Exotic Skins and Furs: Luxury Fashion’s Movement Towards Sustainability

The history of wearing furs begins about 170,000 years ago when humans first wore coverings made of animal pelts and furs. Since then, furs have transformed into a symbol of wealth, high fashion and luxury.

 

In May 2022, Burberry was the latest luxury fashion retailer to swear off exotic skins from their collections, an incredible step forward following Burberry’s real fur ban in September 2018.

The movement away from exotic skins and furs has been led by animal rights activists advocating to ban animal pelts and skins since the 1980s.

However, the exotic skins and furs market was once and may still be highly coveted. In 1977, the U.S. surpassed $600 million in sales of furs and by the late 1980s, retail sales broke $1.9 billion.

The Epitome of Glamour

The history of wearing furs begins about 170,000 years ago when humans first wore coverings made of animal pelts and furs. Since then, furs have transformed into a symbol of wealth, high fashion and luxury.

European royalty in the 11th century often wore fur coats, capes and accessories made from chinchilla, mink and sable. Fur rose again in popularity during the Victorian era when the demand for these luxury furs led to fur farms in the 1870s. By the 1950s, furs became more affordable and commonplace as the American public spotted film stars wearing luxury furs both in movies and in their private lives.

By the 1960s, designers crafted faux fur coats, making furs more affordable than ever before.

The Great Exotic Skins Debate

Animal activism took off in the 1980s as activists and protestors advocated for animal rights and the bans of furs, pelts and skins, along with ending animal testing for products. Avon and Revlon were among the first beauty companies to stop animal testing in the early 90s as a result of early protests.

Later in the decade, organizations such as The Human Society and PETA released undercover videos showing animal abuse and revealed companies that sold products made of dog and cat fur, bringing attention to their causes.

Since 2016, many luxury and premium fashion brands such as Armani, Burberry, DKNY, Furla, Gucci, Michel Kors, Tom Ford and Versace have stopped creating fur products or have plans to phase out fur.

Other companies such as Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood are also fur-free, and cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco have also decided to ban the sale of furs.

What’s Next?

While many luxury and premium companies phase out furs, animal welfare policies suggest companies still source exotic skins such as alligators, crocodiles, ostrich, pythons and water snakes (particularly for bags and shoes). Many companies highly affected by the ban on furs have instead doubled down on this product category.

With most luxury brands now fur-free, animal rights activists are heightening pressure to end the use of exotic skins and could possibly target similar causes, such as the ban of wool or silk, in the future.

Chanel banned exotic skins in December 2018, and e-tailer Moda Operandi banned their use in April of this year.

Faux fur is not without consequences as well. Fake fur is made up of plastics and polymers—materials that are not biodegradable and take hundreds of years to break down. As fast fashion continues to cycle through trends and beef up production, unsustainable fur fibers contaminate waterways and fill up landfills.


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