Animal Rights

Wake Up, America: Fur Is So Out

The biggest fashion stage in the U.S. still celebrates fur—yet other parts of the world are moving away from it.

Beavers can suffer in agony for a long periods of time before finally dying in a trap.
Photo Credit: Bill Damon/Flickr

New York Fashion Week just wrapped on February 16. I really thought that this would be the year when we would see the same progress that is being made throughout the world—designers and retailers leading efforts to end the use of fur in fashion. Sadly, I was disappointed by the rampant use of fur, yet again, at Fashion Week. Too many designers proudly cloaked their models in animal furs and paraded them down the runways.

This is the event that sets the tone for what’s in. Celebrities flock to New York Fashion Week, sit front row and draw attention to the designers while ogling the clothes; websites and magazines share their favorite looks; and the collections are eventually available for purchase, often by even more celebrities, who are photographed wearing the designs. When those designs involve fur, that cycle of demand and promotion is what keeps the fur industry in business.

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Dead beaver drowned in a Conibear trap, from Born Free USA's 2016 "Victims of Vanity II" trapping investigation.

To ask the glaringly obvious question: How is it still considered fashionable to wear the fur from slaughtered animals? These are living, breathing, sentient beings. They feel pain and fear. There is no humane or ethical way to end an animal's life for the sole purpose of skinning her and turning her hide into a fashion accessory. It's grotesque.

Thankfully, some designers have discontinued their use of fur. Prominent brands like GucciMichael Kors and Armani have recently committed to going fur-free. These powerhouse names (with massive celebrity followings) are helping to set a progressive, compassionate tone for the future of the fashion industry.

But as the unabashed display of fur at New York Fashion Week demonstrates, we still need to catch up to the changing times. Why does the biggest fashion stage in the U.S. still celebrate fur when other parts of the world are rapidly moving away from it?

Distressed coyote caught in a leghold trap, from Born Free USA's 2016 "Victims of Vanity II" trapping investigation.

In Europe, many countries have banned (or are planning to ban) fur farms, including Austria, the Netherlands and the countries of the United Kingdom; and several more countries regulate fur farm operations, like Denmark, Sweden and France. In contrast, in the U.S., we don’t have federal laws that regulate how animals on fur farms are to be housed, cared for, or killed. And, our state trapping laws are dangerously inadequate.

Fur Free Retailer, the world’s leading program to connect fur-free companies to consumers seeking ethical goods, estimates that 95 percent of fur comes from animals imprisoned in fur factory farms (approximately 400 farms in the U.S. alone). These foxes, mink, raccoon dogs, and other species suffer in cramped wire cages, where they endure infected wounds and squalid conditions, and even resort to self-mutilation and stress-borne cannibalism. Their final moments on Earth culminate in a violent death by gassing, anal electrocution, neck-breaking, or skinning alive: brutal methods that are merely meant to preserve their valuable pelts.

In the U.S., fur-bearing animals like coyotes, beavers, bobcats, and foxes are also strangled to death by snares, drowned in Conibear traps, and crushed in steel-jaw leghold traps. They don't always die right away, either; an animal can drown for 20 minutes or more, thrashing and gasping for air every agonizing second, or can be caught in a steel-jaw leghold trap for days, even gnawing her own leg off to break free. More than 100 countries have already banned the ruthless steel-jaw leghold trap.

Born Free USA's 2017 Trapping Report—a follow-up to our 2011 and 2016 undercover trapping investigations—illustrates that trapping in the U.S. is widespread and highly unregulated. Even when regulations do exist, they’re often ignored.

Besides confronting the abject cruelty of fur farming and trapping, I can barely wrap my head around the sheer number of animals who are killed. Fur Free Alliance (an international coalition of 40 animal protection organizations working to end the exploitation and killing of animals for fur) reports that more than 100 million animals are slain on fur farms worldwide, and Fur Free Retailer states that more than five million animals (both targeted species and non-targeted species, like cats, dogs and endangered wildlife) are caught in traps each year.

Look at how many individual animals die to make a single fur coat, according to statistics from Respect for Animals:

  • Bobcat: 6-22
  • Raccoon: 30-40
  • Chinchilla: 30-200
  • Rabbit: 30-40
  • Seal: 6-10
  • Mink: 30-70
  • Fox: 10-20

Every fur coat, every fur-trimmed hat, every fur shawl boasts the scraps of tortured bodies and innocent lives, mercilessly cut short to satisfy the demand for fur fashion. As long as that demand exists—which it will for as long as consumers think that fur is "in"—animals will continue to be murdered by the hundreds of millions.

That kind of barbarity doesn't belong in a civilized society. Wake up, America. Fur is so out.

Prashant K. Khetan is the chief executive officer and general counsel of Born Free USA, and an adjunct professor at George Washington University School of Law.