It’s often forgotten in coverage of London Fashion Week, but not all fashionistas present are there to strut their stuff on the catwalk or talk to first class university fashion editors. In fact, some are there to protest against something that for a long time has been synonymous with elite fashion: fur.
For decades, fur seemed to be fashion what salt is to pepper, or Ant is to Dec, inseparable. It was perceived that despite the cost to animal life, fur was a necessary evil in order to uphold the fashion world for it represented more than just an aesthetic pleasure, it also embodied the domination of man over beast, a trait that has led fur to be used in garment for centuries.
Today, we see a different story. The rise of animal welfare movements coupled with radical changes to people’s eating habits, the so-called ‘vogue of being vegan’, has led to a radical new movement that says fur has no place in fashion. To date, close to 300000 people have signed a petition demanding the outright ban of fur from LFW. The Guardian reported that 90 per cent of designers in London Fashion Week confirmed to the British Fashion Council that fur will not form part of their shows. PETA UK found that 95 percent of Fur designers were fur-free, an even greater share. In an act hugely symbolic to the cause, huge designers such as Gucci, Giorgio Armani and Michael Kors have decided to become fur free over the last two years.
So you might now be thinking: what’s the fuss, why the protest? The battle appears all but won. Well yes but the key words there are ‘all but.’ Clearly there is work still to be done to modernise fashion to the ethical demands of the 21 century and fully eradicate the cruel use of fur in these industries. Research has shown that despite advances, retail sales of fur in the UK were up 162 million in 2016, representing a 350 per cent increase since 2011. Moreover, there are still high profile cases of celebrities and even royalty adorning fur in the public eye as evidenced by recent cases with Rihanna and Her Majesty the Queen. These figures wield enormous influence over millions and as a result they are legitimising the use of fur in their wearing of it to a very wide audience, many of whom are young people, more tractable than the kind of die hard vegans we witnessed at the LFW protests. Thus, the war against fur is not yet won.
If the course of social change has taught us anything, it’s that settling for compromise in the face of real oppression is not an option. We must be radical in calling for the outright end to the suffering of animals in the production of fur. Until that day, long may the protests continue. Fashion can continue to do what it has always done, and that is set trends. It can be at the forefront of a global animal rights campaign, one that the world needs right now in the face of increasing global warming threats. It can only do this if it faces up to itself and these protests are crucial in holding a mirror to the groups that continue to perpetuate animal suffering for mere aesthetic pleasure.