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Nothing elegant or humane about wearing fur

Op-Ed

Nothing elegant or humane about wearing fur

Last year I went to the house of the head of a group of Jains in Nagpur. Along the way I was told how religious his family was, how they all ate before sunset and no root vegetables. I entered the main living room. The huge rug I was stepping on was made of patches sewn together of horse-skin. Young horses are killed for their skin in the United States and the skin stripped off. The skins of different colours are patched together and  made into carpets for rich and senseless people. My host kept insisting it was fake until I showed him the leathery skin the hair was attached to.

Something like that has been exposed in England recently. People buy coats with fur linings  and fur lined boots for their children, keyrings and hairclips with colourful bobbles, shoes with pompoms, soft toys. The buyers believe that since the items are cheap and colourful, the fur is acrylic.

Not true.

An investigation by Humane Society International (HIS)has found that a large number of items are not fake or faux fur, but real fur.

HIS found many shops with no-fur policies selling fur items.  Fluffy “faux fur” clips sold by Boots were made from mink; pompom keyrings from Tesco and gloves from Fat Face were made of rabbit fur. Urban Outfitters was selling sweaters with real fur labelled as “faux.”  Missguided was found to have cat fur lining their shoes. Real fur was being sold as fake at House Of Fraser, Lily Lulu, Amazon and ASOS, labelled as faux fur. Neiman Marcus was called out for selling three pairs of boots touted as being made with fake fur, except it was real. When a buyer took home a “faux fur” pompom keyring from TK Maxx, she grew suspicious.  The retailer reassuring her that the pom-pom had “been investigated by our internal trading standards department” and that they had “been assured that this item is in fact faux fur”. HIS revealed that the pom-pom had actually been made with rabbit fur. Investigators found that TK Maxx was selling jackets made of fox fur. Mink fur earrings, rabbit fur shoes with pompoms and keychains, fox fur hats, fox fur trims and chinchilla fur scarves, were all on sale, advertised as faux fur by Amazon, Boohoo, Miss Bardo, Not On The High Street and Etsy, and through Groupon. Last year, HSUS filed an enforcement petition to the Federal Trade Commission; Neiman Marcus, Kohl’s and Nordstrom were among the 17 retailers named in the report for selling garments that were falsely advertised or labelled as faux fur. Forever 21 has also been the subject of an investigation by ‘Good Morning Britain’.

All these shops had advertised a strict No Fur policy.

Most consumers believe that since pompoms and trims/linings are so cheap, they cannot be fur. The truth is that the appalling conditions that animals suffer on fur farms mean real fur can be produced and sold more cheaply than faux fur.

The life of an animal is worth nothing when the animal is badly kept, hardly fed, forcibly made to reproduce and killed within a few months. Fur farms have millions of animals kept in small wire cages, and Poland, China, France, Finland follow no rules in the sheer viciousness and cruelty of their operations. As writer Tansy Hoskins said in The Guardian, “Fur farms involve 75 million animals kept in tiny cages, many of which become infected with disease, suffer horrific injuries and go mad from grief and stress.” They are denied the chance to run free, are often fed on waste, and receive little veterinary care. Animals, that would usually spend hours cleaning themselves in the wild, are left in filthy conditions, and often end up mutilated. It all ends with a brutal death: electrocution, gassing, or even skinning alive. PETA has released an exposé narrated by Paloma Faith containing footage taken on hundreds of supposedly “high welfare” fur farms in Europe, all showing animals who have been driven insane by the cruelty. We’ve seen foxes with skinless paws forced to live beside their decomposing cage-mates, and minks with untreated wounds, one so severe that his brain was visible. Countless animals have resorted to self-mutilation and cannibalism.

These are just some of the stomach-churning scenes that are documented time and time again. You can see these dreadful farms exposed by undercover operatives on the You Tube. In China, the world’s largest exporter of fur, you can see cats, rabbits and dogs being skinned alive. An investigation, earlier this year into fur farms in Finland, revealed foxes who have been reared to be grossly obese – some weighing roughly five times what they would in nature –struggling to breathe, let alone stand up. Larger bodies mean more fur and therefore greater profits.

The skins of coyotes, chinchilla, mink, foxes, rabbits, raccoons, dogs and cats are sold at dirt cheap rates. Consumers want faux fur to look like the real thing – but they don’t want real fur. So the retailers sell the hair of these dead bodies as fake!  Fur is no longer just full length mink coats, or fox scarves. It is more deceptive – dyed bright colours, turned into cute pompoms or as trim on hoods or shoes. Often sold for under £10, it is sneaked into accessories. Among the items HSI found for sale are £5 pom pom keychains made from rabbit fur; a parka with raccoon dog fur trim for £35; and a knitted hat with a marmot fur bobble for £3.50. Since there is no legal requirement to label animal fur in all products, this cheats consumers. People expect real fur to come in the form of full mink coats or fox fur scarves. What they don’t expect is that it will be dyed bright colours, fashioned into pompoms or trims, attached to accessories like hats, gloves and shoes, sold at very cheap price and, of course, mislabelled as faux.

Ironically, premium-grade faux fur is expensive. So the easy alternative for sewing factories is to use real fur, as it is cheaper to buy small scraps of real fur than lengths of high quality faux fur.

If retailers like Boots and Tesco can tell lies, selling real fur as faux fur, consumers have to become their own fur detectives.

Here are some tips to all those Indians who will be going abroad to shop.

Look at the tips: The tips, of the hairs in real fur, taper and have pointed ends, whereas the hairs on faux fur are blunt. Hairs on real fur will also be different lengths, while faux fur tends to be more uniform. Hold up the hair against a white surface.

Look at the base: Part the hair to see how it is attached. Animal fur has a leathery backing because it’s attached to the animal’s skin, whereas faux fur will have a material woven backing. Real fur is often completely smooth at the base. Like human skin.

Burn it: Perhaps not in the shop. Try it on something you already own. Trim a few hairs and set fire to them. Real animal fur singes and smells like human hair burning. Faux fur melts in a sticky way, cooling to form hard plastic balls, and will probably smell plasticky. If it smells like burnt paper, burns like paper and become a light, fluffy gray ash, this means the faux fur is cotton, linen or rayon based.

Don’t look at the price : Real fur is cheaper than fake. Smaller bits of fur and fur trims are cheap as they are the discards of dead animals, so don’t let the relatively low price of a garment fool you.

Do not buy anything with “fake fur” online : EU regulations state that “textile products” containing fur should be labelled as containing “non-textile parts of animal origin”. However, online products are exempt from that requirement as are footwear and accessories. And although it is illegal to mislead consumers (by claiming that a real fur product is faux fur) retailers are very rarely prosecuted, with most instances being put down to “honest mistakes”.

Feel the fur. Fur feels very soft to the touch, falls in a smooth and sleek line, passes through your fingers as if you’re petting a cat. Faux fur feels coarse and rough to touch, can be sticky to touch in humid weather, and  might have the same feel as a stuffed toy animal. It might stick to your hands if it’s made out of a plasticky material (only works if your hands are sweaty).

Stick a pin into the item (through the fur and its lining). If it goes through easily, this suggests it is faux fur because the pin is sliding through a synthetic base. If it is hard to push through, or resists completely, it is likely to be real fur, as you’re trying to push through the leather lining to which the fur remains attached.

Why are you buying fake fur? There is nothing elegant or humane about stealing the skin of another being – or even pretending to do so. Buying something that has real fur in it, even if it’s “mostly” faux, means one more animal was skinned alive, or anally electrocuted, for the sake of “fashion.”

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Contributor, zoramobserver.com. Smt Maneka Sanjay Gandhi is Union Cabinet Minister for Women & Child Development in the Government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. She is also an animal rights activist and environmentalist. Views expressed in this column are personal.

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