner – suck the earth’s resources harder than a Hoover.

Ethically, the choices are either vegan products made from synthetic goods, or animal products produced in a way that is deemed to be humane. Environmentally, neither vegan nor animal products are ideal. Nothing is.

When we first started EcoSalon, I was contacted by a woman selling “vegan”, “eco” faux fur rugs. The vegan claim didn’t bother me, since it was true, but her eco claim got my attention – mainly because the rugs actually used “eco” in the brand name. I asked her what could possibly be eco about her petroleum-based rugs, and after a slightly heated exchange, she acknowledged she should probably change the name altogether.

Nothing annoys me more than a vegan…product trying to cop some green cred. Vegan is often touted as being eco-friendly, simply because it sounds more ethical and less energy-intensive than using animals, but sounding all nice ‘n stuff doesn’t make it so. A lot of vegan goods are little more than plastic. Marketing much?

I’d personally rather have recycled leather, which has had years to off-gas those nasty preservatives, sidling up to my skin than plastic, recycled or otherwise, which will never, ever biodegrade and is far more energy-intensive to recycle or reuse than an animal-based good.

I love to tell the fur in Venice story for the reaction it gets, but the bittersweet part of this is that no one ever says a thing about my closet full of giant leather handbags and gussy shoes. Fur is like veal, I guess. It’s off the list – if you’re a good person, you just don’t do it. But crusted fish filets and suede D’orsays are A-OK.

When vegetarianism first garnered Western mainstream notice in the 70s, meat-eaters loved to point out the hypocrisy of vegheads showing up to protests sporting leather loafers. And if we’re being honest, they had a point.

But if we’re still being honest, maybe fur isn’t necessarily so bad. (The fur industry would sure like us to believe so: check out Fur Is Green.)

Let’s be real. Should we only ever wear recycled, vegan products?

More questions:

Would you rather wear recycled or vintage – and therefore eco-friendly – vegan products, or recycled or vintage leather and fur?

How many times have you (privately or openly) judged a woman in fur, while ignoring the hordes of both leather and plastic boots, bags and belts parading past you daily? I know there have been times that I have.

And, do you wear leather but not fur?

Let me have it, ladies.

Image: lanuiop

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20 thoughts on “We Won’t Wear Fur, But We Will Wear Leather. Are We Hypocrites?

  1. Pingback: Abigail Wick's Conscious Case Against Veganism. | elephant journal

  2. Pingback: The Conscious Case against Veganism | Eating with Abs

  3. Certainly, we are. Part of it, I think, is because only wealthy people can afford to buy fur coats. They’re an easy target. It’s easy for a bunch of college students to harass women wearing fur coats because they’ll never be able to afford one. All the while they eat McDonald’s hamburgers and wear leather shoes.

    Beef would probably be considerably more expensive if leather weren’t it’s by-product. Think of how much a leather coat is? Activists don’t get up in arms about sheepskin either, for some reason. People in North America don’t generally eat mutton or lamb, so what happens to the rest of the sheep? Again, I think it’s partially a class thing. Sheepskin is associated with hippies and rugged outdoorsy types so it must be OK.

    People don’t like plastic shoes -why?- because they aren’t durable, they’re uncomfortable because they don’t adjust themselves to the wearer’s foot, and they don’t usually look that good either. People love leather. It’s waterproof, windproof, affordable, attractive, and durable.

    We live in a society where some people are paranoid about wearing a vintage coat with a fur collar collar out and a about (seriously, I have a 1920s coat with a fox collar and I’ve had questions, though people were more surprised than offended that it was real, real people being rare where I come from). I mean, people are afraid to wear fur where I live in Ottawa where winter temperatures get down to -30C. I know people who own a vintage store near Toronto and they say the vintage furs fly off the racks when the temperatures fall below -15C. Fur coats are criminally silly in Miami but in cold climates, it makes sense to wear a vintage mink. I have one and I’m sweating in it at -20C. No wool coat would do that for you and those artificial coats usually only go down to your hips.

  4. Fur Should be allowed aslong as its recycled vintage fur.. Theirs no harm in wearing something thats already been killed its just a waste for it to be thrown away!

    Whether you wear it or eat it.. its still breading an animal to be killed

  5. Are you all idiots?

    Leather is a by product of the meat industry. The skins left over from the huge quantities of beef the western world consumes. A farming industry that also causes massive levels of gas pollution from the livestock.

    Fur is not a by product of anything. People don’t eat mink!

    I would much rather people stop trying to argue that fur is acceptable and just be honest and say you don’t care instead of trying to argue a case for it that doesn’t exist. You talk like fur farms do the animals a favour.

    Your rationale that the use of leather and fur are even CLOSE is ridiculous!

  6. In reality, the fur industry is fairly eco-firendly. It’s been given a bad wrap (pun intended) by the PETA world. Real fur is very warm from the start–warming than virtually any man-made material you will find. I know, there are those who will represent this as being false; it’s not though. Also, the harvesting of wild animals helps control populations that would otherwise grow to levels that are unsustainable. Does anyone truly believe Mother Nature controls animal populations in humane ways? Try dying of starvation or some horrible untreated diseases if you think that’s the case.

    People need to gain some perspective here: The forests and jungles of the earth are not Walt Disney World. There are horrible things that go on in them every day (and night)–365 days a year. Also, we do wear leather (most of us anyway), and it is absurd to make such an issue over fur, when so much animal skin is being procured for shoes, purses, jackets, car interiors, etc. I’ve seen people walking around in long leather coats mocking fur wearers. I’ve lost count of the Hollywood starlets I’ve seen sporting Christian Louboutin python or lizard or alligator skin shoes who are also openly “anti-fur”. It’s okay to kill a reptile for fashion but not a rodent? The hypocrisy is rampant. I can make a case that a fur coat has more practical value than a pair of lizard shoes–at least the fur keeps one warm and protected against the elements. Lizard or snakeskin shoes are pure indulgence.

    And, while I’m on the subject of rodents, let’s not forget people that most fur comes from just that–RODENTS (i.e. mink, sable, etc.). These are animals that multiply exponentially–in the wild or in captivity. We have lost so much perspective on this that all fur is lumped together now as being “evil”.

    Finally, animals raised on fur ranches in the U.S. and most of the western world are not abused. In fact, the average life expectancy of a ranch-raised animal is longer than if it was born in the wild. Further, there is no benefit to the rancher to abuse the animals. In fact, they have every reason to treat them as well as possible–it results in higher quality fur. All licensed fur ranches in the U.S. comply with standards established by the veterinarians. Don’t believe me, look it up.

  7. Interesting discussion. A couple points:

    Virtually all textile products can be remodelled, passed on to younger brothers and sisters, or donated to charities and thus are “recyclable” or “reusable”. It is meaningless to claim that fur is recyclable or reusable because virtually all fabrics are. How is fur any more recyclable than any other fabric?

    There are many ecological problems and risks inherent in raising and killing animals on large scales for consumer purposes. For example, a recently released report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, warns that the worldwide livestock industry has become a significant contributor of land degradation as well as air and water pollution, and the largest sectoral source of animal wastes, antibiotics, hormones, chemicals from tanneries, and fertilizers and pesticides used for feed crops.

    Consider the chemicals and harsh treatment that must be necessary to turn an animal (fur) skin, unnaturally and cruelly peeled off the tissue of a live creature, into a consumer product to be worn against human skin and stored in our closets, without decaying and collecting bugs.

    The Encyclopaedia of International Labour Organization states that the chemicals commonly used to process fur include acids, hydrogen peroxide, chromates, formaldehyde, bleaching agents, and various types of dyes. Many of these are potential skin irritants. Formaldehyde is classified as a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and a probable human carcinogen by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Chromates, depending on the type of compounds, can cause breathing problems and other health issues.

    Personally? I don’t wear fur or leather and I believe that ANY action that someone can take to reduce suffering of animals, the planet or other people (ie. workers) is worthwhile.

    Whether you just don’t wear fur, or you eat vegetarian once a week or you support a charity – random acts of kindness add up.

    We are all on a spectrum of evolution and change and we need to keep challenging ourselves to do less harm.

  8. We all cant be perfect, can we? ;) I have made a goal not to purchase new leather handbags and other articles of clothing. I do still purchase leather shoes once in a while. I think they are more conformable than their vegan alternatives (I do own a couple of pairs of vegan shoes). And oops, I do sell “vegan leather” hand bags too for my customers who are looking for that option.

    To answer your question, I do a little of column A, and a little of column B depending on what my needs are.

  9. I think the answer is we shouldn’t wear leather and more companies should produce alternatives, but not in China where vegan shoes are made. The healthy materials and other parts are shipped off to factories there, which makes me cringe considering we need factories here for the unemployed. I like leather and fur but could easily live without them and be perfectly happy. I gave away my furs to two nice old ladies in Atlanta in the Eighties because I couldn’t see wearing them anymore when fur was so frowned upon. You raise good points about the leather and congrats for getting your story on Alternet where it will get such widespread exposure.

  10. Thanks so much, all, for the thoughtful and diverse commentary. You done the internet proud! :)

  11. By the way, I am no saint. I have several pairs of shoes made from petroleum-derived materials, and a pair of super cute red leather mary janes that undoubtedly aren’t eco. I think having discussions like these go a long way toward helping us all figure out where the balance lies in our own lives, and how that could be applied to the big picture.

  12. Wow, thought-provoking article, Sara. So many good points in the comments here.

    I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 12, and for me, what that comes down to is A) the environmental impact, B) I simply don’t like the taste, and C) I feel like if I couldn’t look an animal in the face and slaughter it, I don’t deserve to consume it. I feel like those things carry over into the fur/leather argument, but then again, as Sara mentioned, all of these ‘faux’ alternatives are no better for the environment.

    But I think I’m fairly rare in the vegetarian community in that I’m passionate about humane treatment of animals, but I also don’t have a problem with hunting when done responsibly and I believe that raising small quantities of animals for local use *can be* morally and environmentally sound. I think there should be a balance to everything, that we can respect the rest of the creatures on earth and be part of the food chain at the same time. Of course, modern-day practices are very far away from that ideal, and therein lies the problem.

    Like Chrys, I am in the camp of ‘buy one high-quality item and make it last’. I have a pair of leather boots that have been resoled several times and will probably last many more years and I’m very aware of the sacrifice of the animal in order to protect my feet.

    As for fur – have you heard of nutria? These rodents are a huge invasive pest in Louisiana, destroying the local ecosystem, and local authorities are trying to incite demand for their fur so their bodies aren’t wasted when they’re culled. And this isn’t like wearing possum fur or something. Nutria were brought to the U.S. from Argentina back in the ’30s specifically to raise for fur, because they’re so soft.

    I think if more people looked at the use of animals by humans as a give-and-take, the earth would be better off.

  13. Great article! Very thought-provoking. But a genuine question, here: which drives the leather market, the demand for cheap hamburgers or the demand for cheap clothes? I would guess it’s the first, but I don’t know for sure. If everyone stops buying leather anything, without curbing our meaty appetites, there would in theory be a lot of waste hides piling up. If we also found mink tasty, might there be a greater rationale for wearing mink coats?

    Now, I’m not using total consumption of the animal as a full justification. I myself won’t buy leather furniture or clothing because I don’t want to create a market for vast quantities of leather, but I do have leather shoes and handbags (which I tend to buy rarely and wear until they fall apart — decades, in some cases). By the same token I eat beef oh, once in a blue moon — in that respect, I feel like I’m using about the same level of beefy resources. I guess I’m just seconding or thirding the comments about thinking holistically (like the excellent caribou vs. tofu example above) and trying to make the least bad choices with the info available to you. This article was a great nudge to think again about the issue!

  14. Excellent discussion. Fur is just leather with the hair left on and thus it is less processed. It is funny that Zappos.com announced it would not carry any fur products and yet they carry Uggs (they are a fur) and are probably the largest single online purveyor of leather shoes in the country. Probably the closest to “right” answer is to buy only a few really well-made things rather than a shopping cart full of cheaply made, one-season products that will never biodegrade. Think of a classic leather jacket or a Pendleton wool shirt–you never get rid of those items. Also, for a real twist on the fur debate, check out http://www.eco-luxuryfur.com or http://www.wild-wool.com. Fur? Yes. Eco? Double yes. Thanks for a thought-provoking discussion.

  15. Great post!

    I recently moved to the Yukon, as a vegetarian – whereupon my extremely environmentally conscious, born-and-raised Yukoner of a roommate pointed out that up here, eating moose or caribou is a far, FAR more sustainable choice than munching on packaged, processed soy products shipped in from thousands of miles away. Anyway, suffice to say I broke my lifelong meat-free status with a serving of muskox on Christmas Eve.

    I think all of these little conundrums – fur vs. leather, tofu vs. local meat, etc. – speak to the fact that hard-and-fast rules just aren’t the best way to go about living a sustainable, balanced, humane life. Instead, it’s an endless stream of choices – and a set of rough guiding principles, plus as much knowledge as you can possibly get your hands on, goes a long way towards helping you make the best (or least-bad?) choice in each changing circumstance.

  16. That mink coat you loved so much represents 2 tons of food production waste from the production of your food! See Super Duper Recyclers and more at http://www.furcommission.com/environ/index.html

    If you’re an omnivore (eating both plants and animals) which most of us are, you’re feeding mink.

    And here’s a piece I wrote on why I love my furs, about what’s in my closet — lots of natural fibers! http://www.furcommission.com/resource/perspect999cd.htm

    Dress warmly — it’s cold outside!

  17. That may be the longest comment I’ve ever written.

    Cue personal lawsuits for diminished eyesight. Sorry folks. ;)

  18. YES. A discussion that needs to be had. Especially the Recycled ‘Bad’ Stuff = ‘Good’ Stuff? argument. That’s something that needs to be hammered out by the green community in general, because it needs to be very clear to everyone (including the popular media) that there’s no single answer. It’s just too complicated for a hard & fast rulebook.

    Reminds me of my reaction to hearing that African police had confiscated tons of ivory from hunters, a 30ft tall pile worth $millions, and then burnt it. My first thought being “what a waste”, my second being “I’m a monster for thinking that”, and my third being “is there some way to address my first thought without falling foul of my second”.

    And ivory, like fur, is gorgeous. I have a mahjong set part-made of ivory (been in my family since the early ’50s, and I’ve inherited it), and I’ll never get rid of it for any reason including the ethical one. My decision in this specific case is that throwing it away is a denial of the reality of it. I’m not actually promoting killing elephants by using it, because everyone I play Mahjong with is a level-headed adult. The moral problem revolves around a principle. But it’s here, it’s made, it was made to be used and I’m going to use it.

    I’d never, ever, ever promote ivory in public, but here I am owning it in private. And elephant hunting is thoroughly evil. Contradictions abound? Well, maybe.

    But here’s the thing. Human beings are inconsistent and denying that is ludicrous. It’s personal and specific, every time. Everyone is a “hypocrite” (now *there’s* a word we need to strip of its negative connotations) if you look hard enough because everyone is human. We all have exceptions to our rules, and if they’re exceptions that stay within the law, they’re our responsibility and part of our inwardly negotiated stance on being a successful human being. So my mahjong set is one of my exceptions, and maybe some folk would judge me on that. Fair enough. I respect their choice.

    Speaking generally…there’s another thing that bothers me too. What’s the way to deal with a dependency? To completely remove all trace of the thing you’re dependent on, to remove all temptation even if that process involves destroying it and throwing it away? Yes, it works, and it’s a common way of tackling such things – but are you really *getting over* your dependency, or just backing away from it, holding it at arm’s length because you feel you can’t be trusted?

    Alternately, a way to beat it is to be able to look the source of your addiction full in the face all the time and to deny its hold on you. Keeping it in full view, so it’s in the forefront of your mind where you can tackle it. Are we capable of doing this by reusing leather, ivory, fur and what have you – accepting it’s gorgeous and getting worth from using it, but denying the need to acquire more of it? Are we capable of doing something like that?

    If we are, we’d have our unsustainable habits well and truly licked.

    As you say, nothing is ideal. Nothing in green is clear cut. That’s the point. That’s the dialogue running through it. That’s its power: to make us, each and every one of us, *think*. And choose, ourselves, for our own good reasons.

  19. I remember that! The cows were so curious about your shoes, and we kept trying to hide them with hay! Live and learn :) I stay away from leather myself, as I consider it bald fur. I DO have one or two vintage pieces in my closet however that I bought telling myself “this doesn’t contribute to the demand, so its ok”, but I rarely wear because I just can’t reconcile it within myself and still think it glamorizes the (ab)use of animals for fashion. There are so many [fashionable] alternatives available today that I just don’t see a need for cow-skin!

  20. I hear you on this post. I also had a secret life with fur! I was lucky enough, yes lucky to visit a designers studio filled with some of the most luxurious fur coats. They were exquisite and expensive! I tried them all on and have photos to prove. My stand is this… we can eat meat, wear leather and fur, if we do it humanely. If we go back to living off the land instead of overproducing just so we can overindulge and waste, then we are living in harmony.

    This can be taken in so many directions, but living in harmony and making use of the current set of resources should be the goal. If that means costs of goods go up because we are producing less, then that is what it means. But at least we are living in a respectful, reusable re purposeful society.

    Plastic is not natural… and to me has no value or place in our lives. I am trying to de plastic my home and make better choices when consuming.


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