Winter is coming — meaning the Hinman line will get longer with students anxiously stocking up on their hooded bombers, Patagonia jackets and SmartWool socks. But before we make these purchases, we must understand the implications behind the products we buy. We must realize that the things that keep us warm may actually support a cold, dark industry.
It is not news that wearing fur supports an abusive industry, in which fur is ripped apart from a mink, rabbit or fox while the creature is still alive. But with the recent rise of “ethical fur,” it is no longer as easy to tell if purchasing fur is questionable. For example, Canada Goose rationalizes its use of coyote fur by claiming that coyotes are overpopulated farmland pests, adding that their trapping methods are humane. However, ethically sourcing fur for an already overpriced winter-wear industry is near impossible. According to Choose Cruelty Free, leghold traps that involve the traps’ jaws slamming shut on the animal’s legs — often leading the animal to mutilate itself or die a slow death from exhaustion — are still legal in Canada. We must approach this debate from an animal welfare perspective rather than an economic one. Does the age-old practice of trapping and skinning an animal make sense when it is supporting institutionalized multi-national conglomerates?
Filling coats with goose feathers, a common practice, also has created controversy. Producing goose down involves forcefully plucking the feathers of a goose or a duck while it is still alive to acquire the soft layer of feathers on their breasts. These feathers are the most efficient in trapping air and body heat, and therefore the most desirable. According to Four Paws, a German animal welfare group, an average duck or goose may be plucked alive four times in its lifetime — while being farmed institutionally in a shockingly poorly maintained factory farm. Down is also a by-product of the infamous foie gras industry, wherein ducks are force-fed through a tube in the esophagus, making their stomachs grow as large as possible in the shortest amount of time.
Because of these issues, many vegans and animal welfare activists turn to synthetic material. While goose down aficionados and fur-trim giants argue that synthetic materials are a temporary relief from buying into the cruel trade, an imperfect solution is better than no solution at all. Spinning off of Churchill’s famed quote about democracy, synthetics may be the worst form of material — except for all those have been tried.
Other fur defenders note that wearing fur has been a practice for warmth for centuries, and that it is therefore a renewable and sustainable source. But we need to acknowledge that times have changed. We can now purchase mass-produced factory products with the click of a mouse, rather than sourcing materials we need for ourselves and using these animals and their resources sparingly. It is no longer natural or sustainable to feed an exponentially-growing multi-million winter wear industry and compare it to our hunter-gatherer days.
So how do we ensure that our purchases are guilt-free? If we cannot completely boycott animal products, perhaps we should do the best that we can do from where we stand — making sure that the products we buy at least do not involve the unnecessary suffering of animals. Our campus favorite, Patagonia, has recently begun exercising corporate responsibility by switching over to “Traceable Down” in all of its down-insulated products starting this fall. The North Face has also jumped onto the bandwagon, but has yet to announce when its products will go fully “Traceable.” Another recommended option is the synthetic material PrimaLoft, a material that both companies use.
Human beings kept warm in the past by wearing fur from animals — some argue that that’s the way nature works. However, we must realize we now live in a society entrenched with consumerism. In doing so, we must remain conscious of our purchases so that our choices are not supporting an industry that has institutionalized cruelty.