Dear Fellow Artist: No, I Will Not Use Fake Fur, and Here’s Why

This morning I got a message from another user on Etsy who shall remain anonymous. Unfortunately they seem to have deleted their shop shortly after they sent the message, so I was unable to respond to them directly. However, they raise a question that I get a fair bit  in my artwork with hides and bones, so I thought I’d reproduce it here, both in case the querent happens to see it, and for general information. Their original question was:

Hello, I’m a cute fairy who want to present my grand faux fur wrap to you. My faux fur is soft and warm enough. I think you will like it very much. So if you can use my good quality fur instead of animal’s “Clothing”, You and animals will be warm in winter and these cute guys will spend their Christmas eve with their family, too. I hope you can agree with my idea. Best wishes for your business on Etsy.

Here’s the response I would have given them:

Good morning,

Thank you for your inquiry. I am assuming you are attempting to get me to switch over to fake fur in the hopes of saving the lives of animals. While I appreciate your intent, I have very good reasons for not working with fake fur, to include not wanting to cause the deaths of animals. (Feel free to click the links in the following paragraphs for supporting evidence of what I’m about to write.)

See, all that fake fur you were trying to sell me? It’s made of plastic, specifically nylon, acrylic and polyester. Do you know what plastic is made of? That’s right: petroleum. The petroleum industry accounts for the direct deaths of millions upon millions of living beings each year, from birds and sea mammals to the tiny microscopic beings that make up the backbone of ocean ecosystems. 4,000 tons of oil were spilled in 2014, and that’s just from spills that were actually reported to authorities. Given that in 2013 there were almost 300 unreported oil spills in North Dakota alone, we can only imagine how many more go unreported worldwide, especially in countries with fewer or weaker regulations than the United States. This is to say nothing of the air, water and land pollution caused by oil drilling, which is sometimes done in ecologically fragile places like the Arctic, where the damage can take decades to be reversed. And since habitat destruction is the single most devastating cause of species endangerment and extinction, the amount of habitat destruction wrought by oil drilling operations should be of note. In fact, here are just a few examples of how oil spills negatively impact the environment, both short term and long term.

But that’s just the process of getting the oil out of the ground. It then has to be piped thousands of miles, leading to more spills–here’s a list of known spills in the U.S. just in the 21st century. Then it has to be turned into plastic, an energy-intensive process that not only uses more fossil fuels for production, but can also use natural gas, coal and other potentially polluting materials in the manufacture of the plastic itself. The process of creating plastic often also creates harmful chemicals such as BPA, and can release up to 500 million tons of greenhouse gases per year. This isn’t even including all the effects of the dyes used to color it (PDF here.)

Then that plastic has to be shipped to wherever fake fur is manufactured, often in China, which has poor track records with regards to worker’s rights and slave labor. And then it needs to be shipped again to whoever sews the fake fur into coats and such. All that shipping leads to even more pollution (and animal deaths) as ships cross the oceans again and again, both air pollution and marine pollution, to say nothing of the wildlife, coral reefs and other marine denizens physically damaged when struck by ships and their anchors.

So you go to your favorite big-box fabric store (which may have put any neighborhood fabric stores out of business, by the way) and buy a roll of fake fur for your project. (Or to try to resell to me in the name of the animals.) Let’s then fast-forward twenty years; the coat you made from fake fur is now ratty, old and torn, and the person who bought it from you no longer wants it–even Goodwill will throw it out if they donate it. Fake fur isn’t recyclable, and (at least in my opinion) doesn’t wear as nicely as real fur, so it doesn’t lend itself to crafty repurposing once it’s gotten all matted and discolored. The person could throw that old coat into a landfill, where it will sit and take up space; it’s not like it can biodegrade anyway. If it got incinerated, it could release all sorts of toxins from the plastic and dyes into the air. Or let’s say it somehow got dumped into a waterway, and then into the ocean (whee, littering!) That coat could take up to a thousand years to biodegrade. And while it’s in the process of breaking up into tinier plastic particles, once again that petroleum-based fake fur is killing animals. Larger wildlife can get entangled in plastic waste which can drown or starve them; they also eat it, which can cause painful deaths through intestinal blockage or rupture, or even longer, horrible deaths through starvation since they can no longer fit real food into their stomachs. And the same thing happens to tiny plankton, which are absolutely crucial to the health of the entire ocean. Even if your coat ends up in a landfill, the plastics can be washed into the water system as they break down, creating the same marine problems.

Is this to say real fur is without its pollutants and other environmental impacts? Absolutely not. As someone who has been working with hides for almost twenty years, I am quite aware of the chemicals used in commercial tanning, among other environmental problems associated with my materials. But for the reasons I’ve outlined above, no–I will not be switching over to fake fur any time soon. I have many reasons for my hide and bone work, ecological, spiritual and otherwise, and I think it’s incredibly hypocritical for you and other people to insist I switch to fake fur “for sake of the animals”. I think I’ve made it pretty clear above that your “animal-friendly alternative” is anything but animal-friendly. As an environmentalist, I do choose the real deal over fake, and I continue to donate part of the money I make from art sales to nonprofits that work to combat the pollution and habitat destruction your petroleum-based fake fur causes.

36 Comments.
  1. Very well said. Similar reasoning applies to my support of hunting our wild food locally and responsibly when someone mentions how cruel it is to kill animals like that for food. Anyone who has ever seen a CAFO (confined animal feeding operation, which is how almost all of the meat found neatly wrapped on shelves are obtained) will never look at grocery store meat the same way again.

  2. As someone who was a vegetarian for a couple of years, I have come to find how little good I was actually doing for the environment and animals I so-called ‘loved’ when I bought faux over real, when I ate soy over meat (especially since what you outlined above applies directly to soy, corn, and wheat factories, as well). Thank you for this post. I will definitely be sharing it.

    • I think there are still some environmental advantages to vegetarianism (particularly with regards to greenhouse gases), especially with regards to CAFO meats, but I also think the situation is more complex than “be vegan and save the world!”

    • a

      Most of those crops you mention go to feeding livestock, not humans. So, veganism is still the path to reduction of those products and climate change (of which animal agriculture is the top cause).

      • Which is why I eat grass-fed and finished meat when I can afford it. Pastureland is a lot more environmentally friendly than grain.

  3. Don

    Great response, I can’t wait until all the tigers, bears and other fury creatures have disappeared. I’m tired of hearing how hunting is going to make them extinct

  4. Not only does fake fur not wear well, it just plain doesn’t do the job as well as real fur. Having worn both real (bought used) and fake, and spent more than my fair share of time standing in the rain and wind (former farmer’s market vendor), I can tell you that not only does fake fur not shed rain like real, but because the backing is a coarse woven product instead of solid, well, skin, it lets wind through like crazy.

    • *nods* Real fur is also a LOT warmer than any synthetic, and using less materials to do so. I mean, the fabric liner in a fur coat is mostly decorative. The one I like to wear no longer has the liner in it.

  5. Claricia

    There are places where introduced fur animals are destroying natural habitats and causing extinctions. Foxes in Australia, Possums in NZ are but 2 examples where it should be positively encouraged to use the fur of animals which have to die anyway – at least until we can use a time machine to go back and prevent their introductions to ecosystems they should not be in.

    • Yep. We have nutria all over the place here in Oregon for the very same reason.

    • Feral cats and rabbits as well in Australia. Both of which have very soft fur and are harmful to the fragile ecosystem.

      It’s kind of rediculous that people want to save ‘all the animals’ when some of those animals are harmful to the natural ecosystem. Take, for example, rats and mice (house mouse and black and brown rats- Rattus Rattus and Rattus norweigius- I have been crucified on rodent groups for telling people who ‘save’ babies to have them humanely pts if they aren’t willing to keep them as pets for their entire life. Some want to raise and release- because that goes well. Rats especially, even feral babies- take a few gems to become calmer and handle able. If someone wants to keep an animal that may slice open hands causing tendon and nerve damage, then that is their problem. Releasing them however means you have rodents used to people who will happily live in your house. That is taking in the fact that they are rapid reproducers and by raising them out of babyhood you have given them a higher chance of survival (babies are easy prey).

      I’ve rambled again. Oops.

      Just basically- people need to look at the bigger picture- and if you want to use fur, use real fur- and if on clothing, ffs- only use it if, you know, you need the fur for function. (Tropics liver here. It’s summer. I’ve seen Three people in under a week wearing sheepskin (with fleece) boots and heavy jackets with faux fur…….who then complained they were hot.

      • Oh, geez–don’t even get me started on the nutria problem here in Oregon. Someone imported them for fur farming last century and they got out and multiplied like mad. Yet there are people who would be pissed if there were any large-scale attempts to eradicate them.

  6. Great article, responsibility is the word we need to centering in order to keep our environment health.

  7. Mandi Roberts-Garner

    May I ask where or how you obtain the real fur you use? I’m not sure which side of the issue is more alarming, now I’ve read the above. I had absolutely no inkling how bad fake fur is, nor could I have realized that EVER without you spelling it out. What might you say to help me quell my intense unease with using animal hide whether it be leather, suede, or fur? I don’t buy leather anything, anymore, but maybe I should reconsider? And real hide with real fur… I just immediately feel guilt and sadness, mourning the loss of whatever animal is in front of me.

    • *nod* It’s definitely understandable you might have mixed feelings! The nice thing about real hides is that you have lots of options–new vs. secondhand vs. antique, farmed vs. wild, roadkill and natural deaths, shed antlers and feathers, etc. I personally work with all of the above because my job is to give all these sacred remains a good “afterlife” (and, again, that’s a big part of the reason I make financial and volunteering contributions to nature-based nonprofits). If you can (as one example) be okay with secondhand leather but even vintage fur gives you the heebie-jeebies, that’s a completely acceptable boundary to set. My suggestion to you is to do your research on what materials are available to you, whether they’re animal or plant or synthetic, and figure out what works best for your ethical boundaries.

  8. I like to use cowhide (leather), because it means that more of an animal (whose existence was for the purpose of food) is being used. But that goes for any other farmed animal – we should use as much of it as we can, so that the life is not wasted. Ideally, if we make an animal live for our use, we should make its life pleasant, and use as much as possible when we kill it.

    • FWIW, some cowhide is from cows raised primarily for their leather, that may or may not be eaten (especially if the cow came from India). So caveat emptor.

  9. you sound like one of those people who would refuse to drive an electric car over a gas car because *gasp* electricity doesn’t usually come from green sources.

    • Well, not really. I don’t drive an electric car because I can’t afford one. As far as real vs faux fur goes, I’ve done my research and determined that the OVERALL environmental impact of petroleum-based fake fur is greater than the environmental impact of real fur. More animals ultimately die for a faux fur coat than a real one, so I can’t in good conscience recommend using new fake fur for much of anything.

  10. Chaos

    I dont mind fur/bone in artwork. It adds a depth of spirituality to it- and it helps connect back to nature on a spiritual level.
    I do prefer real fur and leatger on coats- weather opermitting- fur and leather in cold, icy climates are some of the best ways of containing body heat in winter- i do however get frustrated when fur is used when it isnt needed- like on many coats where i live (tropical Australia). Seeing people run around in fur (fake or real) coats is frustrating when the weather sits above 10C at its coolest.

    Think about what you consune and ffs realize that you can respect tge olanet and still eat meat or use leather and fur.

    • It really is a complicated problem, and unfortunately emotions often override practicality when it comes to decision-making, whether it’s the emotions of shock value, or the emotions of self-image.

  11. Milloi

    Y’know, I’ve always been a fan of fake fur, I’ve always taken the time to check whether fur is real or fake, and it has always been kind of my shtick to avoid real fur for, you know, the obvious reasons people drill into your brain. But this article really did shed some light on a situation I was so unconsciously one-sided about. You’ve really opened my eyes and very much altered my view. Thank you for putting so much effort into all this evidence in a really mature, informative and super friendly way. It was a nice read! (:

    • You are most welcome! It’s something a tleast worth thinking about, even if you do choose to stick with faux.

  12. Very well said! Things are often more complicated than they seem. As usual you were concise and informative. Thank you for what you do!

    • Thank you! I try to bring out the nuances in these discussions, which otherwise are often quite black and white.

  13. Wish PETA and other like organizations would see this.
    I wasn’t aware of this though- so thank you for taking the time to write. I am personally a fan of both, but now it seems I’d be better off just getting secondhand furs.

    • *nods* Secondhand furs are a really good choice; no new hides are procured, but they’ll still biodegrade in time.

  14. CrisW

    Interesting post.

    I do all my work with faux fur, but most of it is secondhand, bought at yard sales and thrift stores and the like.

    I do think that many of the points you make regarding faux fur apply to real fur as well. For example, China has a large (and growing) fur industry, which is every bit as bad in terms of shipping costs, environmental damage from tanning chemicals, etc. and adds enormous animal suffering on top of it. I’ve also seen studies that indicate that ranched fur may have as high a petroleum cost as faux fur due to the petroleum involved in things like producing and trucking the animal’s food, lighting the sheds, processing the pelts, etc. So I am not sure it’s an entirely black and white issue.

    I see no problems with using animals that are roadkill or die natural deaths- I’ve got a few skulls and such around myself. For me personally, the horrendous cruelty involved in trapping and fur ranching make the products of that industry something I cannot work with because I can’t get away from the pain and suffering such items represent to me. I do have great respect for the people who can take secondhand skins and create art that honors the animals with them.

    I do feel that using “new” furs is a much bigger ethical issue, because that directly supports the industries that cause such suffering and also promote viewpoints that are harmful to the environment (such as fostering hatred, fear and harmful mythology surrounding wolves, and promoting the idea that animals are a “resource” to benefit us rather than beings deserving to live their own lives.)

  15. cometoruin

    I really, really appreciate this article, as it sums up my feelings on the FAKE IT campaign and other anti-fur/leather use arguments quite nicely.

    I also come from a slightly different perspective: I’m first nations and my family has always struggled with meeting our basic needs. I can’t remember a time where we haven’t struggled with money. Fur and leather have been life savers in winter and fall, and meat from various sources has helped us keep our energy when times have been tough (especially since we’re often working and NEED to keep our bodies going).

    It’s hard to explain to people that no, we can’t just eliminate the use of animal products from our lifestyle. It’s far too expensive for us to go vegan/vegetarian (all these vitamins and supplements are really hard to access where I live, foods like quinoa, kale, soy, etc aren’t commonly stocked and when they are, they’re incredibly expensive and I’d still feel bad buying such imports because I KNOW they come at the cost of another person’s well being by robbing them of something they’ve needed and lived on for years, only for it to become the next big food trend) and remove the fur and leather from our home because it’s kept us *alive* all these years.

    Heating bills are high, gas is expensive. We don’t have a fire place, or insulated walls. You know what’s kept my family warm and safe? Fur! We don’t have much, but you don’t really need a lot where fur is concerned. We’ve made blankets from recycled pelts and leftovers from the industry, and have also managed to skin and tan our own pelts from sanctioned hunts, making it easier to line jackets and hoods, as well as make gloves and other things to help in the colder parts of the year.

    Faux fur is a poor insulator, pleather doesn’t protect against the rain, wind, and snow and is often too inflexible for practical wear. I used to buy it and sew with it, trying to make money on the side to help make ends meet, but it’s another financial and environmental drain.

    I’m personally allergic to soy, nuts, and quite a few other strong bases of a vegan diet, and so my body can’t handle the removal of meat and dairy without suffering. All in all, despite how tough things are, the use of animal products has helped my family and I get really…tired of seeing people trying to sell faux fur as an environmentally safe alternative to the real deal.

  16. Glenn

    Nice to see a nuanced view, indeed a misconception to think fake furs are the solution.
    Petroleum is of course a major cause of pollution, but note that only about 2.5% of oil is used for Raw materials for petrochemicals (from which most are turned into plastics). From all plastics produced only a small amount is used to make fake furs. Stating the above negative impacts of petroleum as an argument not to use fake furs is like stating soy milk is harmful for the environment because of the deforestation to make place for soy fields(while practically all of the soy is fed to livestock).

  17. great presentation and explanation of the process of making fake fur
    I can only hope that sensible people will try to evaluate the manufacturing
    process it takes to produce this unreasonable alternative “fake fur”, as
    stated it is not environmentally safe on many levels. While my company does not
    advocate the farming of animals for fashion (we ReFURbish, trade marked,
    discarded coats), this is because we have found that there are enough
    uncared for coats that can be transformed to new fashion.
    That being said animals of all kinds are an intricate part of all of our lives
    as well as we are, or at least should be, an intricate part of all of their lives.
    This of course includes giving all life the cleanest environment possible.
    Maybe we should concern ourselves more with that what ever the life
    span is for (human, animal or plant) has a cleaner planet with which to live and manufacturing fake fur in the name of saving an animal is not
    reasonable on any level.

  18. This reminds me of how trophy hunting helps the animals being hunted. A rich person will pay large sums of money to kill an endangered animal, and that money goes towards protecting their environment saving the lives of hundreds or more.
    I actually found this while searching how to buy responsibly sourced wolf fur. My family tries to convince me to use faux fur, and now I can combat that.

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