Fur-Free and Fabulous: Who Can Tell If It’s Fake Fur or Real? A Fashion Competition That Celebrates Sustainability and Gives a Boost to Budding Designers

There may be fewer men and women sporting full-length sable coats today, but as the cold kicks in, plenty of people are still donning fur earmuffs and fur-trimmed hats and coats. Fur wearing has become more democratized, and now that fake furs look increasingly realistic, it’s hard to tell what comes from an animal and what comes from a machine. And recent controversies over real fur marked as fake prove that the situation isn’t getting any clearer. All of which makes the work of those who know the real cost of fur and are working to end it that much tougher.

Fur’s Tough Facts

Fake Fur, Credit: FunkyShapes, FlickrCCThere’s no such thing as ethical fur, says Monica Engebretson, the senior program director at Born Free USA, an animal advocacy group. “Whether sourced from wild-trapped or cage-raised animals, fur products present severe animal welfare issues that simply cannot be resolved in an economically or environmentally sustainable manner,” she says.

Animals raised for fur are routinely subjected to death via suffocation, drowning and chest crushing, all of which would be illegal if the animals were domestic dogs or cats. Those caught in the wild are subject to prolonged, painful deaths (despite trappers’ assertions to the contrary), not to mention the cruelty experienced by animals that are accidentally caught in the traps, like deer, birds, pets and even endangered species.

Fashion without Fur

Born Free’s Fur Free Fashion Competi-tion draws positive attention to the issue and supports independent, ethically minded designers. (E is the contest’s media sponsor).

“The ultimate aim of the show is for people to realize that fur-free is the future of fashion,” says Engebretson, “What [the designers] tend to have in common is that they are ‘cause driven.’ Many are experimenting with other environmentally friendly fabrics—bamboo, hemp, organic cotton and recycled clothing—and they are concerned about human rights issues like sweat shops.”

Materials are the focus of the competition, but never at the expense of great design. Rachelle Carson-Begley, co-star of Living with Ed that ran on Discovery’s Planet Green, and one of the judges for the fur-free competition, says she looks for a designer who really understands fashion “from couture to T-shirts” and votes for those whose collections include “well-constructed and imaginative clothes that I could actually wear.” Carson-Begley mixes her wardrobe up with ethical labels like John Patrick Organic as well as traditional favorites like Donna Karen and Chloe, but credits her rescue dog Bernie for inspiring her role as a sustainable fashionista.

Designing with Heart

Iconic female designers Coco Chanel and Stella McCartney (whose line is animal-free) are close to the heart and design aesthetic of this year’s Fur Free Fashion competition winner, Stephanie Teague. Her modern but vintage-inspired Pretty Birdie line is filled with wearable pieces like a puffed-shoulder military style jacket in a hemp/organic cotton mix and a blouse made from organic flannel.

Teague was inspired to adopt an environmentally sustainable lifestyle by her mother, who died of cancer 10 years ago. “After she died I embarked on a journey to find perfect balance in my life and in my health,” Teague says. “I have found that balance through diet, yoga and meditation.” And fashion design. While she has been sewing since she was a young girl, Teague says she found her calling in combining creativity and usefulness. She also believes you can do what you love with a smaller footprint and “do no harm” to boot.

Engebretson agrees, saying: “Fashion is by its very nature frivolous, and it’s OK to enjoy, but it’s hardly worth hurting people, animals and the environment over.”