The fur trade is always a hot topic – with animal activists and fashion addicts constantly at each other’s throats in the media because of it. Most of us will remember Sophie-Ellis Bexter holding up a skinned fox for a PETA anti-fur campaign a few years ago, and we’ve all heard stories about activists throwing red paint over models in white fur coats.
Similar to most people, I’ve never actually taken much notice of these sorts of things. I always thought it must be an exaggerated cause by do-gooders trying to shock people into signing petitions. Until recently, the fur trade was something that I had placed alongside fox hunting and animal testing – horribly cruel, yes, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’d never actively checked a shampoo bottle to make sure it hadn’t been tested on animals.
Heading into the depths of Digbeth in the few weeks of my first year, I quickly became a vintage enthusiast – it’s cheap, it’s different, and it’s usually great quality if you know what to look for. Shopping was no longer a depressing trawl around Topshop pining after things I could definitely not afford. But still, as far as I was concerned, real fur was for the rich and the fabulous – a far cry from a student like me with barely enough money for a return-ticket to Selly Oak. The closest I’d ever got to fur was a shaggy pair of moon boots that I had worn to death in year four.
During a regular shopping trip, I headed to one of my favourite little shops in the city centre – Vintage on Ally Street (down the first side road on the left as you head down Digbeth high street). I picked up a really cool jacket – a denim splash-dye number that I fell in love with instantly. I tried it on and it fitted perfectly. Barely even inspecting the collar, I headed to the till and thrusted a grubby tenner at the lady who owns, and runs, the shop. As I handed over my money, she casually said, ‘I should let you know that it is real fur on the collar.’ I didn’t think much of it, and proceeded with the transaction. My reasoning in that moment was that the animal was already dead – and if this jacket was not worn, it had died in vain. Surely, that was a reasonable argument to buy it?
For a fair few months I felt tremendous wearing my jacket. Friends would touch the fur and ask if it was real, to which I would proudly inform them that it was. Many recoiled in disgust, but I felt glamorous and fashionable so for some time that was enough to keep it as a firm wardrobe favourite.
My opinion took a dramatic turn recently when I was doing my daily trawl of my Facebook newsfeed. A friend had shared a video entitled ‘Olivia Munn exposes Chinese Fur Trade.’ I would advise that anyone who stumbles across this video should not watch it unless you have a very strong stomach. By the end, I was in tears and felt physically nauseous after seeing terrified animals being electrocuted, choked and even skinned alive. The sheer disgust and anger that I felt after watching this absolutely revolting and shocking cruelty to such beautiful, innocent creatures stayed with me for several days. I grabbed my jacket and when it started malting, I felt like I had blood on my hands.
Since then, I have researched the fur trade – trawling through websites detailing some of the appalling realities of the fur trade. But it’s not only the fur trade that is so disgusting – leather is just as cruel, raking in £600 million annually from Great Britain alone. Countless campaigns have been set up by animal-rights activists to abolish huge fur and leather firms, but most of the time these efforts come to no avail, as the demand for these materials are still so high. What I found particularly upsetting was that much-loved, familiar pets such as cats, dogs, rabbits and even guinea-pigs are mercilessly killed to feed the hungry fur trade – with around 2 million being killed every year in China alone and being sold on to European traders. I felt sick at the thought that my fur collar could have come from a puppy.
Typing ‘fur trade in Birmingham’ into Google, I was surprised to find that there are so many fur traders in Birmingham who are feeding this terrible industry. Formally, these businesses are called ‘Furriers’, and most are not based in the city centre. One in particular that caught my eye was ‘Madeline Ann’ – a small shop in Solihull that sells fur items. This shop has been targeted by a local activist group who are campaigning to stop the shop from selling fur by sending angry letters to the owners and discouraging locals from entering the shop. I felt a pang of relief that something was being done, but at the same time a sad realisation that these efforts would probably come to nothing. Most vintage shops in Birmingham sell fur coats, and the vintage scene is most certainly thriving. Fur is fashionable, and unfortunately not enough thrifters are aware of the disgusting processes behind their ‘bargains.’
However, I have started doing my bit. I can’t deny that I still love the jacket, but it mainly lives in the depths of my wardrobe these days. When my grandmother recently offered me her old fur coat that she wore when she was ‘a girl… and a size 10’ – the first question that I asked was, ‘is the fur real?’ My fingers were firmly crossed as I observed the beautiful garment, until she assured me that it was fake. The coat is my new favourite item of outerwear. When people ask me if it’s real, I can proudly tell them that I no longer wear real fur, and that fake is most certainly the way forward.
By Meg Evans