Is vintage fur ethical?

is vintage fur ethical

A reader got in touch the other day asking if wearing and/or buying vintage fur is ethical or not.  And it stumped me.

My only experience with vintage fur was when I inherited a mink hat from my grandmother at the age of 18.  It wasn’t pretty, wasn’t the kind of thing I would ever wear, and I didn’t have any fond memories of my grandmother wearing (I can’t remember her ever wearing it to be honest), so I passed it on to the charity shop as I wasn’t really sure what to do with it.  However, I understand it might be a bit different if it’s quite a sentimental piece or something amazing looking you’ve found in a vintage shop.

So, I thought it might be best if we opened up the debate to see what you think.  I love a good debate, and Moral Fibres readers are so clued up and thoughtful that I would love to hear your thoughts on vintage fur.

Do you have any advice for this reader?  What’s your take on the is vintage fur ethical conundrum?  Is vintage fur ok to buy on eBay or in charity or vintage shops?  Or is it only ok to wear if it’s inherited from your grandmother or great aunt?  Is wearing vintage fur ok if you’re a vegetarian or vegan?  If it’s not ok to wear, what would you do with it if you’ve happened to inherit it?  All the questions!  I’m looking forward to your responses.

Got a question you want Moral Fibres readers to answer.  Drop me an email on moralfibres@gmail.com and we’ll open it up for some debate.

13 comments

  1. I have some advice for this reader: if you’re asking yourself if it’s okay, then you understand deep down that fur is not okay. Any real fur, from your grandma’s vintage coat to the latest Fendi runway, comes from an animal who wanted to live. That’s really all the information you need, but there is so much info about the fur industry and what it does to animals and the environment – and that’s what you’re promoting by wearing any real fur. It doesn’t matter whether the animal died yesterday or 30 years ago.

    I would do what you did, and give it to a charity shop. Or I’d donate it to PETA’s fur-donation programme, meaning it will be used for bedding in animal shelters or given to homeless people or refugees. That’s really the best and most respectful use of vintage fur that I can imagine.

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  2. I don’t know – I inherited my fur coat and I don’t intend to give it away. The animals who went into making the coat have been dead for sixty years. Maybe more. Why should I feel guilty about that? I didn’t buy it, I’m not going to buy a new one and I’m not perpetuating demand for fur, so I don’t know what the problem is.

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  3. For me, waste is terrible. So if you’re comfortable wearing vintage fur, leather, wool, silk, etc. go ahead. Using items someone has thrown away is good for our environment, it reduces waste. I personally don’t feel comfortable wearing fur (never have and never will) although I am somewhat OK with wearing other secondhand items. I follow a vegan lifestyle and I know that most vegans feel very differently about this subject. I don’t believe wearing these items perpetuates demand for them and shopping secondhand is much more ethical and sustainable than buying new; especially when most leather alternatives are made from plastic, which is awful for the environment.

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  4. I feel dont wear leather, and dont much like sitting on other people’s leather sofas (cant stop thinking “its a dead animal!” And I would never wear vintage fur, but if someone else wants to wear something they inherited that the love, I cant see the problem. Its up to the individual.
    Those rabbit fur keyrings are gross though.

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  5. I think this depends heavily on your framework for interpreting the word ethical. From a sustainability – and I would argue from a reverence for the animal – perspective, absolutely!

    The animal died for unfair, inhumane reasons, but doesn’t it dishonor the animal even more if you toss it out like it means nothing to you? If you’re a more conscientious meat eater, then I think this has to be the framework you take, one that thanks the animal for what it provided and uses its body with continued reverence while working for change in industrial agriculture.

    Also, if you live in Russia or northern Alaska, you basically can’t survive winters without animal fur. People who have no experience of this like to argue on that point, but my friend who lived in Russia off an on for a few years talked about how she could never get warm until someone lent her their grandma’s fur coat. You could make an argument for NOT living in those places, but it doesn’t change the current reality.

    If you’re arguing from a future trend perspective, it’s much more complicated. You wouldn’t want to inadvertently encourage others to buy new fur, especially because there are plenty of other options for people. But what is the likelihood that an individual who inherited their grandma’s coat or purchased mink at a thrift shop is going to trigger an international trend? It’s very unlikely.

    I think it’s a good thing that fur is no longer in fashion, but I don’t think that wearing used fur is going to cause much of a problem. I don’t wear it myself, but if I inherited a fur coat, I wouldn’t get rid of it.

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  6. I’ve thought about this a lot and it’s an interesting discussion. Personally, I never buy fur and almost never buy leather new. I will however buy animal products secondhand because my thought process is this: whether the animal was killed one month ago or one decade ago, it’s still dead. At this point, the product should be used for all it’s worth and there’s no reason to waste it. Using the product for a long and useful lifespan is almost a way of paying respect to the animal(s) since the deed has been done. I’m not against wearing animal products that have already been created but I won’t create demand for it by buying it new. If a leather jacket is sitting in a thrift store and I don’t buy it, someone else will so me passing it up doesn’t encourage ethical manufacturing practices and it certainly won’t bring the animal back to life.
    I think there is also something to be said for the utility of animal products. Leather can be extremely durable and even stretches and conforms to your body and cashmere sweaters feel like heaven on your skin and keep you oh so toasty in the middle of winter. Cashmere wool is also slightly different because the animal does not need to be killed to harvest it so I don’t have any sort of guilty conscience wearing it so long as the animals are treated ethically, but that’s of course sometimes hard to know so again, secondhand.
    If products that replicate this utility and are sustainable exist/are to be developed, I will certainly support them within my budget, but until then, I will treat my favorite secondhand cashmere cardigan like it’s made of gold and take care of it so that I can use it as long as possible (it’s already been patched twice lol).

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  7. I’m a vegetarian/part-time vegan with two fur coats. My husband’s grandmother left them to me when she died. Being from Russia (and her full-length fox fur was from her youth in Siberia), they have no compunction about using it as function rather than fashion. Well, OK, a mix of both.

    I wouldn’t go out of my way to get fur but I’ll 100% wear what I have because: A) clothing waste is silly, B) I lived in a place that routinely got down to -40F and synthetic materials just don’t cut it!, and C) getting fur secondhand does not incentivize the market to continue production.

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  8. I think this is a really interesting debate, and really it all comes down to how everyone feels about it personally. I definitely don’t think there is any clear cut answer here.

    Some people would choose not to wear it at all because they hate the idea of wearing animal products. Others might not buy animal products but would be comfortable wearing second hand because the item is still useful, and throwing it out would be wasteful. I think there’s another set of ideas as well depending on how you acquire the item. If you are given it by a relative, you aren’t supporting the fur trade, but if you brought it second hand perhaps it is encouraging the demand for fur? I’m not entirely sure on that last one but it’s a thought.

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  9. Fur is never okay. Like the ivory debate, if you begin to permit vintage fur then eventually modern fur will also be accepted. That is NOT okay. All fur came from an animal who was murdered just for fashion – regardless of if that was recently or 100 years ago.

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  10. I would love if I was given vintage fur, and would totally wear it. Since you did not create a NEW demand by purchasing new, I feel you are respecting the animal much more than letting it sit in a closet. If you need a warm coat, it would be a much more sustainable option than buying a new one made from plastic fleece.

    That said, my opinion comes from me, and I am not a vegetarian nor a vegan, nor never well me. Instead, eat limited meat from animals that lived a happy life, sometimes even animals that I raised and butchered myself.

    I understand not wanting to use leather because you are against animal cruelty and the majority of leather comes from cows that were not treated with respect. However, from an environmental perspective, I think leather is a more sustainable choice.

    It is my material of choice for bags, shoes and furniture because it’s often an off product from the meat industry that would get wasted anyways. I think it is more sustainable than plastics or synthetics, which are not as durable (therefore would have to get replaced more often) and do not decompose.

    It is not realistic to expect the entire world to stop eating meat, so we will have leather byproducts. I think it’s wise to create a demand for it. Besides, animals are needed to produce manure for nutrients for organic gardening, and having cows on pastures help manage grasslands, which in turn help sequester carbon.

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    • Sorry, I need to correct you on a few points.

      1. Most leather is not a slaughterhouse byproduct. Slaughterhouse skins are usually made into cosmetics, gelatine, or dog treats. Most leather comes from cows in Asia that were raised for this purpose, and they are not usually treated nicely (hitting them with sticks, breaking their tails and rubbing tobacco in their eyes to make them walk on are no uncommon practices).

      2. Leather is not at all an environmentally friendly choice. These cows need lots and lots of food, water and space to live on, which is a waste of ground that could either be used to raise food for humans, or be given back to the wild. Instead, sometimes rain forests are being chopped to use as grazing grounds. These cows fart huge amounts of methane, which is a far more dangerous greenhouse gas than CO2. Then, when they are slaughtered, their skins have to be conserved, which involves toxic metals like chromium, the waste of which often ends up in community waters, rivers, and eventually, the sea. Communities that live nearby leather processing plants often have a much higher rate of people suffering from normally rare skin diseases and cancer.
      You are right that most plastic leather substitutes are not sustainable either and not even durable, however, there are high tech microfibre leather substitutes available that have every quality that real leather has, only without harming a single animal, and with a much lower impact on the environment. Please take a look at the research Ethical Consumer Magazine did. They took walking boots for example here: http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/buyersguides/clothing/walkingboots.aspx, and here they made a clip about the whole shoe industry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3u5nwR4t1w

      3. We do not need animal poo to nurture our crops. We could use our own, combined with plant waste.

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  11. Personally i wouldn’t judge someone for wearing it. Leather and fur are amazing fibres when it comes to warmth and protection, and last for many many decades if looked after properly. In a lot of countries there is no better alternative for protection from he weather. So when you think about it that way, on a environmental level, it’s incredibly ethical to continue to utilise the garment. Saves the energy and impact of buying more and more clothes to keep you warm and dry for many decades. On another note – leather should be discussed the same way, but it’s not. Most people are much more willing to wear and use leather without any knowledge or concern for where it comes from. Even if you do care very greatly about where it is sourced, it’s incredibly difficult to find that information from suppliers. The same stigma is not attached to leather.

    I recently inherited a few vintage fur jackets which i would not get adequate use out of, i donated them to an organisation in Australia called “Snuggle Coats”. They give real fur back to orphaned wildlife in care! The videos and photos of the animals are just incredible, they seem to absolutely love being snuggled up to natural fur, just like they would be with their mumma. I think this is the best option for vintage fur – give it back to it’s rightful owners.
    This is their website http://www.snugglecoats.org

    I also inherited fur skins from a kangaroo, and a few goats which i use proudly in my home. My grandfather used to hunt. kill, skin, tan and eat every single part of these animals and was very grateful and incredibly respectful of the animal and it’s sacrifice. I even have a coin purse he made from a Kangaroo’s ball sack! It’s actually amazing, and the perfect size haha. These items are already decades old and in fantastic condition, and will continue to be for decades more. Personally i think this is the most ethical way – i know the animals lived a happy and free wild life, dying for the natural circle of life, to feed another living creature and every part of it’s body utilised as it should be.
    These items i will keep because i know where they came from and believe that this is the way our ancestors respected the land and what it gave us. Taking only what we need as we need it and giving back in every way possible.

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  12. I agree with Hayzks. Even “just” showing this stuff will make other people feel comfortable about wearing fur too, which will keep the industry alive. Don’t forget, not too long ago the industry was almost completely gone. Now it’s flourishing again, and I think this is one of the ways they managed to come back.

    If you inherited fur from any person you love I can understand you don’t want to throw it away, but please just don’t wear it in public!

    As for me, if I ever would inherit fur, I would donate it to an anti fur foundation. They sometimes use it for education about the fur industry.

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