Last week, Giorgio Armani announced that he would be prohibiting the use of fur across his portfolio of fashion brands, which includes Emporio Armani, Armani Exchange, Armani Jeans and his own eponymous label. For anti-fur activists, this decision represented a landmark shift in the luxury fashion sector’s attitudes to animal welfare. However, it was also the result of years of dialogue between Armani and campaigners.
One of whom is PJ Smith, who was instrumental in this process. While it was never his intention to work in fashion, as Corporate Executive Manager for The Humane Society of The United States, Smith now spends the majority of his time persuading designers, brands and retailers to implement animal welfare policies, mainly when it comes to animal fur. We talk to him about his work, Armani’s decision and why he thinks the use of fur is not only unnecessary but unjustifiable.
What is your problem with fur? How is it different to leather and wool?
PJ Smith: One of the biggest differences is that animals that are raised for fur are wild animals like foxes, mink and raccoon dogs. Foxes like to dig, it’s their natural born behaviour and it’s the same with mink, they are semi-aquatic so they like to swim. When you put them in a cage where they are unable to exhibit natural behaviours, repetitive turning and pacing caused by distress can occur.
The other difference is the close ties that leather and wool have with meat production. We don’t say it’s a by-product because both are valuable, it’s a co-product. With fur, the value is 100 per cent on the skin and the rest thrown away or fed to animals on the farm. Also, in the US there are standards when it comes to how animals raised for food is killed and there are no standards for animals raised for fur.
So what does Armani’s decision to stop using fur represent to you?
PJ Smith: It represents a change in the luxury market, where previously it was just Stella McCartney that was the voice for animals and animal welfare. Now you have companies like Hugo Boss and Armani too. Hopefully it’s going to have a domino effect.
How exactly do you persuade companies like Armani to do this?
PJ Smith: We really try to have open dialogue with them. It’s about building a relationship and working with them to make some of these really important statements on animal welfare or dropping fur. When it came to Armani or Hugo Boss, the important message was that there are alternatives out there, and they’re quality alternatives.
What is really important to realise is that the fashion industry has fallen behind other industries when it comes to caring about animal welfare. In the entertainment industry, CGI has replaced animals on television and in movies, circuses are getting rid of animals and Sea World recently announced that they are no longer breeding captive orcas in their parks.
What arguments do you use? Is it just that there are alternatives?
PJ Smith: So for companies who are wanting to do the right thing, it’s that there are alternatives. But there’s also the risk of being associated with live-skinning of an animal, or neck-breaking, gassing, anal electrocution – there is no pretty way to put it. There are a lot of brands out there that are trying to do better, that are trying to work with the fur industry, but the truth is that it’s the wild animal in a cage and there just isn’t a good way of doing it unfortunately.
Interestingly, if you’re going to sell fur in Switzerland, you have to put on the label the species of the animal (so they would have to say racoon dog), where the animal was raised and killed (let’s say China) and how it was either raised or killed, so in a wire body cage or trapped in the wild. I’ve heard brands say they won’t put that on a label and so won’t sell fur in Switzerland. This shows how forcing companies to inform their consumers deters them from wanting to sell fur.
What are brands’ main justifications for using fur?
Usually, it’s the idea that luxury and fur go together. Many brands still think that in order to be a luxury company, you have to do fur. But what’s odd is that fur – when you’re talking about tiny little strips of skin produced on Chinese fur farms – is actually very cheap. It's not luxurious at all. When you compare that to top quality faux fur, which in many situations is more expensive, the idea that real animal fur is luxurious doesn't make sense. So, it’s mostly this old-fashioned way of thinking that, ‘Oh, fur is glamorous and has a status,’ but it’s just not that way anymore because there are alternatives that are so much better.
Do you envisage a time when fashion is totally fur-free?
PJ Smith: I do. I think with companies like Hugo Boss and Armani going fur-free it’s inevitable that other fashion houses will follow suit. It’s going to take a little bit longer for some. Some brands are trying to do their best to work with the farms and to do it better, but the reality is it's just not possible. So yeah, I do believe that there’s going to be a point where fashion’s going to be fur-free.
Supposing fashion does become fur-free, what is the industry’s next animal welfare frontier?
PJ Smith: Right now, when you get rid of fur, the biggest issue is exotic skins. It’s very much the same kind of problem when you talk about raising pythons in Malaysia or Indonesia: these are wild animals. It’s not very profitable to raise them on farms and so it's pretty much people going out into the wild and getting bunches of pythons and then the standards of killing them is not there. So the traceability aspect is very difficult at this point.
Besides that it’s wool and down, there’s a very big risk of companies to be associated with the cruelty on some of these farms as well. A lot of these brands are putting a lot of resources into making sure that they are going to reduce the risk, but the important thing to realise is that you will never be 100 per cent risk-free from being associated with cruelty wherever you’re into the mass producing a product that comes from an animal.
If they’re interested, how can people join the fight to make fashion fur-free?
PJ Smith: The best way to fight against fur is to not buy it. It’s a really easy thing to do. Secondly, we ask if people like companies, say that unless they go fur-free, you’re not going to shop there anymore. Then educate yourself – Humane Society International just released an investigation of a rabbit fur farm, and a fox and raccoon dog fur farm in China. These are the basic standards of how to kill an animal on a farm and it’s not pretty. If you want to see what that looks like, and you are still comfortable with wearing a fur then I’m not really sure what we can do. Check out these videos and share them with people who wear fur – we find that this is the best way to convince others to stop wearing fur.
Follow Ted Stansfield on Twitter here @ted_stansfield