Can a brand truly be sustainable if it still uses fur?
Last week, popular outerwear brand Canada Goose released its 2020 sustainability report and updated its goals, setting ambitious new environmental targets for 2025.
They’re not insignificant: it’s upped its carbon offsets to 200 percent of its total emissions. The brand is replacing problematic materials like nylon and polyester with sustainable alternatives. By 2025 90 percent of its range will be made from “preferred” fibers and materials. One-hundred percent of its packaging will be sustainable by 2025, too.
It even enlisted the Science Guy, Bill Nye, as its climate advisor.
“Climate change is real. We must act now,” Nye said in a statement. “Working together, I believe we can bring attention to the need to manufacture products sustainably and responsibly. It’s an opportunity for corporate leadership that consumers will recognize and embrace.”
But then, there’s fur.
For years, Canada Goose has come under fire for its use of fur. Celebrities including Pamela Anderson, Bill Maher, Morrissey, Justin Long, and Maggie Q, among others, have all urged the brand to drop fur from its collections. Luxury fashion houses like Karl Lagerfeld, Versace, and Gucci have all ditched fur. Retailers known for fur, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s and Nordstrom, stopped selling it, too. Even PETA ended its longstanding “Fur Is Dead” campaign after these milestones.
Last year, Canada Goose announced that by 2022, it would no longer use “new” fur, but would still use upcycled or reclaimed fur in its collections (and “responsibly sourced down”). Last Thursday’s announcement offered no updates or clarity to its fur policies made in 2020.
“Canada Goose’s announcement that it will shift from new to reclaimed coyote fur is a partial victory for animals,” Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of Humane Society International/Canada, said in a statement last year. “However, significant clarification is required about the company’s definition of ‘reclaimed fur,’ its certification methods and its timeline for implementation. Consumers must carefully scrutinize the implementation of this new policy but ultimately we urge Canada Goose to stop using animal fur entirely in favour of humane and environmentally friendly alternatives.”
For animal rights organization, PETA, the announcement didn’t sit well. “This is a thinly veiled attempt to ‘humane wash’ its image—switching from fur taken from coyotes whom trappers have recently caught in steel traps to fur that may already be on the market or in the supply chain. What about all the coyotes who will struggle in traps for hours or even days before they are violently killed within the next two years?” the group asked in a post last April.
Without getting any answers, PETA launched a campaign against the brand outside stores in Boston last December.
“Behind every Canada Goose parka are coyotes who fought for their lives while caught in steel traps and gentle birds whose throats were cut,” PETA’s Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman said in a statement. The group urged shoppers to avoid the store and refuse to purchase its products.
Is Fur Sustainable?
The Sustainable Fur website, which is run by Fur Europe, an umbrella organization for the entire European fur sector, claims fur is sustainable:
“Waste reduction, longevity and re-use are the basic solutions for environmental sustainability, and no other textile fits the bill as perfectly as natural fur. Fur garments are used for an extraordinarily long time, and it is common practice to redesign and use garments of natural fur. In itself natural fur is a renewable resource that never runs out, but will biodegrade and enter nature’s own biological cycle. Natural fur is the slow fashion alternative to modern day’s ‘buy and throw away’ culture, and a good choice for fashion consumers concerned with sustainability.”
This mirrors Canada Goose’s ethos:
“At Canada Goose, our approach to design is always focused on quality, durability and functionality, while never sacrificing on performance,” said Niamh McManus, Design Director, Canada Goose. “We design for generations, not seasons, and our new product-focused sustainable commitments further reinforce that approach.”
And it’s true, fur does last if treated and stored properly. And, because of the price, it has traditionally been passed down through generations.
But is it sustainable? Hardly, says PETA. The animal rights organization says that 85 percent of the fur industry’s skins come from animals raised in factory farm settings similar to those that produce meat, eggs, and dairy. “These farms can house thousands of animals, and as with other factory farms, they are designed to maximize profits—with little regard for the environment or animals’ well-being,” PETA says.
There are the issues of animal waste from those farms that can leach into waterways, devastate soil, and pollute air. “According to the World Bank, the hazardous process of fur dressing is so problematic that it is now ranked as one of the world’s five worst industries for toxic-metal pollution,” PETA says on its website. “In Denmark, where more than 19 million minks are killed for their fur each year, more than 8,000 pounds of ammonia is released into the atmosphere annually.”
And even in cases where fur is trapped and not farmed, as in the case of Canada Goose’s coyote fur trim, there are inherent problems. Wild trapping disrupts fragile ecosystems, removes predators that keep other populations in balance, and disrupts the biosphere.
Then, of course, there is the ethical issue. Can something that’s propped up as being sustainable really be good for the planet when it’s the product of cruelty? If the goal of sustainability is to not deplete the world of its resources, where does a sentient being’s life fall into that equation?
“Cruelty isn’t sustainable,” says PETA. “There’s no need for any of this cruelty when so many fashionable, functional alternatives to fur [and down] exist.”