Being vegan doesn’t mean compromising on fashion. But with instances of mislabeled fur, here’s how to tell if it’s faux or real.
As the temperatures are dropping, it is time to switch light sweaters for warm clothes and nothing feels more like a warm hug than getting cosy in a faux fur coat. Faux fur has become a famous alternative with high-end fashion designers as well as high-street shops, but many popular brands have been caught selling real fur instead of faux. So, how can you tell whether your stylish piece came without the price of cruelty?
A series of investigations conducted by Humane Society International has revealed that brands like Amazon, Boohoo, TK Maxx, Groupon and Boots were selling items made from rabbit, mink and fox fur, despite marketing them as faux fur. The retailers had sold mislabeled hats, keychains, scarves, shoes and coats.
“We were noticing that there was suddenly a lot more visibility of what we as campaigners recognised as real fur,” says Wendy Higgins, the director of International Media at Humane Society International.
“As campaigners, we stopped those people and just asked them very politely about their choice of having real fur. Almost everyone said: ‘But it’s faux fur.’ So, they would take the hat off and show us the label, and it would say something like 100% polyester.”
This motivated Humane Society International to launch a fake faux fur investigation, which revealed that in the majority of cases, retailers weren’t trying to mislead consumers, but thought the products they are selling are in line with their no-fur policies.
So, how can you tell whether the product you are buying follows your ethos?
Don’t trust the labels
“Labelling requirements are based on you having to have a particular percentage of a fur in an item, so oftentimes that percentage tipping point isn’t met,” explains Higgins. “The wording that you have to put on the label is just not plain English, it’s not clear to the person purchasing that product what it actually means.”
Based on EU regulations, items containing fur should be labelled as “non-textile parts of animal origin”. “You could be forgiven for thinking that it could be wool, silk, leather or any animal origin,” notes Higgiins.
Yvonne Taylor, PETA’s director of corporate projects, warns people that “non-garment” products like furry keyrings are exempt from labelling. So, labels are not a trustworthy source of information.
Price is not a factor
Fur used to be associated with prestige and wealth and many still believe that price is a factor, but, in fact, the opposite is true.
“In China, the world’s largest exporter of fur, production costs are low. Cheap fur from minks or even domestic cats can cost less than quality faux fur fabrics,” says Taylor.
Higgins adds: “Key fur rings [can be bought] for £1 or £2, a pair of fur gloves for £3.50, a scarf for £5. These are not prices that most people would associate with real fur. Don’t look at the price, it’s irrelevant. Don’t look at the label, because that can be misleading,” she adds.
The most reliable factor is what you can see in a shop and check yourself, which is the base and the tips. Once you’ve bought the item, another thing you can try is the burn test.
How to tell if it’s fake fur or real
“Faux fur generally has a mesh or threaded fabric backing. Animal fur, on the other hand, will be attached to the skin,” Taylor tells me.
Higgins recommends parting the fur and looking at it just like at your hairline. “If it’s real fur when you part it, you will see that at the bottom of that is leather or skin. If you part it and what you see is like a material webbing, then it’s faux fur because it’s been sewn in.”
“If it’s real fur,” she adds, “the tip of the fur will have a pointy end. It’s like if you look at your own hair, or if you’ve got a pet dog or a cat, you look at their hair. It’s always very pointy at the end.
“If it’s faux fur, that end will be blunt because it’s where it’s been cut in the manufacturing process.”
She also points out that it’s important to look out for high-end, expensive brands as they are trying to produce faux fur that looks just like the real thing, but in “99% of cases” it will be blunt.
The burn test (for when you own the item)
Taylor says: “Remove a few hairs, use tweezers to hold them over a non-flammable surface, and then ignite them with a match or lighter. Burning animal hair smells like burning human hair. Faux fur, which is commonly made from acrylic or polyester, smells like melting plastic when set alight.”
The first thing you should do is look for no-fur policies at your chosen shop’s website. “Pay attention to whether the fabric content listing mentions fur or fur-bearing animals,” says Taylor.
But since you can’t actually see the item and have to rely on another company it’s best to examine the item once it’s been delivered.
Wendy adds: “When you receive the item, and you think it’s real fur, you’ve got more of a chance of getting that resolved with a fur-free retailer.”
Where to buy faux fur?
PETA suggests checking out brands that use the PETA-Approved Vegan logo to promote their cruelty-free vegan clothing — “many of which offer faux fur items”.
One of the British designers passionate about sustainability and no-fur policies is Stella McCartney. “Our Fur-Free-Fur is a no-compromise, modern statement that demonstrates what the future of fashion looks like today,” says her website.
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If you are looking for something cheaper, H&M policies emphasise not accepting real fur. There’s an entire new winter collection featuring faux fur coats of different shapes and colours for every style.
As Taylor from PETA stresses: “If there’s any doubt, leave the garment on the shelf.”