Animal Writes
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5 December 2001 Issue
The Fur Fringe

By Danielle Bays and Lydia Nichols
The Animals' Agenda Online: News 

When you think of fur "fashion" you might picture a traditional mink coat or maybe even a more contemporary, brightly colored fox-fur chubby. But what about a microfiber jacket trimmed with fox fur?

Although historically the fur industry's emphasis has been on full-length coats, fur trim is becoming a mainstay of the trade. The Fur Information Council of America (FICA) recently claimed that retail sales of fur rose 21 percent over last season (fall 2000-winter 2001) to $1.69 billion. However, the income from fur storage, cleaning, and repair have traditionally been included in sales figures, and FICA—which only surveys select members of its organization for data—no longer provides a breakdown of what percentage of revenue comes from services and what comes from the purchase of new fur products. As fur retailers branch out to include more and more nonfur items and products with small amounts of fur trim, this sales statistic becomes more and more dubious.

Yet while sales of fur coats are undoubtedly down, the fur industry can rightfully claim victory in its efforts to make fur trim socially acceptable. In 1996, fur-trimmed and fur-lined items made up 46 percent of the value of all fur garments sold. Since then, the number of fur-trimmed items sold has increased. Using FICA's latest figures, the fur-trim market is worth nearly $500 million annually. However, FICA obtains its figure by surveying a select number of specialized retailers and does not include more general retailers that sell a broad range of clothing and accessories, including fur-trimmed items. Adding in those sales would make this figure uglier than it already is.

With the trim trade expanding, the death toll is rising. Sandy Parker Reports, a fur industry newsletter, predicts that the number of animal pelts used for trim will soon outnumber those used for all-fur garments in western European and U.S. markets. According to a recent headline in Sandy Parker Reports, "New York trimming manufacturers report they are having their best season in memory." Demand for fur trim is currently so strong that some U.S. manufacturers that typically produce only full-fur garments are now moving into the trim business.

Economics, and the deaths of many of the veteran fur manufacturers, has led to the demise of the once-thriving U.S. fur-manufacturing center. Emphasis on mass-produced fur trims and accessories has enabled fur manufacturing to move overseas, where the labor is cheap and controls are less stringent. China is now the top nation for the manufacture of full-fur and fur-trimmed garments. The vast amount of fur products shipped out of the country nearly masked China's use of dog and cat fur in the trim trade, but once U.S. consumers were alerted to this atrocity they successfully lobbied for a ban on such products ("The Far Reach of the Barbaric Fur Trade: Asia's Dog & Cat Fur Business," Jan./Feb. 1999). Demand for fur trim puts less emphasis on pelt quality, color, and uniformity, and has driven up the price for lower-grade pelts and pelts from breeder animals. This means that the quality of the animals' care—which is known to be deplorable already—is likely getting worse.

A little trim, a lot of suffering

For some people, wearing a garment with "just a little" fur trim may not seem as inhumane as wearing a full-length fur. But the animals suffer and die just the same, victims of the institutionalized cruelty of fur farms or the agony of steel traps.

Foxes are the most common animals used for fur trim. Ninety percent of the foxes raised on fur farms are killed for the fur-trim market. Blue foxes (the industry term for cage-raised arctic foxes) are the primary type used, followed by the silver fox (cage-raised red foxes). Trapped foxes—red, gray, and arctic—are also skinned for the trim trade.

Mink and sable—both those raised on intensive farms and those trapped in the wild—are regularly converted into neckpieces and other vanity accessories. Male mink, whose pelts are larger, are killed almost exclusively for trim (makers of full-length coats prefer female pelts). Other animals regularly exploited for the trim trade include such wild-caught animals as raccoons, coyotes, and beavers, as well as cage-raised chinchillas and Finraccoons (the moniker given to raccoon dogs, a wild Asian species commonly raised on Finnish fur farms).

Despite the benign-sounding industry propaganda surrounding fur "ranches," there is nothing humane about fur farms. Life inside small, barren wire cages is a far cry from these animals' natural environments. The animals often resort to unnatural behaviors, such as incessant pacing, self-mutilation, and even cannibalism, to escape the boredom and frustration created by their harsh and deprived conditions. Foxes are extremely fearful of humans; they tremble, defecate, and withdraw to the rear of their cages when approached. They have a high rate of cannibalism— primarily mothers killing their young—as a result of cramped caging. Fox farmers lose an estimated 20 percent of their animals prematurely, and half of those deaths result from cannibalism. Death is no easy escape either, as the most common killing method of farmed foxes is anal electrocution.

The increased use of raccoon fur as trim on cloth and leather garments has renewed demand for this type of fur. The number of raccoons trapped in the United States dropped an estimated 75 percent this past season, but with the trim market expanding, the forecast for this winter may be deadly for raccoons.

Trapped animals suffer a different type of torture than those on fur farms. Volumes of documentation prove that leghold traps mutilate wild animals caught in their grip-ripping flesh, tearing tendons and ligaments, and even breaking bones. Many animals, especially raccoons, will chew or twist off their own limbs in a desperate attempt to escape. The indiscriminate nature of all traps is well documented, with scores of nontarget animals (including family companions) caught by traps intended for other animals. Body-gripping traps often cause excruciating pain and prolonged death; neck snares are particularly cruel for coyotes and foxes because the significant musculature around these animals' tracheas and carotid arteries slows death and magnifies suffering.

Buyer beware

By actively marketing fur-trimmed items, the fur industry seeks to inundate consumers with fur-buying options. Shoppers don't have to go to fur salons or seek out furriers anymore; fur trim can be found even in discount stores, where, ironically, people may assume the trim is therefore synthetic. Consumers are looking for innovative apparel rather than the traditional styles of fur fashion, one reason why the fur industry markets fur-trim products to a younger generation in an effort to broaden their customer base.

The fur industry views fur trim as a consumer's "introduction" to fur: something that will make a person want to purchase a more expensive full-fur coat in the future. This is simply a desperate marketing scheme to raise interest in a dying fashion. Consumers may be able to justify fur trim by accepting false notions of its origin, yet the leap to a full-fur item could well be dismissed as too much animal suffering or as an ostentatious fashion "don't."

According to fur industry publications, furriers believe fur-trimmed garments will become more important than all-fur garments in terms of repeat business because such items might be replaced in only a few years, whereas a fur coat may last for 20 years or more. Furriers also believe that fur trim is what helped bring younger consumers back to fur stores and boutiques. Additionally, they believe these consumers are much more receptive to fur than they were five years ago. Designers such as Gucci, Chanel, and Christian Dior are using more vibrant colors and unique styles in hopes of attracting younger consumers.

People who check garment labels can be confused or even deceived by the fact that most products aren't required to state whether trim is made of real fur or what kind of animal was killed to produce it. With fur trim coming in such a range of colors and cuts, it has become increasingly difficult for consumers to identify what is real and what is not. Labels don't help much, since labels on most trimmed products aren't required to state whether the fur is real and, if it is, what kind of animal was killed to obtain it. A loophole in the federal Fur Products Labeling Act exempts garments costing less than $150 from truth-in-labeling provisions.

As a movement, we must broaden our focus on the fur industry to include fur trim and to condemn this trend as vigorously as we do full-fur items. We can't let someone off the ethical hook because they are wearing "just a little" fur. Let's educate the public about the trim trade and the cruelty that is inherent in each and every collar and cuff.

Danielle Bays is Wildlife Issues Associate for The Humane Society of the United States; Lydia Nichols is Executive Director of the Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade.

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