Is fur actually worse than leather?
November 28, 2011 11:22 AM   Subscribe

Is wearing fur actually any worse than wearing leather? There's a much stronger taboo against wearing fur, but I can't think of any reasons why it's worse than leather.
posted by PhillyNK to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (38 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
With leather, usually the animal was eaten and the leather is a by-product. With fur, it was usually raised and killed only for its fur.
posted by hazyjane at 11:23 AM on November 28, 2011 [24 favorites]

The usual reasoning I hear for fur being worse than leather is that almost all leather is a byproduct of the meat processing industry, while the majority of the animals used for fur are not also processed for further use.
posted by elizardbits at 11:25 AM on November 28, 2011

With leather, usually the animal was eaten and the leather is a by-product. With fur, it was usually raised and killed only for its fur.

Hmmmm. Somehow I don't think anti-fur protesters would back off and say "oh, that seems reasonable" if you were able to assure them that you'd eaten all the minks that made up your coat.
posted by yoink at 11:31 AM on November 28, 2011 [6 favorites]

I've also known some people who rationalize leather use on the basis that it really is a very durable useful material that (depending on its use) may not have a great man-made alternative; by contrast, the warmth provided by fur for coats is pretty much superceded by high-tech insulation material, leaving us with aesthetics alone.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:33 AM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

It may depend on the fur to some extent (I have eaten rabbit, for example, and have no idea whether their fur is processed and sold as well, but expect that it probably is) but mink is a good example of an animal that is raised and slaughtered purely for the fur.

Some furs are also from wild-caught animals, which can be inhumane (trapping) and not necessarily ecologically sound. Bobcats, for example, aren't currently considered endangered except in a few states and can be hunted legally, but is still carefully monitored. (I personally question the desirability of further reducing predator populations in North America.)
posted by restless_nomad at 11:35 AM on November 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

Not only is it considered less wasteful, I think there's a pretty strong bias toward saving the photogenic cute furry animals versus cattle, which people are just more comfortable killing because of their meat. A lot of the animal rights groups also focus on the inhumane conditions of traps/fur farm cages. Not that feedlots are paradise, but, again, people aren't as worked up against cruelty to cows.

She says wearing leather boots that probably caused a fair amount of ecological damage (tanning is Never a clean process), but which are kind of sustainable, durable, and just really dang Nice. It's Hard to find great vinyl/canvas/vegan shoes.
posted by ldthomps at 11:35 AM on November 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

Somehow I don't think anti-fur protesters would back off and say "oh, that seems reasonable" if you were able to assure them that you'd eaten all the minks that made up your coat.

Part of the objection to fur over leather (for people who make that distinction), I believe, stems from what seem to be particularly inhumane practices involved in the fur trade, above and beyond how livestock are bred/killed for meat and leather. Skinning animals alive, for example. (I'm not going to go looking for links; this is just my understanding of it from friends who are animal activists.)
posted by scody at 11:36 AM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Durability is a big reason. I have a horsehide leather coat that is over 100 years old that I could still wear if I wanted to. My mom had a fur that needed regular maintenance well before the ten-year mark, and needed to be cold-stored during the summer months. My grandmother owns it now and I think she dropped a good grand on getting it fixed up again.
posted by griphus at 11:37 AM on November 28, 2011

To add to all the good points above, a leather garment is generally much smaller than a cow, while a fur garment is generally much larger than the (mink, fox, bunny, small animal). It takes more deaths per square yard.
posted by aimedwander at 11:37 AM on November 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

I agree with the points made above but I think part of it has to do with how fur is generally a luxury good while leather is more of an everyday good? I guess this is sort of what Tomorrowful is saying, too.
posted by mskyle at 11:41 AM on November 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

Each and every one of these points is true, but we've also left out the fact that if you're the sort of militant who wants to attack people who wear animals, you'll find rich old ladies in fur coats to be much easier targets than huge leather-clad bikers.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:42 AM on November 28, 2011 [33 favorites]

I can't think of any reasons why it's worse than leather.

Have you done any research into the number of animals killed to make a fur coat vs. the number of animals killed to make a leather coat? Many animals are killed to make one fur coat. I don't have the numbers off hand, but the statistics I've seen in the past are in the dozens of animals per fur coat. A leather coat might not even require the killing of one whole animal. Since you're interested in this topic, I'm sure you'll be willing to do further research on this before drawing your conclusions.

There's also necessity. In order to get a job so that I myself can survive, I must look presentable at a job interview, and this practically requires wearing leather shoes on at least one occasion. I do own vegan dress shoes and wear them to work, but they just don't cut it in an interview. How many jobs require you to wear fur?
posted by John Cohen at 11:46 AM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

The "leather comes from meat animals!" argument does not actually hold up on a number of fronts: most of the women who still wear fur coats in the US are wearing pieces that are decades old, most of the beef that's eaten in places with healthy animal rights protest movements is completely unnecessary from a nutritional standpoint, so that doesn't "excuse" the leather by-products from if they really consider the unnecessary death of animals to be morally wrong or only justified in the face of human survival, etc. Most of the other arguments just do not hold up when you really look at them. There's no coherent moral or ethical philosophy that can justify "leather mostly acceptable, fur evil", so really, that fur has become a target is mostly a matter of political expedience.

You know what's politically expedient? Going after gendered behavior that only women do. Not only is wearing fur mostly a female-only activity in the kind of countries that have well-developed animal rights movements. Women who wear fur are stereotyped as rich, and either idle or working in "frivolous" industries like fashion. Animal rights people are able to get more traction against fur, apart from the people's sympathy for cute fuzzy furry things, by playing off of a lot of background cultural misogyny. They throw red paint on Anna Wintour, not the Texas cattle-ranchers who wear exotic leather cowboy boots. Even the "luxury good" rationale is gendered, and really stupid.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 11:47 AM on November 28, 2011 [48 favorites]

I think the real reason is twofold.

First, a lot of the animals killed for fur are cute or cuddly or majestic or otherwise attractive. Cows and other commonly tanned animals are seen as big dumb brutes. Should people care more about fuzzy animals than oafish ones? Probably not, but it is human nature to do so. Secondly, I strongly suspect that many of the most committed anti-fur people would also be anti-leather if they could get away with it without being laughed into complete irrelevancy. Anti-leather is currently a complete non-starter so lumping it in with anti-fur would be to the great disadvantage of the anti-fur movement.

So, yeah, it is at the same time (and with different people) a rational tactical move and a thoughtless emotional response to the attractiveness of various animals.
posted by Justinian at 11:49 AM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

IIRC, the big anger over the fur trade was the ghastly and inhumane way the fur-bearing animals are treated. They are kept in appalling conditions, often skinned alive after being stunned with electricity, and wild animals are trapped in ways that lead to slow painful deaths (trap lines), or killed en-mass and in distress with brutal and inefficient tools (baby seal clubbing).

What's worse, is that the fur industry decided to sneer at the filthy hippies rather than reform, and turned it into class issue. As a result, when the tide of public opinion turned on the furriers, it was impossible to undo the damage.

There are humane sources of fur today, but the damage is done, and atrocities continue in places like the Chinese racoon-dog farms.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:55 AM on November 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

I remember when people started boycotting leather made from crocodile and other exotic animals on environmental grounds. I don't eat meat anymore because I'm an animal hugger type, and any leather I buy is cattle based, not exotic.

But basically, two wrongs don't make a right. That it may be more desirable not to wear leather either is probably true. In the meantime, here's why it is a good idea to not wear fur or otherwise support the fur industry.
posted by bearwife at 11:56 AM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's no coherent moral or ethical philosophy that can justify "leather mostly acceptable, fur evil"

I beg to differ. I eat meat, and consider eating meat (with some specific caveats) perfectly moral. I consider making the most of a slaughtered animal a moral imperative. Therefore, I eat cows, I wear leather, I eat cheese processed with rennet and use products involving animal-based gelatin.

I do not wear the fur of an animal that was slaughtered solely for fur. I abhor the slaughter of endangered or marginal populations of animals for their fur. I don't even want to know about the specific practices of fur farming, because I'm sure they're absolutely atrocious. I consider that also a moral stance, consistent with my principles as a whole.

There are definitely class and gender issues, and the animal-rights movement in general can go in some weird directions. But it's seriously dismissive to say there's "no coherent philosophy" that covers the distinction - it may not be one you agree with, but I'm confident my philosophy is coherent.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:56 AM on November 28, 2011 [16 favorites]

There's no coherent moral or ethical philosophy that can justify "leather mostly acceptable, fur evil"

Yeah there is: utilitarianism.
posted by John Cohen at 12:03 PM on November 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

I had a teacher who was vegetarian and justified wearing the wearing of leather due it being a byproduct of meat production, and not a cause of animal killing in and of itself. The argument might be bull, but he used it explicitly, and it would not justify the use of fur.
posted by Jehan at 12:11 PM on November 28, 2011

most of the beef that's eaten in places with healthy animal rights protest movements is completely unnecessary from a nutritional standpoint

Much, perhaps even most, but very very far from all, therefore I think the point stands - much, (perhaps most) leather is a byproduct.

However the kind of fur also matters. Clothing made from wild New Zealand possum fur is saving the environment, and most likely humane as well. Clothing made from mink bred for the fur trade is likely neither of those things.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:26 PM on November 28, 2011

I've known a few vegans (who were that way based on animal-rights issues rather than health ones) who did not use leather products. Some shoe companies (Birkenstock for example) have non-leather versions of their shoes to cater to that market. That sentiment certainly isn't widespread, but there are people who view leather in the same light as fur.
posted by LionIndex at 12:27 PM on November 28, 2011

Silver Fox. Cow. Guess which picture on a sign is going to generate "Awww, they're killing the pretty animals!" as a reaction...

Or, on preview, what Justinian said.
posted by Runes at 12:27 PM on November 28, 2011

So is eating beef more moral than eating chicken?

that depends on your morals.

whether deaths per square yard should be a factor is personal, like most of this debate; I think it's about being comfortable with your own level of hypocrisy, whether you're a vegan or a carnivore or an ovo-pesca-whatever. but when we're talking fur for fashion's sake, wherein the animals are almost always maltreated, often endangered, and their deaths serve no other purpose -- and most garments include many, many deaths -- I'm pretty sure there's a "coherent argument" to be made, at the very least.

"To make one fur coat you must kill at least fifty-five wild mink, thirty-five ranched mink, forty sables, eleven lynx, eighteen red foxes, eleven silver foxes, one hundred chinchillas, thirty rex rabbits, nine beavers, thirty muskrats, fifteen bobcats, twenty-five skunks, fourteen otters, one hundred twenty-five ermines, thirty possums, one hundred squirrels, or twenty-seven raccoons."
posted by changeling at 12:28 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I recall an episode of Designing Women where Julia was chastising Suzanne for modeling a fur coat at a fashion show, and then having to defend her own wearing of leather shoes, etc, by using the "by-product of meat" argument. To which Suzanne somewhat logically countered, "So if we all enjoyed a mink steak now and then fur coats would be OK?" I think the meat by-product argument holds water only because no mater how many vegetarians there are in the world, there will always be as many or more meat-eaters. So if we're going to be making steaks and pot roasts anyway, why not utilize the hide as well? Not to mention the world-wide demand for cow's milk, which requires the breeding of cows, which will eventualy die one way or another anyway, so again, why not utilize their hide as leather? On the other hand, if folks en masse stopped wearing fur coats (the decorative fur-wearing public being a much smaller percentage worldwide than meat-eaters), there would be far less of a demand and mink farms and other inhumane practices would cease operation.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:31 PM on November 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

It's certainly worse to wear. Nobody gives me dirty looks or outright yells at me for wearing leather shoes. I have worn a full length fur coat every winter for 10 years, and in the US I sometimes do get crap for it. It is unbelievably warm. I can literally wear a t-shirt, coat and scarf on the coldest NYC winter and be toasty warm. I do not vault it in the summer (you don't need to in Ireland) and this is the first year it will go for cleaning and stitch repair. I expect to wear it another 10 years minimum.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:31 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Fur is much warmer than synthetic insulation and much easier to deal with if it gets wet. There is no replacement for a fur ruff on your hood in arctic conditions, for example. Good furs last forever.

Having said that, I don't wear much fur because I think its important to be cognizant of where your clothing comes from and personally, I tend to find my desire for fur items not worth the cost of producing them.

Btw, you'd be amazed at how much leather/ suede that people assume comes from meat animals doesn't. Pony skin bags? Made from foals usually. Fine suede items are often calves or foals too.
posted by fshgrl at 12:39 PM on November 28, 2011

And some "furs" are actually exotic sheep or goat hides so technically do come from meat animals. Most people aren't going to be able to tell at a glance.
posted by fshgrl at 12:41 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Folks, please stick to the narrowly defined question, address your answers to the OP and don't start additional fights. Thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:45 PM on November 28, 2011

I will admit to being a vegetarian of nearly 10 years, and I started buying and wearing new leather shoes a few years ago. I was fed up with vegan shoes, which are (generally, but mostly) expensive, poorly constructed, poor quality, and hard to find. They are generally made of plastic, which is terrible for the environment, or made of hemp/cotton and totally not work-appropriate.
I now buy leather shoes of good quality, which last me years, plus I take them to the cobbler and get even more life put into them with new soles, new heels, and so on. There may be vegan shoes out there now that are of reasonable quality, durable, and repairable, but they're an expensive experiment for me these days, and frankly I just don't have the time to look into it anymore.

I hope that I'm purchasing leather products that come from animals that will be eaten, but it's impossible to find that information for the shoes I buy. If I had that information, I would only buy leather shoes from cows that were eaten.

In the US and other western nations, fur is a status symbol, whether it's a full fur coat or fur trim. Fur trim is mostly an unnecessary accessory that doesn't provide warmth or durability. I do not buy things with fur trim. I don't know where it came from (even faux fur has been reported to be real), and it is almost certain that the animals are killed solely for their hides. I do not want to support that industry.

Of course, I can be a hypocritical vegetarian, buying leather shoes and warm fur-free coats, because I am a barely-middle-class American. Plenty of people in this world need to wear fur to stay warm, and plenty of others will die from exposure this winter without fur (let alone microfiber wicking sporty vegan fabric).
posted by aabbbiee at 12:48 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fur: killing an animal for the sole purpose (in modern times) of feeding vanity. Wasteful.

Leather: killing an animal for food, and putting the flesh to use rather than wasting it.

I'm not going to say whether these are accurate, but they seem to be the predominant attitudes I've experienced.
posted by davejay at 1:48 PM on November 28, 2011

This debate is assuredly bounded by geography and shared cultural norms. It would be good to hear the arguments about feathers, coral, cochineal, ivory, and pearls and all other such encroachments by humankind upon the other animals. We've hardly neglected to intrude and grasp whatever caught our fancy.

I understand the assertion that wearing fur promotes the fur industry and, by extension, cruelty to animals and therefore is unethical but, even while supporting this position, one can maintain that recycling fur garments is a good thing and not unethical at all. In fact, to the contrary, destroying or disallowing the use of vintage fur garments that can keep people warm in winter would be to do harm. In the same way that antique ivory is exempt from the ban on the sale of ivory, the sale and use of vintage fur garments is not only permissible but is also desirable and should be promoted.
posted by Anitanola at 1:52 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm almost worried to admit it, but I use and wear (very limited) quantities of fur - but only rabbit, where I know its a legitimate side product of meat production. I eat meat and, as other posters have noted, I think it is only respectful to use as much of the animals we kill as possible. So when I needed to reline some slippers, rabbit fur was the obvious choice - I can see the hole in the pelt where the rabbit was shot.

I wouldn't use any other type of fur. Not only is mink etc, not a meat by-product, but some of the practices that are needed to obtain it are unacceptably cruel to me. I also don't think I'd wear a fur coat (heat/fashion aside) even if I could guarantee it was made solely of the pelts of rabbit shot for food- I just think the stigma would be too great...
posted by prentiz at 2:13 PM on November 28, 2011

Historically and prehistorically we have had a relationship with livestock where we kill them and eat them and use their bones for tools. Livestock is part of society. That's a lot of why. For a lot of people, killing a chicken or a goat now and then is very important. A lot of those people have children or grandchildren who now shop at American big box stores. The relationship with livestock is not as past as you might think.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 2:31 PM on November 28, 2011

Where do you put sheepskin? Sheepskin boots (as in Ugg boots) have been popular for quite a few years now in the U.S., but lamb and mutton are not eaten on a large scale in the United States. I don't think I've ever seen mutton in U.S. supermarkets. I can't say about other countries such as the UK or Australia, where the boots are produced.
posted by bad grammar at 4:40 PM on November 28, 2011

Again, I don't think that killing an animal is itself problematic (unless you're vegan or a jainist or other person who has a moral problem with killing of any sort), but that the treatment of fur-bearing animals has been sub-par, even by factory farm standards. Sheepskin, even if harvested from animals raised just for sheepskin, is ethical, as the norms for rearing and slaughter are in line with other agricultural processes.

This has changed recently, and furriers are going with hunted rather than trapped furs, and conditions for farmed fur animals are now closely scrutinized, but the stigma remains because there are no enforced standards, and things are still very bad in parts of the world without laws regarding animal welfare, and where the export trade in fur is booming.

So, in short, cattle and other livestock are generally well-treated, where fur-bearing animals had been treated with unbelievable cruelty... and the furriers upped the ante by dismissing the complaints about that treatment with a dismissive arrogance.

I don't think it's an issue of picking on weak old ladies, simply because the same furriers produced fur-lined gloves and sealskin garments for men, and those were sloshed with paint as well. The baby seal fur and the red paint got more press, tho... the visuals were more vivid, and the case for cute baby seals easily made.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:04 PM on November 28, 2011

I'll chime in on the side of harm to cute animals being more atrocious. Just think of the uproar if anyone walked the runway in an elmo coat?
posted by sammyo at 5:43 PM on November 28, 2011

Based on the descriptions here is seems to be the caged animal aspect that is most abhorrent.

which really doesn't seem much worse that Battery hens. (but then I only eat free range).
posted by mary8nne at 4:50 AM on November 29, 2011

Welcome to the very messy field of ethics & animal rights. "Worse" presupposes some ethical system, and your evaluation of one thing being "worse" than another depends upon your specific choice of ethical system.

Many people reason in utilitarian terms, including some animal rights people like Peter Singer. There is some space in a utilitarian view of ethics for leather to be worse than fur. In short: utilitarianism tries to quantify "happiness" and determine if a specific action is ethical or not based on whether it would result in "more" happiness overall. From this perspective you could argue that killing a single cow for its hide is "better" than killing 30 minks (or whatever) simply because you only have one individual not-enjoying-life anymore versus 30. On the other hand, with utilitarianism you have to try to calculate all of the happiness, so this can lead to non-intuitive reasoning: if people are so much more happy with a mink coat, it might be more ethical to kill the minks instead. Utilitarianism allows for calculating the unhappiness caused in the death of an animal, so their living conditions must also be taken into account, but it also allows for the possibility of a totally-ethical killing, which can be counterintuitive (for example, a really happy cow suddenly has its spinal cord severed by a ninja, granting it a painless death).

If you think that life is inherently valuable to the thing which lives it, utilitarianism becomes problematic (how can you have an ethical killing?). A few theorists have tried to solve this problem, one being Tom Reagan, who argues for animal lives being valuable in themselves. This position says, basically, that all killing of animals in non-extenuating circumstances is wrong since it deprives that animal of its life for coats or food or whatever.

I personally have issues with both Reagan and Singer, but I think they would both agree generally that in the case of killing one cow versus 30 minks, the one cow is preferable. Singer might still think that overall the killing of the cow is ethical, while Reagan would say that it was unethical. Were it one cow versus one mink, Reagan would say that it was unethical either way, but probably equally unethical, while Singer would try to calculate how happy everyone would be with their new coats.
posted by beerbajay at 6:03 AM on November 29, 2011

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