Arnaud Brunois: Faux Fur Institute - 'all fibres have issues'

By BEL JACOBS

Faux fur has been been growing in popularity since 2014 with labels like  Shrimps. Image: Shrimps.

Faux fur has been been growing in popularity since 2014 with labels like Shrimps. Image: Shrimps.

As more and more luxury labels drop real fur over consumer concerns about animal welfare, concerns are being raised about the petrochemical make up of its faux alternative. This is good. Difficult questions need to be asked in ALL areas of sustainability before we can find best practice. Because, as Arnaud Brunois, founder of the Faux Fur Institute and communication manager for Ecopel, points out: the answers are never as straightforward as we’d like them to be. 

Describe the beginnings of the Institute?

The Faux Fur Institute launched a year ago and it started very humbly. I hadn’t really paid much attention to faux fur until one day, a friend of mine - a skilled seamstress - brought me some samples. I was immediately struck by their softness and luxuriousness and their vibrant colours and I thought. ‘Why is faux fur said to be so cheap when it’s actually the opposite?” 

At the time, there isn’t much information available about faux fur; what there was was either from animal rights groups or negative publicity from the fur lobby. So I started a blog, which is now officially supported by several faux fur brands [including House of Fluff and Pelush]. I’m also currently PR for Ecopel, leader in faux fur. Ecopel is committed to circularity and openness in the fashion world with greater communication. So it all matches perfectly.

Why does fur continue to have a hold in fashion and culture? 

Arnaud Brunois, founder, Faux Fur Institute. Picture: Ecopel.

Arnaud Brunois, founder, Faux Fur Institute. Picture: Ecopel.

Designers still love fur - real or faux - because it is playful, tactile and comforting. It’s a fascinating fabric. Firstly, it was a matter of survival: people killed animals, ate their meat and used the pelts to protect themselves from the cold. It then became a status symbol; splendid furs [have been] a sign of power, whether in European courts or amongst Indian aristocracy [for centuries]. The idea was to take ownership of the splendour of the animal or absorb its strength. But things have changed. A more modern status symbol has appeared and that is faux fur.

Faux fur promotes empathy and responsibility. It says: ‘There are more ethical alternatives [to animal fur].’ Humans are smart enough to challenge themselves and to develop better ideas than simply to take the pelt of what was once a magnificent animal.

More and more luxury labels are dropping fur from their collections. Why?

There are two converging synergies. The first is technical innovation; faux fur has never felt so luxurious. And, every season, talented women and men work in laboratories to improve the fibres. It requires real skill and creativity. Today’s faux furs are not like the ones from the 90’s.

Secondly, there is the growing awareness about animal welfare. Brands no longer want to be associated with controversial practices like factory farming. Millennials are concerned with social and environmental causes and they are more vigilant about the brands they choose to support. They want brands that match their values. Nowadays, they just don’t buy a product, they buy a vision - and luxury brands are well aware of that.

Faux fur has been been growing in popularity since 2014 with labels like Shrimps, followed by more established brands like Tom Ford, Burberry or Versace. Stella McCartney literally paved the way for sustainability and ethics by setting the bar extremely high.Today, faux fur is the new norm. We have fashion brands asking for samples, because they all want to offer a repertoire of faux fur.

Describe the campaigns waged against faux by fur companies. 

It’s been around for a while. I don’t know another example in which one industry has campaigned so aggressively and openly against another in the textile sector.

The climax came last year with a big poster in Times Square [by a pro-fur syndicate] claiming that fake fur harms oceans. This is inaccurate [because] 70 per cent of the debris in our seas is abandoned fishnets, while the rest are single-use plastics.

So we are in this weird situation where an industry that kills 100 million animals a year en masse, whose cruelty has been exposed countless times by animal rights organisations and which has been banned in ten countries is giving everyone lessons in morality and responsibility. It’s like big tobacco companies telling us how to adopt a healthy lifestyle. 

Rose Danford Phillips is another young designer working imaginatively with faux fur. Picture: Rose Danford Phillips.

Rose Danford Phillips is another young designer working imaginatively with faux fur. Picture: Rose Danford Phillips.

Their legitimacy should be questioned by everyone - and we need to expose their tactics. Exploiting the plastic crisis and making it a case against faux fur is more than opportunistic; it’s fraudulent. They have made the conversation toxic and cast confusion among the eco-minded fashion lovers. We try to warn designers about those who adopt the stance of the whistle blower but are actually talented lobbyists. The fur industry is not a non-profit organisation. 

Last November, a double page ad campaign published by the International Fur Federation in Vogue Paris and five other editions of Vogue was successfully challenged for accuracy, after an official complaint was filed with the Advertising Standards Authority of France (Known as Jury De Déontologie Publicitaire). 

[The board ruled that the IFF’s ad was in violation of French advertising standards as well as the “principles of fairness and truthfulness” as set by the International Chamber of Commerce code. The biodegradability claim was ruled “baseless.”]. 

We want to make sure the conversation remains healthy. Ecology is too important to be used for marketing purposes. To me, the real question is not "real fur VS faux fur” - but how to move from animal-based to bio-fabricated synthetics.

But many point out that, because it’s essentially made of plastic, faux fur is bad for the environment …  

All fibres have issues: whether they are cotton, leather, synthetics. In fact, environmental reports usually highlight the fact that animal-based fibres are worse for the environment than synthetics. With real fur, everything is at stake: ethical issues linked to animal welfare, environmental issues linked to intensive farming, and the oil issue since real fur pelts are usually processed with petrochemicals. 

At the same time, synthetics are still widely used by the fashion industry. Faux fur is not that different from [many designers bags] which are made from PVC and Moncler’s puffers, which are made of nylon. Indeed it is estimated that the number of faux fur garments produced yearly ranges between 6 to  8 million which represents 0,01% of the 80 billion garments made each per year. If we really want to clear plastics from fashion, it is clearly not the most effective target. 

What environmentally friendly faux fur options are coming up?

From an environmental perspective, faux fur is not perfect. Yes, the reliance on oil-based raw materials has to be addressed. Last year, I launched Smart Fur, the first step of an initiative to design new ways to make faux fur, based on principles of the circular economy. Some very tangibles actions have taken place. At the same time, Ecopel has created a range of teddy faux fur from recycled plastics and will expand its range of recycled faux fur later this year. 

We are also launching a bio-based fur created from a unique resin composed of 37 per cent vegetal ingredients. The general idea is to transition from oil-based to bio-based fibres,  to reduce impact on the environment. In ten years, a whole new generation of synthetics will be used by the fashion industry. Last but not least, we have been working on waste regeneration; a recent experiment with a French start-up showed that synthetics can be converted in energy.

Plastic is [one of the most] significant environmental threats of our time. We need solutions, not speculation. Surely the first thing to do is to ban single use plastics, which are an ecological heresy, and - at the same time - tackle intensive farming. We have to interrupt this crazy cycle.