April 10th 2023
Redefining Luxury: Are Fashion Houses Finally Going Cruelty-Free? BY Isabel Putinja
As the demand for ethical fashion grows, there are signs that values are changing and modern luxury is being redefined. The messages shared by animal activist groups for decades are getting through, and consumers are waking up to the cruelty of fashion accessories made of fur and exotic leathers. Is the luxury fashion industry moving towards what are seen as modern values based on compassion and sustainability?
Fur is off the runways
In the world of high fashion, fur used to be the epitome of luxury. A fur coat was once considered exotic, glamorous, and even a sound investment. But today fur is anything but fashionable.
Calvin Klein was the first American fashion brand to pledge to go fur-free already back in 1994, followed by Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger more than a decade later. Some of the biggest fashion houses soon followed suit by banning the use of fur in their luxury clothes and accessories.
In 2016, the Armani Group announced it would no longer feature fur in its collection with a statement by designer Giorgio Armani declaring to The Guardian that new technologies “render the use of cruel practices unnecessary as regards animals” and that the fashion house was moving towards “protecting and caring for the environment and animals.” The following year luxury designer Michael Kors also pointed to technological advances when he revealed that the fashion brand was moving towards the use of faux fur only.
As one designer after another took a firm stand against fur, this prompted others to get with the times. Gucci was next to publicly announce in October 2017 that it was abandoning fur, with CEO Marco Bizzarri telling Business of Fashion: “Do you think using furs today is still modern? I don’t think it’s still modern and that’s the reason why we decided not to do that. It’s a little bit out-dated. Creativity can jump in many different directions instead of using furs.”
Shortly after, the British luxury fashion brand Burberry declared it was phasing out the use of fur in their collections. “I don’t think it is compatible with modern luxury and with the environment in which we live,” said Burberry CEO Marco Gobbetti at the time, while indicating that rabbit, fox, mink, and Asiatic fur would no longer be used in their products.
“Fur? I am out of that. I don’t want to kill animals to make fashion. It doesn’t feel right,” said Donatella Versace, Artistic Director and sister to Gianni Versace, founder of the luxurious Italian fashion house, in a 2018 interview. Then in 2019, Prada announced mink, fox, and rabbit fur will no appear in its collections, including its other brands such as Miu Miu. “The Prada Group is committed to innovation and social responsibility, and our fur-free policy is an extension of that engagement,” announced Miuccia Prada, head of the Prada Group. “Focusing on innovative materials will allow the company to explore new boundaries of creative design, while meeting the demand for ethical products,” she added. This about-face came about after dialogue with the Fur Free Alliance, and Humane Society of the United States.
The move away from fur has extended across the fashion industry. Fur has been entirely absent from London Fashion Week since 2018, a win for the anti-fur protesters who would show up without fail to demonstrate against animal cruelty at this bi-annual trade show. Meanwhile, Elle magazine has banned fur from its pages since 2021: “The presence of animal fur in our pages and on our digital media is no longer in line with our values, nor our readers,” announced Valéria Bessolo Llopiz, the senior vice president and international director of Elle.
The rise of cruelty-free leather
New technologies and development in the faux leather industry are also offering cruelty-free options when it comes to fashion accessories. Unsustainable and polluting polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is no longer the only faux leather alternative. Today we have high quality and eco-friendly vegan leather made of innovative plant-based materials such as pineapple leaves, cactus leaves, apple skins, and mushrooms, to name only a few.
Animal-based leathers have been banned by Helsinki Fashion Week since 2019. In the same year, a spokesperson for Chanel revealed that it’s “becoming increasingly difficult to source exotic skins which match our ethical standards,” and that fur and skins would be banned from their products.
Today the list of fashion brands that have shunned the use of exotic skins such as kangaroo, snake, alligator, and crocodiles is a long one, but the faux leather movement is still only gaining momentum. Conventional leather made of cow hide has not yet disappeared completely from runways and boutique shelves.
The message is clear: fur is outdated, unfashionable, and so last century. Exotic animal skins are cruel, not cool. But while in the past two decades fashion houses have publicly moved away from using animal fur and exotic skins, other animal materials are still popular among the fashion crowd. Products made of cow hide, wool, cashmere, mohair, and feathers are still common, as is silk – even though there are many cruelty-free alternatives to silk available. The movement towards an ethical and cruelty-free fashion industry is gathering momentum but there’s still some way to go until animals are no longer killed for fashion’s sake.