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Chanel is the latest in a wave of fashion designers to part ways with fur

High-end fashion designers, retailers, and cities are all swearing off fur.

Chanel announced that it won’t be using fur or exotic animal skins any more.
Chanel is the latest fashion brand to swear off fur.
Getty Images/EyeEm

Score another victory for animal rights groups: Chanel is the latest fashion giant to swear off fur and exotic animal skins from reptiles. The French brand announced its cruelty-free approach Monday after pressure from animal advocates, who have swayed designers, cities, magazines, and fashion shows to ban fur and similar items in recent years.

In a statement, a Chanel spokesperson said the company has turned away from fur and the like for ethical reasons.

“At Chanel, we are continually reviewing our supply chains to ensure they meet our expectations of integrity and traceability,” the official said. “In this context, it is our experience that it is becoming increasingly difficult to source exotic skins which match our ethical standards.”

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) applauded Chanel’s move, arguing that apparel made from animals is unnecessary today, thanks to technological advancements that “have made faux fur and vegan leather nearly indistinguishable from animal pelts and skins.”

A slew of fashion brands have moved away from fur

Fur was once seen as the epitome of glamour, but the movement to sway the public not to wear animal pelts and skins has grown markedly since the 1980s. Karl Lagerfeld, who became Chanel’s creative director in 1983, played a direct role in marketing these products as must-haves for the elite. While working at Fendi, another luxury fashion house, he used the mole, rabbit, and squirrel pelts in his designs, according to CNN.

But today the tide is changing. Since 2016, high-end fashion brands such as Gucci, Burberry, Michael Kors, Tom Ford, DKNY, Furla, Versace, and Giorgio Armani have stopped designing fur products or have announced plans to phase out fur. Stella McCartney, Vivienne Westwood, Calvin Klein, and Ralph Lauren are also fur-free, and London Fashion Week made headlines in September by announcing that no fur would be featured in any collection. And this year, cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles decided to ban the sale of fur.

An anti-fur protest in Los Angeles in 2017. BG020/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

While the perception that fur is cruel and outdated may be growing, PETA acknowledges that it still has work to do. It has its sights set on other luxury brands that sell the product.

“For decades, PETA has called on the brand to opt for luxury, cruelty-free fashion that no animal had to suffer and die for, and now it’s time for other companies, like Louis Vuitton, to follow the lead of the iconic double C’s and do the same,” a spokesperson told CNN.

When Gucci announced that it was done with fur last year, other fashion houses followed suit. Chanel may similarly inspire competitors to distance themselves from fur as well as animal skins.

Why animals skins still appeal to designer brands

Some designer brands, such as Gucci and Michael Kors, that have stepped away from fur continue to use exotic animal skins, like snakeskin and alligator skin. Products made from reptile skins, for example, can sell for thousands of dollars. Rather than give up these products, some luxury brands are simply investing in reptile farms, according to the Business of Fashion. Doing so allows them the oversight needed to make sure exotic skins are procured ethically, they say.

Kering, parent of Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, and other luxury houses, invested in a python farm in Thailand in January 2017, and Hermes and LVMH also operate reptile production facilities,” Business of Fashion reports. And Kering is approaching “its goal of sourcing 100 percent of its alligator skin ethically.”

Snake, alligator, and other exotic skins are a lucrative market for fashion brands.
Reptile-skin products can sell for thousands of dollars.
Getty Images

PETA disputes that these companies can ensure animal skins are harvested ethically and reported in 2015 and 2016 that reptiles outsourced to luxury brands were placed in troubling conditions.

Brands’ hesitation to stop profiting from animal skins isn’t the only concern of animal rights groups. Designer brands may be going cruelty-free, but the demand for fur hasn’t waned. Sales of animal pelts are actually on the rise. You might not see many people traipsing around in mink coats, but fur accents on shoes, handbags, outerwear, and even furniture are fairly commonplace.

The market research firm Euromonitor International estimates that the US will manufacture more than $352 billion in fur apparel and accessories by the year’s end. That’s up from 2014, when $336.9 billion of fur was manufactured nationally.

Convincing fashion designers to give up fur and exotic animals skins is one thing. During an age in which millennial shoppers in particular care about where and how products are sourced, that’s good PR. But persuading the public to quash its appetite for the furs and exotic skins they see celebrities like the Kardashians, Lady Gaga, and Beyoncé wearing is arguably where animal rights activists really face the stiffest challenge. PETA is known for its many campaigns featuring celebrities, such as “I’d rather go naked than wear fur.” If they can make inroads with the stars who’ve made fur and reptile skin seem cool, they may be able to sway consumers to stop coveting these products.

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