It all started with a fur coat.
But first let me clarify my own personal stance on fur. My personal opinion is that the current trade in fur is abhorent. With such good quality fakes available I see no reason for the trade in animals pelts merely for fashion to continue. However, I am also of the opinion that vintage furs are not going to turn back into small fluffy bunnies just because they don’t get worn. I am anti waste and I beleive in recycling and reusing where possible, regardless of the material.
I think the modern fur trade should be regulated a lot like the Ivory trade. Where new products are illegal, but existing goods are able to be traded.
Ok, now we’ve got that out of the way, on with the story.
In my search for lovely goodies to sell on in my Shop I picked up a fur coat. I had sold faux fur before, and at the time initially assumed it was a fake. Further investigation, however, revealed the coat to be real, possibly rabbit fur.
It was a beautiful vintage coat, in amazing condition, and I listed it in my eBay store without the slightest thought that vintage fur could be contentious.
Then I promoted it on my Facebook Page and I was bought to task by a fan for selling fur. Very politely of course. Retro Chick people are NICE people….
So I asked around among some friends and on Twitter and it turns out opinions are very mixed. A lot of people also have no problem with vintage fur, others feel that wearing fur at all is promoting it as fashionable (though surely faux fur is the same?), and some were so incensed by the sale of fur that it turns out they would consider leaving my Fan Page because I was selling it.
Where do our ethics come from?
I was slightly taken aback by the depth of feeling and I started to think about where our ethics come from when we shop.
The sad fact is that pretty much every single purchase you make will impact someone, somewhere, negatively.
Cotton uses 6 litres of water to grow enough for one cotton bud and consumes massive amounts of pesticides, without even mentioning the exploitation of the workers involved in it’s growth. Silk is often made by boiling moth pupae alive so the cases can be unravelled. Hell, even “ethical” Bamboo fibres come with some serious considerations. So why do people feel so strongly about fur when they have wardrobes full of clothing that involved the boiling alive of moths and the exploitation of actual people? How did they decide that this was one ethical consideration on which they WILL NOT BEND.
Could it be this?
In 1994 the cult of the Super Model was a pretty huge thing, and so was this poster. People of around my age had this message pretty deeply ingrained into their shopper psyche, long before they were even in a position to be wearing any fur anyway.
PETA were, and still are, an animal liberation organisation. So this message comes not from a place of interest in ethics, but of protecting all animals. That means that if you buy their message you’ll stop wearing leather shoes, pearls and silk as well. Regardless of the environmental or human impact of the alternatives.
I strongly feel that we have a duty as consumers to educate ourselves, and be aware of the impact of our purchases. We can’t stop them having a negative effect, but can make sure we keep those effects as small as possible. We need to decide for ourselves if animal rights, environmental considerations, or ethical production considerations take priority in our shopping habits.
This isn’t about fur. No one NEEDS to wear a fur coat, whether it’s fake, vintage, or brand spanking new gopher loafers (please see The Simpsons if you don’t get that), but it might be worth thinking about why you feel SO strongly about it if you’re still tucking into battery farmed chicken.
(You should check out this interesting article on Dramatis Personae on animal vs environmental ethics.)
For the record I consider myself an ethical shopper.
But that doesn’t mean my wardrobe isn’t full of sweatshop produced clothing, leather and environmentally unfriendly plastics.
I buy mostly second hand, which I consider an ethical way to shop, and it suits my budget. If I need (or want) something new I have to consider my budget as well as the ethical alternatives. I’ll buy organic cotton if it’s available, but if it isn’t, or isn’t within my budget then I’ll buy it new. I buy very little new, so I feel I can do this without too much guilt. I’ll also shop at Primark, because despite it’s low cost, low ethics reputation it’s under a lot of scrutiny for this reason. Scrutiny that higher cost retailers escape to a certain extent.
Ethical shopping is a minefield that we all have to negotiate, whether we think about it or not, the issues are still there.