I caught an NPR segment a few weeks ago that raised the question of whether it’s possible to have “eco-conscious fur.” The story centers on a project down in Louisiana where they’re turning the pelts of nutria—an invasive, semiaquatic mammal that looks rather rat-like—into high-end fashion pieces. (It’s a subject we’ve covered in a previous Econundrum as well.) The segment got me thinking about whether fur, or for that matter, any other animal-derived material used for clothing, is inherently a bad environmental choice.
I can’t say I own many articles of clothing that involve fur, real or fake, but I’ve been opting for so-called “vegan leather” (or, if you prefer, “pleather”) for years, sort of assuming that it was the more conscientious choice. My boots, in addition to involving zero dead animals, were also quite a lot cheaper than the real deal. But you get what you pay for, and at barely a year old, the soles are already detaching from the fabric, and the toe is scuffed irreparably. My cheap knock-offs might not have been a great investment—whereas a good set of real leather boots can last a decade, if not longer (sorry, PETA). My kickers are likely destined for the landfill in the foreseeable future.
Source: Mother Jones
There are many cases where animal-derived products are far more eco-friendly and healthy than man-made, synthetic substitutes. Synthetics often involve numerous manufacturing steps and inevitable by-products that are sometimes extremely toxic (and often end up in our water sources). Sustainable use of our natural resources is the key; there is nothing wrong with wearing fur/leather that has been sourced from animals that have been ethically and sustainably harvested (and that are obviously not endangered). In a case such as where a species has become a pest (e.g. the nutria), excess animals can and should be culled and their fur fully utilized, turning a problem into something positive. Investigate the origin of animal products, ascertain whether the producer is humane, sustainable and eco-conscious then enjoy the products knowing that you have made an environmentally friendly choice.
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