Hell Hath No Furry
Article By Dylan Meyers
Fashion started with fur. The use of fur in clothing has gone on for about 120,000 years. In the beginning, it was a necessity. A way to use every part of the animal avoiding any waste. The warmth and durability it offered made it the most practical material for clothing. Of course, the way fur is gathered and its relative purpose in society has dramatically changed since early life. It was originally done for survival and out of reverence for the animals giving their lives, now it is a cruel industry maximizing profits by capitalizing on the mistreatment of animals. Creatures such as minks, foxes, coyotes, rabbits, even cats, and dogs are subject to the textile industry.
I want to focus on the mink. Most people have heard of mink clothing, whether through songs from artists such as Future or Drake, or through celebrities brandishing them on the red carpet. The softness, warmth, and unique coloring has propelled the fur of this animal to the mainstream. While the fur is quite popular, I would hedge the bet that many don’t even know what the actual animal looks like. It’s often people would rather not see an animal bred to be murdered for their own pleasure. I understand many are oblivious to the regimented fur farming industry and the many horrors associated with it. Around 85% of all fur that is used by the fashion industry comes from these farms.
Minks are traditionally solitary creatures who find a home both in water and on land as they have partially webbed feet. They have elongated bodies with long tails and short legs. They are far from domesticated animals. Having only been in captivity for a little over a century, minks are still essentially wild animals. Captive minks are bred in the winter, being born in the spring. They stay with their mothers, or an adoptive mother, for around six weeks under heavy monitoring. After they are capable of walking on their own, they’re separated from their mothers. They are then put into barren, adjacent wire cages usually just barely big enough to fit them, only around 1’ X 1’ X 3’ in size. These cage set ups are inhumane. Many farms will stack the minks on top of each other, allowing for feces to travel between cages. Standing on wiring all day also has an impact on the mink’s legs leading to deformities and injuries. These cages are also major facilitators of disease. Scientists were actually able to chart the spread of COVID-19 through captive minks.
After putting the minks into cages, they are force fed a paste consisting of various proteins multiple times a day. This is where they develop their coats. They are bred to be as large as possible in order to maximize the amount of fur they produce. Once the fur is in bloom, minks are then separated by who is being killed for their fur and who is being put aside for breeding. The ones subject to killing are usually put down through a process called asphyxiation, where they are gassed using carbon dioxide. This is the common practice nowadays, though before the farms underwent even the lightest of regulations, minks were put down with a variety of methods. Anal electrocution, neck breaking, suffocation, and throat slitting were all popular forms of killing. When farmers were less experienced, consciousness was harder to gauge leading to a large number of minks being skinned alive.
Tragic the life of a mink is. Amazing creatures subject to the worst of humanity. Over 100 million animals per year are killed for their fur. 95% of those animals are held in cages their entire lives. Minks are the most common, but so many animals are subject to the practices of a fur farm. This is cruel and unnecessary abuse bestowed upon animals for what? Clothes. How is reaching a certain aesthetic worthy of torturing millions of innocent animals? Simple answer really, it’s not.
How did this fur phenomenon come about? Like I said earlier, fur has always been used for clothing. However, due to the more strenuous nature of obtaining fur, it quickly became a sign of wealth. This happened for all kinds of animal clothing, for example in Ancient Egypt only kings or high priests were allowed to wear leopard or lion skin. Nobility became tied to fur rather quickly, Germany was the first of the European nations to control the fur market. Other European nations soon tried to follow. As the medieval times rolled around, the fur industry became more regulated. Royals wanted to establish more of a disparity between the fashion choices of the higher class opposed to the lower class citizens. In 1483 King Edward IV passed down the Act of Apparel which demanded that leather and fur be regulated by class. A citizen must have made over £40 a year in order to wear any hide other than lambskin. These weird regulations continued throughout much of 15th and 16th century England, setting a precedent for the exclusivity of animal furs that still pervades its way into our culture today.
The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) is mainly responsible for bringing much of the consumer demand for fur to North America. The HBC controlled Canada as its fur trading helped establish the country. The HBC came from the United Kingdom, and as demand grew more and more, western European manufacturers began moving in capitalizing on the seemingly infinite supply of fur in the new land, becoming incredibly rich. This was around the 17th and 18th centuries. As manufacturers continued to maximize profit, innovation in technology became evermore rampant. New technology allowed for fur to become more accessible to the masses. The distinction of wealth soon moved past whether someone was just wearing fur, but rather what kind of fur they were wearing,
Certain waves and trends have shaped the way fur is seen today, most all coming from the higher class filtering into lower, working class people. At the turn of the century for the 1900s, a new craze amongst Ivy League men started known as the “Pimp Coat” craze. Everyone who was anyone started clamoring for full length raccoon coats. Of course, the students who started the trend came from extremely wealthy families who could afford the clothing. This trend allowed for those well off students to look down upon anyone who didn’t own one. People began to buy them as soon as they could afford them as a way to keep up with the times and avoid ridicule. The American magazine Vogue even published an article telling young men and women to never “scrimp on fur” declaring it the ultimate symbol of status in post war America.
Much of what came next was dominated by the stars of the silver screen. The golden age of Hollywood gave way to an increased influence on fashion especially for women. Stars such as Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, and Lana Turner would brandish their fur coats whenever they hit the red carpet or were caught by paparazzi on the street. This is where the mink coat took its form and became a benchmark for many celebrities. Stars of the now such as Jennifer Lopez and Mariah Carey have perpetuated the idea of wealth and status through fur clothing as they continue the trend set forth by the early celebrities of Hollywood.
The culture of one-ups-manship that fur clothing has created is a prime example of the capitalistic approach towards class. Fur became popular in Europe, monarchs bar peasants from wearing it. Fur becomes popular in the United States, Ivy Leaguers start wearing expensive full length raccoon coats and look down upon those who can’t afford one. Stars of the silver screen want others to know their elevated status, so they start wearing rarer animals such as minks. The popularity of fur has seemingly always stemmed from others trying to put themselves on an elevated pedestal as opposed to their peers. It's a way of letting others know they are not on your level. There is such a stigma against looking “poor” that many will do anything they can not to. Fur elevates this as there is always a rarer animal’s fur to be taken. As a result, these once free, remarkable animals are forced to endure cruel and unusual punishment. Many major brands and designers such as Gucci, Chanel, and Versace are making pledges to go fur-free. This is only the first step in taking down the fur industry. It is slowly diminishing, but can only be taken care of if everyone makes an effort against it.