Historical Sustainability Analysis: The Fur Coat.

Fashion has always been split into two markets, Haute Couture and Ready to wear (Prêt-à-porter) (Fig one, Scamans 2016) Fashion is then filtered down and becomes more available to the consumer. But to what expense?

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Fig1: Fashion Industry Market Segmentation. Scamans, 2016.

Whilst fast fashion is more economically convenient for the day-to-day customer, the sustainability of a garment can create more harm to the Earth, or to species. Looking at the Fur coat, where since its boom in popularity in the late 1800’s has always had sustainability issues.

These issues include:

  • Death rates of nonendangered and endangered animals increased dramatically.
  • Fur processing plants and factories creating pollution.
  • Animal rights and activists will protest all furs.
  • Due to the high demand for furs, Animal abuse cases have been reported.

Madame Isidore Paquin (1869-1956) the French fashion designer introduced furs as elegant, lavish and luxury garments, she also developed a method that softened the fur and made them more comfortable to wear, making them more desirable for the consumer (Hansen, 1972). However, the process that was used to skin and clean the furs was toxic (Formaldehyde) and caused pollution, which resulted in workers in the factories becoming sick with respiratory issues (Hansen 1972). Which has not changed in recent years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fined six processing plants in the US for causing high levels of pollution and letting toxic waste run into waterways (Hoskins,2013).

Fig4: Vintage Fur. Unknown date/photographer.

Fur became even more popular in the 1920’s as the demand still grew, the fur trade was possibly the wealthiest at the time. The estimated import increase for the year of 1920 was 22% (Ashbrook,1922).
However, as they became greater in demand the death rates of mink, fox and racoon skyrocketed. (Mahe,2012) The most expensive furs were sable, mink, fox and ermine. But as the demand for these grew, the availability of the animal decreased as some of these animals were only available to hunt during certain seasons. This resulted in the industry using alternative furs, such as racoon, beaver and buffalo. However, when the same problem for the industry reoccurred traders soon had to result in even cheaper, less quality furs such as skunk, rabbit and squirrel, it was said that many hundreds of thousands of fox, mink and beaver where skinned during this time, and Dyhouse (2011) noted that even hamsters and house cats where skinned (Dyhouse, 2011) and the demand grew.

The fur trade is still very wealthy and popular these days. However, the fur industry has become less in demand as the PETA, EPA and animal activists have become more powerful and popular. In 2015 Karl Lagerfeld showcased a collection which included 36 fur pieces, from mink, chinchilla to sable. His most attractive piece was his one million euro full-length sable and silver fur coat (Fig5).  However, since then he has said ‘I remember 30 years ago, we made a finale with 20 sable coats‘….’If you want to do that today, you’re lucky if you can make one or two or three because most of the animals are not hunted anymore. It’s quite difficult to do high fashion because everything made in the past hardly exists anymore’ (Lagerfeld for WWD, Socha 2013)

Fig 5: The Famous one million euro coat, designed by Karl Lagerfeld for Fendi.

Sidenote: Since publishing this; The fashion industry was shocked as in March 2018 Donatella Versace announced that Versace would be fur-free by their 2019 collections (Berrington, 2018)





Ashbrook, F. (1922). The Fur Trade and the Fur Supply. Journal of Mammalogy, 3(1), pp.1-3.

Berrington, K. (2018). Donatella Versace Vows To Stop Using Fur. [online] Vogue.co.uk. Available at: http://www.vogue.co.uk/article/versace-to-stop-using-fur [Accessed 25 Apr. 2018].

Dyhouse, C. (2011). Skin deep: the fall of fur. History Today., [online] 61(11). Available at: http://www.historytoday.com/carol-dyhouse/skin-deep-fall-fur [Accessed 24 Feb. 2018].

Hansen, H. and Lenner (1972). Costume cavalcade. London: Eyre Methuen Ltd.

Hoskins, T. (2013). Is the fur trade sustainable?. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/sustainable-fashion-blog/is-fur-trade-sustainable [Accessed 16 Mar. 2018].

Mahe, Y. (2012). Furs in Fashion In The Early Twentieth Century. [online] History of Fashion. Available at: http://www.fashionintime.org/furs-fashion-early-twentieth-century/ [Accessed 14 Mar. 2018].

Scamans, S. (2016). Fast Fashion and Sustainability. Fast Fashion and Sustainability, [online] pp.3-44. Available at: https://www.theseus.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/110864/Scamans_FastFashion_Sustainability_Thesis.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y [Accessed 25 Apr. 2018].

Socha, M. (2015). Karl Lagerfeld on Fur, Fendi and Couture. [online] WWD. Available at: http://wwd.com/fashion-news/fashion-features/karl-lagerfeld-fendi-fourrure-show-interview-10177590/ [Accessed 22 Apr. 2018].






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