Vintage rising – is it fur real?
Those of you that read this blog (hi Helen), will know that I am a huge fan of vintage, secondhand, recycled, upcycled anything… fashion, accessories, interiors, although I do draw the line at beauty products. So second-hand September and all the other recycling and vintage initiatives tick all the boxes for me. Apart from one - ok, two little concerns. The second-hand beauty market, and fur.
Let’s deal with the less controversial first: the resale of beauty products. According to recent reports this already growing market was set to boom in 2020. However, that was pre Covid19 – which only exacerbates some of my initial concerns. But for those of you unaware, there is a huge profit (particularly in Asian countries in regard to high-end beauty labels) in selling secondhand beauty products, with consumer-to-consumer resale platforms such as Poshmark and Japanese owned Mercari, doing big business, to name just two.
Now, one would assume that this is in relation to sealed, untouched, non-used products. Unfortunately, not always. The resale platform Glambot, founded in 2013, emerged as a go-to secondhand market for beauty products, selling new or “slightly used” makeup which they professionally re-sanitise before putting on sale. Without having to go into too much detail, I think you might have an understanding as to what concerns me here. “Slightly used makeup”. Firstly, what does “slightly used” entail, and secondly - Yuck!
Of course, there is always the standard disclaimer on how the beauty resale markets are rolling out procedures to deal with hygiene and expiry date concerns, but this does little to assuage me. It will be interesting, given the current pandemic we still find ourselves struggling with, if the claims that the recycled beauty market will be a biggie continue.
Secondhand apparel is a much different beast. It is possibly my first true, and remains my forever, love. I have been buying vintage since I can remember starting to buy my own clothes, and that was around the age of 11. Scouring Op shops for that special one-of-a kind piece was my idea of Utopia, even the musty smell of worn leather, stale tobacco and old perfumes - yes, this was before they had to be dry-cleaned to be accepted - was balm to my soul. To this day I cannot walk past a secondhand store without going in. Just to have a look. There is something that gets into your blood in regard to finding an amazing, one-off piece of, shall we just say, history. The stories it might have engendered, the things it must have seen, the personalities it cloaked, the cut, the handwork, the detail. For this reason, and so many others, vintage has been my true fashion passion.
By the age of 13 I was such an aficionado that I could walk into a Vinnies, scour the racks -scanning for fabric first is my big tip - and pull out the most amazing evening dress, embroidered coat or a spectacular tweed 50s suit. Men’s tweed jackets were a specialty of mine, teamed with floaty, frothy tiered chiffon dresses in pretty pastels and 70s knee high tan leather boots. I even bought a pair of white men’s underpants that I wore as bloomer shorts back in the day, with a huge black leather studded belt. Oh, the memories. When my mum and dad relocated us from the North Shore of Sydney to the Sunshine Coast in Queensland (yes, I am still in therapy in regard to that move at the age of 15), my sister and I used to catch the bus down to Brisbane and back in a day, which was a considered trek at that time, to shop secondhand – I should mention here, my initial love for recycled clothing came from not having enough money to buy the fashion I really wanted at the time (actually still don’t)! My sister’s passion came from her designer genes and the desire to stand out, although come to think of it wandering around in a pair of old man’s undies with a big black belt to hold them up might have created some attention on my side of things.
Some of my most vivid memories involve outfits concocted from secondhand stores, a cream satin, long-line embroidered 50s jacket with a Jackie O-esque vibe that another woman followed me around for in the Newtown store as I perused the rails, finally working up the courage to say if I didn’t want it she would take it. Of course, that made me want it more. I wish I could have been magnanimous enough to offer it to her but it was a wardrobe staple for many, many years so it was put to good use. The delicious, sorbet soft colours of the 50s cardigans with embroidered beading in lilac, baby blue, and soft cream that I wore with absolutely everything and that, not so long ago, Prada did a complete riff on for nearly $5,000 apiece – now why didn’t I keep those! Or the stunning 70s chiffon layered summer dress, edged with handmade lace that I wore with multicoloured strap heels, and was stopped on a Sydney street by a stranger to be told it was the most beautiful dress he had ever seen, as he continued to walk on by. A pair of cowboy boots bought in Greenwich village, New York (I still own and wear them 20 years later), that I clacked from Potts Point to Bondi in nearly every other weekend to visit friends - teamed in summer with a denim mini or shorts, in winter with jeans, a recycled satin negligee top and a cropped fur jacket.
And this brings me to the crux of my second issue. The dilemma over fur.
In order to create some understanding as to why I am in such a quandary over this issue (which at its outset seems simple enough - say no to fur), I am a true vegetarian of over 35 years and counting. Not pescatarian, and not vegan mind you - although I did go down the vegan route for two years, an incredibly exhausting time period which ended in anemia - so never again, but each to their own. However, I am a long-standing, committed vegetarian who (disappointingly for some) wears leather, and recycled fur. I however, do not have an issue with anyone who deigns to eat meat.
And therein lies the heart of the matter. While the world goes into meltdown, with good reason, over the practice of fur farming, I have had a long-standing affinity with secondhand fur. Only ever vintage, mind you, but fur nonetheless.
A few years back I very proudly proclaimed that I only wore real fur. Each and every piece secondhand. I felt that that was fine. It was a natural fibre, therefore more sustainable, and it was pre-loved from an era where fur was acceptable - before polyester and the like. It was slow-fashion, classic, traditional - VINTAGE - and I was saving it from ending up as landfill - which also would have been fine, because as it was natural it would decompose - eventually. The reasoning went on and on.
But now, even this reasoning is coming into question. Fur - full stop - is bang out of order. Especially after Gucci made an announcement in 2017 that it was stopping using real fur, a move that was met with an outstanding ovation, and set the impetus for everyone else to follow suit (it is not lost on me however that the season before the fully fur-lined loafer slipper had become a sold-out, much coveted Gucci item - although that was of course before they knew better). Fashion houses, on a global scale, then set about embracing faux fur.
You do all know what faux fur is basically comprised of, don’t you?
Or in more gentile speak - non-decomposing synthetic fibres. How is this better? For the environment a resounding no, for the animals, yes. And that is as good an argument as any: No animal should be harmed in the making of anything, if you want my opinion. But neither should our environment (kind of starting to worry though with these lines of reasoning we are all going to end up a la natural - and that comes with its own set of issues). Our planet is already choking under the insidious amount of plastic waste we generate - no less than 8 million metric tons of plastics enter our ocean annually, let alone the fact that every year we dump a massive 2.12 billion tons of waste. So how can we countenance, let alone applaud, a move to more plastic?
It appears however that this little gem - the composition of faux fur - has been largely swept under the landfill. No-one appeared to question this, while nearly everybody jumped on the faux fur fashion bandwagon and cried no to real fur - in any format. And that is the real issue at hand.
There are many varied formats to consider. We can generate and create from recycled plastic and new synthetics which help clean up the planet, but in their production create a level of toxicity – although, to be fair, this is getting better with new formations and production methods, or we can use responsibly farmed fur from reputable companies that bear a mark or standard outlining them as such (I question this as well), or, how about this - we can do away with both of these options and buy or use what already exists. Just a thought.
The only other option is to look at the array of vegan alternatives cropping up (see what I did there!). Pineapple and mushroom leather, or skins grown from bacteria are making a strong appearance, so it won’t be long before we grow a natural fur, oh wait….
It would appear that I am not alone in my confusion over what we should be doing. In a recent BoF article commenting on the striking disparity of views and mixed signals of the sustainability imperative, it was mentioned that “…younger cohorts place greater emphasis on animal-free and vegan-made products, as well as ethical trade and durability, senior cohorts remain focused on recycled goods and waste reduction.”
The report delved further noting that China and Russia focus on green fabrics, while Italy and Germany care more about the use of fur. South Koreans opt for material transparency, and France is concerned more with fair labour conditions.
It surmised that luxury consumers on a worldwide scale demand sustainability, but don’t always agree what that looks like. Of course, all this does is make it harder for brands and fashion houses to meet expectations, and further clouds the recycling/vintage equation even further.
I do not want to be a poster girl for the fur trade – EVER. Do not get me wrong I do not stand behind fur in and of itself, and I am all for lengthy jail terms or worse, for anyone that harms a defenseless animal, nor do I want to support the creation of any more plastic in this world - what I do want to support is an end to the half-truths that we are living with. I do not know every bit of every equation - which fashion house uses what exactly, and how it is farmed, grown or created. Many may troll me for putting forward my thoughts without all the facts - but seriously, who has those? The aforementioned BoF report is testament to that! What I do know, is that the industry I love dearly is in a whole world of pain, and I applaud the fact that it is coming to grips with its own excess and desperately trying to rectify its past, but I do not think by creating an alternative substance to a natural one is the best answer when we are talking about the sustainability imperative.
And, in all honesty, I think before we can even fully address the sustainability issue properly, we need to define what that exactly is. Without the histrionics.
For it appears, despite the increasing, vociferous demand for sustainable goods, it is not always clear what is actually being demanded.
Today, the secondhand apparel market is valued at approximately $28 billion and is forecast to reach $64 billion within five years, according to a new report by ThredUp and GlobalData Retail, and I daresay those figures will incorporate a lot of secondhand leather, polyester and fur.
But is that so wrong?
It’s recycling, right?
And so, the question remains. In this era of extreme polarization, when we are seemingly unable to create a balanced argument (or at least give voice to it - no-one stops to ask in a protest if what you are wearing is vintage), do we stand behind what was formerly a reasonable premise, or do we give in to the fear that we will be targeted by some form of cancel culture (which is now being identified in UK schools for what it actually is – extreme bullying) over what once was a well-intentioned past time.
Animal cruelty is a definite no go. In my humble opinion we do not need to kill another animal for another fur coat - EVER. We have more than enough already made and sitting in storage around the world, and we can regenerate, remodel or simply re-sell. But therein lies the rub - are people really supporting a shocking, cruel trade if they wear what is effectively a piece of the past?
These are the questions that haunt our times, and I fear ones that will create further polarization in our already fragmented society.
In the meantime, the outcry of rage is starting to encompass the leather industry.
At this rate I fear that we will basically end up clothed in plastic.
It better be recycled - or vintage - is all I can say.