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Choosing a cruelty-free jacket is an eco-friendly way to bundle up for those concerned about animal welfare and the environmental repercussions directly associated with “fur farms”—water pollution and threats against native species being just two of them.

Find it! Cruelty-free jackets

Although luxurious and warm, outerwear—from that retro leather motorcycle jacket to that timeless white fox fur coat—made from animal fur, hides, and skins isn’t exactly the most eco-chic choice. The below designers let you go faux while maintaining a stylish edge. Or completely circumvent the issue and opt for jackets made from environmentally kind materials such as organic cotton, hemp, or bamboo. And feel free to snatch that sable that's been abandoned in the back of your grandma's closet...she probably won't mind.

Before you buy

With many acts of green do-goodery, there are also known environmental drawbacks…and choosing a cruelty-free jacket is no exception. While buying what can be considered “vegan” clothing is certainly an eco-fashion statement, man-made imitation furs and other faux animal products are usually made of polyester and acrylic fibers—synthetic, frequently petroleum-based materials that generate significant amounts of factory pollution. So before reaching for that jacket with the fur-lined collar—faux or otherwise—consider both the benefits and disadvantages of your action.

Choosing cruelty-free jackets helps you go green because…

  • "Real fur" jackets are the end result of the sometimes barbaric suffering and death of animals, according to many organizations.
  • The fur industry is a contributor to waterway pollution, and requires significant energy and resources.
  • Jackets made from wool and leather also have ethical and environmental drawbacks, including the use of hazardous chemicals.

Regardless of whether it's fur, wool, or leather, there are eco-downsides to wearing the skins, hides, and fur of animals. Each has their own unique problems.

Fur

Fur clothing, haven fallen out of vogue with consumers and fashion houses in the 1990s due to concerns over animal cruelty, has seen a rise in popularity in recent years. According to the British Fur Trade Association (BFTA), global sales of fur increased from a little over $9 million in 1999/2000 to nearly $13 million in 2003/2004.[1] Alongside the “real fur” resurgence, imitation fur products have emerged as a cheaper, cruelty-free alternative.

The key environmental issue with fur clothing is also an ethical one: acts of animal cruelty have been long associated with fur farming. These charges range from overcrowded, filthy living conditions (primarily in cages) to death by genital or anal electrocution (resulting in heart failure), neck breaking, suffocation, and being skinned alive. The fur industry claims that fur farming is well regulated and that the animals—85 percent of which are farmed, not wild—are subject to humane living conditions—and deaths.[1]

The fur industry also touts natural fur to be a sustainable, eco-sensible clothing choice. For example, New Zealand’s nascent possum fur industry combats a possum overpopulation crisis that has threatened trees and other animal species. Proponents also point to astrakhan, a fur popular with high-end designers. Astrakhan comes strictly from still-born lambs that, in turn, gives struggling Central Asian farmers whose land has suffered soil erosion a chance to make living.

There are other environmental issues attached to fur farming aside from animal welfare. Some fur companies have come under fire from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for practicing improper waste disposal, leading to contaminated ground water. Additionally, the amount of energy required to produce a fur coat is 60 times greater than the amount needed to produce a faux fur garment.[2] Formaldehyde is just one of the polluting and possibly cancer-causing chemicals used in the fur production process.

Animals not farmed for their fur are caught in the wild via traditional trapping. The “target” species aren’t always the only animals to wander into a trap—domestic animals such as cats and dogs, birds, and even endangered species are all inadvertently killed or maimed as a result of fur trapping.

Wool

Proponents of wool—both conventional and organic—believe it's an inherently sustainable fiber given that the sheep it comes from are simply shorn, not killed. Many individuals and organizations, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), take issue with how wool-producing sheep are treated—even those subject to a pesticide-free, environmentally sound production process.

A particular act of sheep mutilation that has caught the attention of animal rights supporters is the “mulesing” of Australian Merino sheep. Merinos are bred to have wrinkly skin that, in turn, results in higher yields of wool. These characteristic wrinkles attract flies that lay eggs in the folds of skin, resulting in fatal maggot infestations. To prevent this, ranchers perform mulesing—the sheep are restrained without painkillers and chunks of flesh are removed from the area around the tail, resulting in smooth skin that discourages fly egg-laying.

Mutilation and organic certification aside, an environmental danger of the wool industry is enteric fermentation—or livestock belching and flatulence—a major contributor to global climate change. In New Zealand, for example, 90 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions (methane, in particular) result from enteric fermentation, primarily from sheep.[3]

Leather

Although desired by many, leather—the byproduct of animal skins—comes equipped with numerous ecological issues. For one, raising livestock expressly for leather production requires a great deal of feed, land, water, and fossil fuels. Factory farms generate 130 times the amount of excrement as the entire human population; the EPA has noted that livestock pollution is the most damaging threat to American waterways.[4]

The process used to tan leather has long been noxious and polluting. Pollution from tanneries includes mineral salts, such as aluminum, iron, and zirconium, as well as formaldehyde and coal-tar derivatives. Certain oils and dyes used in the tanning process are cyanide-based. Similar to the rest of the world, more than 95 percent of American-made leather is chrome-tanned. The production of chrome-tanned leather contributes waste to the environment, including chromium, which is classified as a hazardous material by the EPA. Chromium released from tanneries can contaminate drinking water and is dangerous to ecosystems as well as humans. Tanneries also produce other pollutants, including protein, salt, hair, lime sludge, sulfides, and acids.

Controversies

The fur issue continues to be a fiery point of contention for many, given the growing popularity of fur—both real and fake—in fashion. Some of the more eyebrow-raising anti-fur campaigns have been spearheaded by PETA, a group that uses often controversial, media-grabbing tactics—celebrity nudity, graphic imagery, and plenty of red paint—to get it's message across. To help support the cause, PETA suggests hosting "fur funerals," stripping naked in public, or scolding fur-wearers outside of public places like shopping malls. PETA refers to fake fur clothing as "evolutionary fur". One of the group's current anti-fur crusades is against British luxury brand, Burberry.

In December 2006, hip-hop impresario Sean “Diddy” Combs and his clothing label, Sean John, entered the folds of the fur controversy. After the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) revealed that the advertised-as-faux fur trim featured on a line of Sean John hooded jackets wasn’t so faux at all—the fur originated from a breed of dog native to China called a “raccoon dog"—the jackets were immediately removed from retailers, including Macy’s.

Drawbacks

Despite the perk of being guilt-free when it comes to animal welfare, imitation fake clothing poses a range of ecological hazards in its production. The synthetic materials that constitute imitation fur contribute to factory-generated pollution—in the UK, nylon production is the source of over 50 percent of nitrous oxide emissions released into the atmosphere. Polyester, also a material used in faux fur production, is derived from petroleum, a nonrenewable resource.

It’s estimated that the creation of three imitation fur jackets requires one gallon of oil. Backers of the fur industry also point out that the rising popularity of faux fur is a burden on landfills. Nylon, for example, is not biodegradable and can take up to 1,000 years to disintegrate, while real furs generally do not find their way into landfills.[5] According to a 2001 poll conducted by the BFTA, 67 percent of individuals surveyed believed authentic fur, leather, and wool to be sustainable, environmentally sound materials.[6]

Glossary

  • methane: A greenhouse gas released into the atmosphere from both natural and man-made sources, including landfills, agricultural activities, wastewater treatment, and coal mining. Once introduced into the atmosphere, methane can exist for 9 to 15 years. It’s more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere (global warming) than fellow greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide.

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