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Is your faux fur really fake?

Are shoppers being lulled into buying products they’re keen to avoid? Humane Society International/UK (HSI) explains why it believes fake fur is being mis-sold.

This is a guest post by Humane Society International/UK (HSI). All views expressed are its own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

As a nation of animal lovers, us Brits are keen to avoid cruelty to animals, and interest in ethical, vegan fashion has rocketed. Sadly though, a series of HSI/UK investigations over recent years have highlighted the ongoing problem of “fake faux fur” whereby unsuspecting consumers risk being misled into buying real animal fur falsely marketed as faux. 

HSI has uncovered a range of products, from coats, keyrings and hats to shoes, earrings and hair clips, that claim they’re made of fake fur, but laboratory tests prove are actually made of real fur from animals such as mink, foxes, raccoon dogs and rabbits.  

Almost twenty years ago, after high profile anti-fur campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s, the UK government banned fur farming on ethical grounds. Public opinion has remained robustly against fur ever since, with polling in 2020 showing the vast majority of the British public (a whopping 93%) reject wearing real animal fur. 

So with such an high public distaste of fur, how are consumers being lulled into buying the very products they’re keen to avoid? 

Marketing products honestly

How real fur is used in fashion has changed over the years. While full length fur coats are still made, fur is now often used as trim to embellish a coat hood, jumper or accessories at deceptively affordable prices.

Many consumers wrongly assume that fur is expensive and so don’t question ‘faux fur’ with low price points. However, the tragic truth is that conditions on fur farms are so poor that real animal fur can be produced as cheaply as, or even more cheaply than, faux fur. We found a mink fur key chain for £2.49 and a beanie hat with a real fur pom costing just £13.99.  

Most retailers know their customers don’t want to see real fur on their shop shelves or e-stores. While they don’t intentionally mislead them, they do have a responsibility to market products honestly that simply isn’t being met.

Confusing labelling regulations and inadequate penalties compound the problem. HSI investigators have even found retailers incorrectly claiming a real fur item is made of “vegan faux fur” or is “100% cruelty free”.

Despite HSI/UK instigating numerous complaints to consumer protection groups, publicising the issue in the press and at a 2018 Select Committee Inquiry, this problem persists.

Unintentional purchases

For as long as the UK still allows real fur produced in other countries to be imported and sold here, we believe British consumers will remain at risk from fake faux fur, and we are regularly contacted by shoppers who are shocked and upset to learn they’ve unintentionally bought real fur.

Indeed, allowing the sale of fur is a double-standard in itself – after all, if Parliament has decided fur is too cruel to produce here, we believe it is also too cruel to sell here.  

Here’s our guide to help consumers tell real fur from faux fur (PDF)

If you believe you’ve bought a product mis-described as faux fur, ask the retailer to investigate, using our ID guides to help inform them.  If you are still concerned, contact Trading Standards or the Advertising Standards Authority.

And tell us, too! We’re on info@hsiuk.org

Retailers can find out more about the issue and read the Enforcement Notice on the ASA’s website.

This was a guest post by Humane Society International/UK (HSI). All views expressed were its own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

Have you ever bought a product you believe was made with faux fur, only to find out later that wasn’t the case? Have you ever felt misled when buying products with fake fur?

Let us and HSI know in the comments.

Comments

This article is clearly about fair trading [or fur tradin’ as they say in Liverpool] but it will also generate comments on the ethical aspects of using fur.

I should be interested to know what has happened to all the real fur that was used in garments and accessories many years ago. My mother had a number of coats, hats, scarves and gloves made of, or incorporating, real fur. She died over thirty years ago and these items were sold to a furrier, presumably for refashioning into new garments. Perhaps this is the material that turns up in disguise today. I can understand people’s reluctance to wear fur nowadays [because of the controversial connotations], but, if it is over 40 years old, is that the right attitude – or even a rational attitude – in an age of economic hardship and desire for sustainability? I don’t think real fur should be used for ornament or decoration, but where warmth is the chief requirement in a hat, coat or jacket its properties are unmatched. I disapprove of fur farming but a lot of fur is available from natural animal deaths, authorised game hunting, and approved husbandry [e.g. rabbits]. The badger cull presumably produced the raw material for many shaving brushes.

As is usual with topics written by guest authors, Which? includes the preamble “All views expressed are its [the author’s] own and not necessarily shared by Which?”. I am intrigued in this case to know what parts, if any, of HSI’s article Which? does not agree with and why. It is good [and brave] to host outside contributions on its interactive platform, but if it generally agrees with one could it not say so? Otherwise we are left with the suspicion that it doesn’t or is equivocating.

Antique fur is generally degraded, the vast majority of modern fur products are not rehashed 40 year old fur. The unlabelled or mislabelled fur is usually on cheap mass manufactured products. Which is one of the reasons many people dont suspect it to be real fur.

The pro-fur arguments you are making are flawed, but also irrelevant. The article is about consumers being lied to so we cant make our own decisions. Even fur free retailers have been misled by false labelling. TK Maxx (a fur free retailer) once had Christmas egg cups with real rabbit fur pom poms. No label. They also had a laundry basket with raccoon fur pom poms. No label. Of course TK Maxx renoved these products when it was highlighted, but if a fur free retailer can be tricked into stocking fur, how can the average consumer be expected to be able to tell. Which surely you can see as a problem because it prevents an individual making an informed decision.

I agree, Tom. My opening line recognised that the article was about fair trading, but I realised that we would not be able to avoid the ethical debate. The fact is, whether we like it or not, that many people are not that bothered one way or the other about the use of animal fur; obviously, correct labelling would help them too.

Who lays down labelling laws? Is it a legal requirement to describe every component of a garment? Or attach a list of materials? Even then, there is the risk of false descriptions.

Years ago the problem was faux fur being marketed as real. Now, due to the undoubted success of the PETA [People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals] campaigns and other lobbying it has been turned round and the problem is real fur being sold under the impression that it is not real. This is probably caused by the rising cost of faux fur and the falling cost of real fur [albeit produced in unacceptable and possibly illegal ways]. I certainly agree that consumers must be told the whole truth.

I guess many of us would think that meat is a much more worthwhile product than the likes of Christmas egg cups with fur poms poms.

I think its well established now that fur is an atrocity. We have evolved past seeing an animal as a piece of clothing or trim, and in 2021 when there is an abundance of affordable clothing it is absolutely unnecessary to keep trying to pedal the very dead fur industry. Real fur is, more often than not used as hood trims and accessories, it isn’t even made these days into full fur coats as they are so rightly seen as old fashioned, unfashionable, outdated and repulsively cruel. There is no argument to wear ‘vintage fur’, to wear it is to perpetuate the idea that to dress in the skins of once living and sentient beings is acceptable, also to preserve fur so it doesn’t rot as skin naturally perishes you need to keep it treated with very environmentally damaging chemicals. What’s the point?? Vintage fur should be taken out of circulation. Most, if not all, leading fashion houses have all banned fur now, and with the industry figureheads leading the future on ethical, good looking, sustainable fashion, as an most fur free industry who can possibly argue that it is a good look?
Fake fur is rife in fur free retailers, almost always unintentionally, but people don’t believe it’s real as ‘we don’t use that anymore’.. but it slips into the chain, mislabelled, mis-sold, unsuspecting. The best thing to do is not buy anything resembling animal fur. Do you need a furry keyring? No, you don’t. Does an animal need and want their life? Yes, they do, and who are we to take their life and skin to adorn a trinket??
We need to move forward with compassion and peace, be better, do better, and including animals in that peace is vital. Be kind.

What about leather? Sheepskin for coats? Feathers for duvets and cushions? If meat is acceptable in a diet, and many believe it is, is it not better to use the material byproducts than to manufacture them?

Hollee – I appreciate your comment setting out the reasons why you think people should not wear animal fur of any kind or vintage, but, with respect, they are opinions rather than absolutes; not everyone shares your views.

I am not disagreeing with you entirely and I explained that I was not in favour of using fur for ornament or decoration, so I was careful to distinguish between fur as a fashion statement and the use of fur for warmth. You didn’t adress that point.

I have a fur hat, some gloves with rabbit fur linings, a coat with a fur collar, and a parka with some fur on the inside, but I am not petrified of wearing them in public when the weather demands such protection. I have travelled to places below freezing point and sensible people were wearing fur.

That’s how I feel, Malcolm, and if we don’t want to make any use of animals there will be no purpose in rearing them. In a country with very few wild places it would mean the end of animals in the countryside other than those kept in a zoo or as pets.

Most fur isn’t a byproduct. Fur isn’t a societal norm and is such a marginal product it serves no purpose in society. Ultimately we all need to move towards a life and future with no cruelty in it. Why choose cruelty when you can not choose cruelty?

The point I was simply making was that we raise animals to be slaughtered, some not for necessity. Veal, pheasant, for example. Some will regard that to be just as cruel as raising and slaughtering for a pelt. Where do you draw a line? As John says, fur has its uses and can be a byproduct as with rabbit raised for meat.
However, the origins of this Convo was that real fur was being passed off as fake, as has been pointed out. That is wrong.

Shely’s Conversation is primarily about dishonest marketing and I hope we can all agree that this is wrong and deserves action.

Apart from a couple of badger hair art brushes that I probably inherited, I am not aware that I own fur of any kind.

I am sure we can all agree that dishonest marketing and passing off real fur as faux fur are wrong and are unfair trading practices. There are sanctions for that if the authorities would care to use them; there is not much an individual consumer can do other than avoid buying anything made with any sort of fur.

The problem with this Conversation is that, having said that, it has nowhere else to go without stepping into the ethical minefield. I still maintain that we do not have to accept the verdict of cruelty as a catch-all guilt trip to stop the use of animal fur. If animals can be reared and slaughtered humanely for meat production then the same form of husbandry and methods can be used to produce fur and I do not see that it raises any moral or ethical dilemmas, although I accept that it will be unconscionable for many people on the grounds that food is essential whereas fur is unnecessary [which I do not dispute, but no consumer organisation is going to subscribe to that philosophy across all the desires of the modern citizen]. If the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals can accept that the rearing of livestock is acceptable under controlled conditions, and that these are rigorously enforced, then I feel the choice should remain open.

I did not really think that I would manage to steer the Conversation away from the emotive issues, John.

For about 20 years the keeping of animals solely or primarily for slaughter for the value of their fur has been illegal in the UK. There must be good reasons for that. I have never considered buying fur but if I was interested I would study the ethical issues. I am aware of environmental damage caused by American mink.

I see the negative thumbs are out in force on both sides of this topic. We, the people, demand that fake fur should be real fake fur and not fake fake fur, i.e. real fur. Meanwhile I’ve just fed my garden birds and checked my night time urban fox CCTV. Looks like I may have captured one of the foxes with a freshly caught mouse or rat in his jaws, as he strides past one of the cameras.

Not withstanding the ban on UK fur farms, it seems that the House of Lords has yet to relinquish the use of real fur for its ceremonial robes, see:-https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-54372780

Yes, and have the Guards regiments changed the composition of their bearskins?

Most mayoral robes, the outfits of members of the Order of the Garter, the cloaks of livery company masters and their courts, and the trappings of university dignitaries seem to involve lavish fur adornments.

Obviously, consumers can avoid accidental purchases of real fur by not buying any fur products.

But, if folk think it is nice to buy items that are styled with fur, then they’ll risk buying real fur in place of imitation fur.

AFAIK, none of my cold weather clothing uses any type of fur.

I graduated in the 70s and was required to wear a robe with fur lining. It was hired for the day. I see that my university now specifies artificial fur.

Thanks wavechange, it is good to hear that some universities’ are getting to grips with the 20th century.

If the cloaks are still wearable and presentable I see no need to replace them at great expense since they are not worn very often.

Onwards and upwards, Derek. 🙂 I discovered that I was allergic to natural fur on graduation day and had a sneezing or coughing fit in the robing room. I was glad when the ceremony was over. I obtained a PhD from the same university and the gown did not have any fur – real or artificial.

Indeed. Some might wonder if they are needed at all, but I get the impression that a lot of graduates do really enjoy (and certainly deserve) their “special day” and dressing up probably helps to make the day more special.

Most people do enjoy their graduation day.

John wrote: “If the cloaks are still wearable and presentable I see no need to replace them at great expense since they are not worn very often.” I assume that most graduands hire them and I doubt that fur can be cleaned very often.

When I made that comment I was thinking more of the upper hierarchies of universities [I referred to the “dignitaries”] who look positively ornamental in their academic festival couvertures.

2021 and we’re still buying and selling fur! Unbelievable, the cruelty within the industry is horrific, using practices such as: anal electrocution, trapping, snaring, skinning alive etc….
As for labelling, in my opinion it should all be banned and wouldn’t need a label. I think that the labelling system is a farce. Labels can and do lie, people have been misled into buying real fur they believed was fake, but it doesn’t end there. How is it being monitored? Who is able to look at a piece of fur and tell whether it was say a raccoon dog, bred for purpose kept in terrible conditions and anally electrocuted, or an endangered species, trapped and killed illegally, or someone’s much loved pet dog or cat stolen and skinned alive? Surely none of these examples should be acceptable to anyone and most people struggle to even tell if fur is real or not.
The fur pom pom and fur trim fashion has to be one of the most horrendous fashions ever. A stall in my local shopping centre was selling these awful fur pom pom hats, I enquired whether the fur was real or not. The reply was that “Some of it is,” so I pointed to one of the pom poms and asked her what animal did that used to be. She checked the label inside and told me it was marmot. Assuming the label was correct, some species of marmot are critically endangered, how do I know what species of marmot that was? We are in the sixth mass extinction, and our atrocious relationship with the natural world is causing it, along with global warming and now pandemics. (Incidentally I complained to my local council and the shopping centre about this stall and the next time I visited the town the stall was gone)
While it is illegal to trade in the furs of cat, dog, seal and endangered animals here, a legal trade provides a cover for the illegal trade. I understand that tests have been carried out on furs sold in the UK and some has indeed turned out to be cat fur.
If you saw your neighbour keeping fur bearing animals in tiny wire mesh cages for their entire lives, and the only time they let them out of the cage was to club them to death, would you:
a) Call the RSPCA, the police or some other authority?
or
b) Join in with them and buy / sell the resulting product?
Fur is very out dated and cruel, banning fur would be a simple step to a kinder and more humane world.