Today, the fashion industry has leaned towards more sustainable and eco-friendly types of fabric. Many top brands in the fashion industry now uphold faux fur as the cruelty-free alternative to real fur.
Faux fur, a new version of luxury and responsibility, is only less than 0.1% of billions of garments. But this has not stopped the faux fur fabric from fast becoming a multi-million-dollar product.
According to reports, the artificial fur industry is to grow at a rate of over 19% by 20246. From its durability, versatility, and luxurious feel, the faux fur industry is here to stay.
However, the question remains - Is faux fur sustainable? In this article, we will explore all you need to know about faux fur and its sustainability.
Quick links for Faux Fur Fabric:
Faux fur, artificial fur, or fake fur, is a pile fabric made to simulate real animal fur. Essentially, faux fur is a blend of polyester, modacrylic, and acrylic fibers.
Manufacturers cut, shape, and process it to match real fur texture. Some popular kinds of faux fur include faux rabbit, faux fox, shearling, sheepskin, and sherpa. Other luxury faux fur fabrics include chinchilla, sable, beaver, ermine, marten, lynx, and leopard.
Each fabric has a pile that comes in varying lengths and textures. The range of piles in the market includes; long pile faux furs, medium pile faux fur, and short pile faux fur5.
With the advancement in technology today, we can almost not distinguish between faux fur and real animal fur.
This animal-friendly fabric is warm, durable, and versatile. It is used to make a wide range of fashion accessories, including faux fur jackets, faux fur coats, faux fur vests, faux fur shawls, and faux fur shoes and purses.
We also use it to make stuffed animals, home decorations like pillows and beddings, and other faux fur products. Faux furs are silky smooth to touch and sustain dye no matter how many times you wash them. With proper care, you can recycle the faux fur material. You can also reshape fabric scraps into unique items.
To get a better understanding of faux fur fabric, let’s examine its manufacturing process.
A variety of raw materials and techniques make up the production of faux fur fabric. This section provides details from raw material to the last production stages of the fabric.
Fibers which are a composition of polymers (acrylics, modacrylics, or a combination of both), are compressed to make the faux fur fabric.
Acrylic polymers are a product of a chemical reaction of an acrylonitrile monomer under conditions of high pressure and heat. Natural materials like coal, petroleum, limestone, and water make up the chemicals used. Manufacturers also add secondary monomers to improve the absorption of the dye.
Modacrylic polymers are copolymers made by the reaction of acrylonitrile and vinyl chloride monomers. These fibers can easily absorb dye with animal-like colors.
The acrylic and modacrylic fibers are springy and lightweight, giving the fabric a fluffy look and feel. They are also resistant to heat and attack from insects. Other textiles like silk, cotton, and wool are types of backings manufacturers use to attach the fibers. What makes faux fur different from animal fur is that we can dye it into various colors.
There are various techniques that manufacturers use in converting fibers into fabrics. Some of which are:
This is the most basic method used in making faux fur. During the weaving process, fibers are looped through and interlaced with the backing fabric. This technique can produce a wide range of cloth shapes but can be fairly slow.
Tufting is a type of weaving process where the thread is attached to a base, and a tufting gun controls the tufting process. This technique produces garments much faster than the weaving process.
This technique uses the same equipment used in knitting jerseys. It is the fastest and most economical of all the faux fur production techniques, and it is also the most used by manufacturers in the faux fur industry.
To make sure that the fabric maintains stability and size, the fabric passes through heating. After which, it goes through a process known as Tigering, where loose fibers are removed.
The fabric is then combed with a heated, grooved cylinder. This is known as Electrofying.
Next, manufacturers add chemicals like resins and silicones to improve the feel of the fabric. At this stage, coloring can be added. Further electrofying is then done to remove any loose fabric.
After the production of the fabric, manufacturers label the fabrics as imitation fur fabrics. This is a requirement from most governments to avoid fraud and protect consumers. They then sew the labels inside the fabric, which must be readable throughout the product’s lifespan. Finally, the faux fur fabric is packaged and shipped to distributors.
To maintain the quality of fake furs, manufacturers monitor every phase of production. The process begins with the inspection of all incoming raw materials and continues to the finished fibers. They then subject these fibers to physical and chemical tests.
As they produce the fabrics, line inspectors take samples at intervals to check that each fabric meets the requirements of things like appearance, size, sewing quality, strength, and shape. In addition, the government also sets its requirements. This outlines standards for things like shrinkage, snagging, and pilling.
Fur has been around for centuries, dating back to the era of cave dwellers who used animal fur to isolate themselves from the cold. In some parts of the world, nobles and rulers wore fur as a sign of nobility, power, and wealth.
Interestingly, faux fur was not first introduced as a more sustainable fashion option. Instead, manufacturers saw it as an easy way to make money. This is because Faux fur was a cheaper option for regular people to imitate the upper class.
The American government’s policy also placed a tax of 10% on animal fur products from 1919 to 19287. This also helped promote the faux fur industry.
Faux fur was first introduced into the market in 1929. Earlier attempts at faux fur were made using hair from a South American mammal called Alpacas. However, it was not until the mid-1950s that modern faux fur began to use acrylic polymers in place of alpaca hair, with advances in textile technology improving the quality of fake fur. Alpaca fur was subsequently replaced by synthetic alternatives to the real thing.
By the mid-20th century, faux fur had successfully imitated various animal furs. Unlike real animal fur which came in limited colors of black, brown, and white (shades of the animals), faux fur took over the market with a variety of colors as never seen before.
The over 40 billion dollar global fur industry has faced pressure and criticism from animal lovers and activists for its inhumane practices in factory farming. Activists clamored against the use of animals in the production of materials like mink fur, rabbit fur, beaver fur, and coyote fur, among other fur-related products.
In 1994, women started conversations regarding animal welfare with the “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” campaign. Manufacturers of faux fur took advantage of the animal rights campaign, proposing faux fur as a better substitute for real animal fur.
Today, we see top fashion brands stand against animal cruelty and now using faux fur in their collections. Luxury brands such as Burberry, Gucci, Michael Kors, Versace, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and other fashion brands (former supporters of the fur trade) have banned animal fur from fashion shows and in recent years and adopted a fur-free policy.
One of the four major fashion weeks - the London Fashion Week, banned fur in 2018, followed by other fashion weeks like Helsinki Fashion Week and Stockholm Fashion Week.
Also, civic groups like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) emphasize the need for animal-friendly production processes like the substitution of animal fur for vegan fashion.
At a national level, European Union (EU) countries have enforced regulations on fur restrictions. Countries like England have banned fur breeding since 2000. The Netherlands, the second-largest mink fur producing country, banned fur breeding in 2012 and declared that all mink farms be closed by 2024.
Synthetic materials used in the production of faux fur are said to pose a higher negative environmental impact than animal fur. Eugene Lapointe, one of the leading experts on the Earth’s wild resources, says,
“Real fur garments are much less polluting to manufacture than synthetic faux furs which are made with some of the most toxic chemicals known to man”
The washing of faux fur fabrics may also release microfibres into the water system. According to reports, synthetic textile is a major culprit of microplastic pollution. The study showed that synthetic jackets released an average of 1,174 milligrams of microfibres when washed1. Microplastic pollution can harm sea animals if mistaken for food.
However, thanks to improvements in technology, ethical fashion brands like Ecopel now use eco-friendly fibers to produce faux fur products. The company has developed bio-based fibers said to be plant-based and biodegradable to resemble real fur.
Reports issued by eco experts of the CE Delft show that five faux fur coats have less impact on climate change than one mink fur coat. Also, making a mink fur coat emits seven times more C02 than one faux fur coat3.
Also, according to the HIGG material sustainability index, which scores textiles based on environmental costs of production, synthetics have a less negative impact than other types of fabric2. We can repurpose faux fur coats into other items and upgrade synthetic waste to other energy sources like fuel and industrial gas.
The long debate goes on. Which is better for the environment? Real fur or Faux fur?
Some claim real fur is a renewable resource, as it is biodegradable. Faux fur comes from acrylics and plastics, and these can take up to 1000 years to decompose. As a result, it can be extremely harmful to our environment.
However, with the problem of animal cruelty in view, faux fur progressively remains a better ecological choice.
Faux fur has a lower production cost and can come in a variety of colors. With the advancement of technology, many fashion designers and brands now use quality materials that pose less harm to our environment. We now see the use of eco-friendly faux fur alternatives like bio-based fur, recycled faux fur, recycled denim fur, amongst others.
Today, the subject of sustainability has become increasingly important in fashion, especially among young millennials who won’t buy from companies and brands that harm the planet.
This section highlights fashion designers and brands that use faux fur. Their decision to uphold the fur-free policy shows their commitment to sustainable fashion.
Since the launch of the Stella McCartney brand in 2001, it has never used real animal fur or leather. The brand uses a “Fur-free-fur” label on its faux fur fabrics to make its conscious choice known. Stella McCartney uses sustainable faux fur, organic cotton, and other sustainable and recyclable alternatives.
Calvin Klein was one of the earliest adopters of the fur-free policy, stopping the use of fur designs in 1994. The fashion brand pursues animal welfare, seeking other cruelty-free alternatives.
Michael Kors adopted a no fur policy (including Jimmy Choo) in its collection in 2018. The brand pursues technological processes to create non-animal fur aesthetics.
The Giorgio Armani brand went fur-free in 2016. The Italian fashion designer, Giorgio Armani, explained that the advancement in technology has rendered cruel practices on animals unnecessary. The brand continues to pursue more sustainable alternatives.
Since its inception in 2013, the Shrimps brand has become famous for its creative faux fur designs and patterns. The brand continues to pursue technological processes to improve the sustainability of its products.
House of Fluff uses materials that are eco-friendly while maintaining a luxurious feel and look. They use dyes naturally derived from plant bark, flowers, and berries.
Faux furs are cruelty-free, eliminating all unhealthy practices on animals. It is versatile and can be dyed in different colors, allowing designers to explore their creativity, unlike real furs.
To know if you are holding real fur or fake fur, you can try out these few tests:
Looking after your faux fur will help retain its fluffy and colorful feel. However, improper care of your faux fur can damage the fur fibers. Here are ways to care for your faux fur:
The faux fur comes with a smoother texture than the Sherpa lining. The Sherpa lining is made of microfibers and is used at the back of some blankets. Manufacturers make both fabrics from a similar base ingredient, polyester, but their processing is different. Both are warm and easy to maintain.
The practice of factory farming involves thousands of animals being snatched from their natural habitats and confined in small spaces to be used as “fabric makers.”
Over the years, we have seen our understanding of nature and animals change drastically. We understand that nature has its limits, and animals are more than fabric factories.
Consumer awareness continues to grow, and fashion brands are making decisions that are less harmful to animals and the environment.
Sustainable clothing brands like House of Fluff make use of natural materials like cotton jersey to line their coats. Similarly, Stella McCartney, a big advocate for fur-free policy, works to create more ethical and sustainable means of production.
Ecopel is creating fur from recycled ocean plastics, Vitro Labs is working on biological protein fiber technology using bio-fabrication and cellular agriculture. We can boldly say that future research will focus on developing new fibers and keep improving towards innovative and sustainable means of production.
New style faux fur may look the part and prove to have a great deal less environmental consequences than the oil-derived synthetic fabric alternatives.
With 100% animal cruelty-free processes, durability and warmth, it is clear why faux fur remains an eco-friendly alternative in the fashion industry. Despite the concerns about the harmful effect of plastics, this remains good news in the world of sustainability.
|Microfiber Masses Recovered from Conventional Machine Washing of New or Aged Garments. Niko L. Hartline, Nicholas J. Bruce, Stephanie N. Karba, Elizabeth O. Ruff, Shreya U. Sonar, and Patricia A. Holden. Environmental Science & Technology 2016 50 (21), 11532-11538. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b03045|
Kirsi Laitala, Ingun Grimstad Klepp, Beverley Henry, (2018, July 19th) Does Use Matter? Comparison of Environmental Impacts of Clothing Based on Fiber Type Environmental Sustainability and Applications)
Marijn Bijleveld (2013, June) Natural mink fur and faux fur products, an environmental comparison
The Humane Society of the United States Field Guide to Telling Animal Fur from Fake Fur
Cognitive market research (2021, June 13th) Global Faux Fur Coats Market Report 2021
Infiniti Research Limited (2020, May) Global Artificial Fur Market 2020-2024
Akane Tsunoda ( 2019, September) Is Faux Fur Fake? (pdf)
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.