Historical Sustainability and Ethics – Fur

When asked to discuss an ethical issue from a historical timeframe, fur is something that immediately sprung to mind. Coming from a family where vegetarianism is a common lifestyle choice but where car seats are often adorned in leather, animal products have always been something that has interested me. For thousands of years fur has been stitched together and utilised to keep the human race warm, despite often being a by product of meat. However, fur is a taboo subject in most circumstances, I will aim to use this blog post to discover the ethical issues from behind this back street trade and discover if the 1900’s have played a vital role in the development of the fur market.

Throughout the 1900’s fur in fashion was often a nod to class and social status. The use of fur in fashion peaked between 1920’s and 1930’s, the most luxurious furs of this time were sable, ermine, mink and fox. In the early 1900’s it was estimated that one in three women would be wearing am entirely fur coat or at least one with fur trims (Mahe, 2012). With these numbers in mind, there would have been a lot of pressure on the fur industry to produce the pelts to meet the demand, therefore the range of animals being skinned expanded to squirrel, skunk and even hamsters. The innovation of the car in the early 1900’s had a massive impact on the fur industry, men and women all over the country longed to wear full length coats to keep them warm when motoring. This once again proves the idea that fur related to class, if you could afford a car and a full length fur coat you were amongst the wealthiest of people.

After the Second World War the fur market began to plummet, due to lack of income in homes and the loss of work force in the fur trade when the materials and machinery was used to support the war. However, due to women earning a wage for the first time when men were off at war, there appeared to be a rise in women buying the fur themselves. This soon blossomed into fur being related to sensuality and glamour which was highlighted further by movie stars of that time.

September 1955 Vogue, Advert for Saga Furs.

From the 1950’s the rise and decline of fur often seemed erratic, due to the taxation on pelts, popularity of fur within fashion and the introduction of fake fur. Fake fur took a long time to develop as the pile was a complicated mix of fibres, however, by 1957 mink, beaver and chinchilla were all being successfully replicated (Hines, 2015). History shows that of this time faux fur had a similar ability to denote someones status or political views, meaning that animal rights activists backed the faux fur industry in order to boycott the real fur trade. However, faux fur did not stop animal rights activists campaigning in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is a UK charity that was created in 1980. They claim they are “dedicated to establishing and protecting the rights of all animals.” Where they do not believe in harming any animal for human greed, they have protests to stop the Grand National being broadcast, animal testing campaigns and the badger cull to name but a few. However, the tactics they use to gain media coverage are often extreme. Jones (2015) writes a blog about why she is anti-PETA showing how their heavy ad campaigns are often not factual and more to shock the audience than to inform of any unadulterated information. She goes on to discuss the idea of removing all animal products from human life and how it would have a detrimental affect on millions of people. From huge corporate giants down to people who live in poverty. There is a huge difference between animal welfare and animal rights. Animal welfare is the idea that no animal should fall victim to any suffering. Denmark now have piloted an ‘open farm’ policy, where all fur farms are open to the public so that they can see the environment the animal is living in. The overall transparency of the industry is enabling a line to be drawn around the ethics and well being of any animals involved.

A Fur Farming (Prohibition) Act was passed in 2000, whereby all UK fur farms had to be shut down by the beginning of 2003, which now means that there are no fur farms anywhere throughout the UK. This has lead to the rise of importing fur into the country. However, from the early noughties, there has been a very interesting incline in fur sales and designers using real fur within their collections. Duggan (2014) puts this down to younger generations being more accepting of the modernised industry. Where pages of animals trapped in small cages used to fill hate campaigns, the fur industry is now educating prospective consumers on how the trade has changed. Ethics including free range and fair trade are now filling the fur industry giving the future of the fur trade a more prosperous future.

I still find it incredibly interesting that the fur industry appears to be singled out for the inhumane killing of animals when other industries do the same but do not gain the same media attention or scrutiny. However, this article has been incredibly interesting to research due to the change in opinion in the last 100 years. From glamorous furs to one of the most hated trades in the fashion industry it is surprising how generations of men and women can change their mind.


British Fur Trade Association. (n.d.). British Fur Trade Association. [online] Available at: http://britishfur.co.uk [Accessed 1 May 2017].

British Fur Trade Association. (n.d.). Supply Chain – British Fur Trade Association. [online] Available at: http://britishfur.co.uk/the-fur-trade/supply-chain/ [Accessed 1 May 2017].

Conniff, R. (2016). Why Fur Is Back in Fashion. [online] Nationalgeographic.com. Available at: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/09/skin-trade-fur-fashion/ [Accessed 1 May 2017].

Duggan, O. (2014). Have British consumers bought into ‘ethical fur’?. [online] Telegraph.co.uk. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/leisure/11044113/Have-British-consumers-bought-into-ethical-fur.html [Accessed 1 May 2017].

Fashionencyclopedia.com. (n.d.). Furs – Fashion, Costume, and Culture: Clothing, Headwear, Body Decorations, and Footwear through the Ages. [online] Available at: http://www.fashionencyclopedia.com/fashion_costume_culture/Modern-World-1946-1960/Furs.html [Accessed 1 May 2017].

Furisgreen.com. (n.d.). What doe animal activists really want?. [online] Available at: http://www.furisgreen.com/animal_activists.aspx [Accessed 1 May 2017].

Hines, A. (2015). The History of Faux Fur. [online] Smithsonian. Available at: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/history-faux-fur-180953984/ [Accessed 1 May 2017].

Hsi.org. (n.d.). The Fur Trade : Humane Society International | United Kingdom. [online] Available at: http://www.hsi.org/world/united_kingdom/work/fur/facts/fur-trade-facts.html [Accessed 1 May 2017].

Jones, M. (2015). Why I am an Anti-PETA Activist. [online] The Art of Agriculture. Available at: https://artofagriculture.wordpress.com/2015/01/20/why-i-am-an-anti-peta-activist/ [Accessed 1 May 2017].

Mahe, Y. (2012). Fashion Furs and Markets. [online] History of Fashion. Available at: http://www.fashionintime.org/fashion-furs-markets/ [Accessed 1 May 2017].

PETA Kills Animals. (n.d.). PETA Kills Animals. [online] Available at: https://www.petakillsanimals.com [Accessed 1 May 2017].

PETA UK. (n.d.). About PETA | PETA UK. [online] Available at: http://www.peta.org.uk/about/ [Accessed 1 May 2017].

Respectforanimals.co.uk. (n.d.). Facts & Reports – Respect for Animals. [online] Available at: http://www.respectforanimals.co.uk/facts-and-reports/fur-farming/53/ [Accessed 1 May 2017].

Scientific American. (n.d.). What Impact Has Activism Had on the Fur Industry?. [online] Available at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/impact-activism-on-fur/ [Accessed 1 May 2017].

We Are Fur. (n.d.). Animal Welfare and Ethics of Fur Trade. [online] Available at: https://www.wearefur.com/responsible-fur/ethics/ [Accessed 1 May 2017].


Ode to Things. (n.d.). Blog. [online] Available at: https://www.odetothings.com/blog/ [Accessed 1 May 2017].

Hix, L. (2013). Should You Feel Guilty About Wearing Vintage Fur?. [online] Collectors Weekly. Available at: http://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/should-you-feel-guilty-about-wearing-vintage-fur/ [Accessed 1 May 2017].


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