Innovative fashion labels give fur the flick

Super stylish Australian companies are leading the way in high fashion faux fur. Find out what two of these industry leaders had to say when they sat down recently for an interview with Animals Australia.

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PUBLISHED ON: 19 August 2013

Millions of fur-bearing animals, such as foxes, raccoons and rabbits, are subjected to a miserable existence in the fur industry every year. While the majority of fur is now sold in countries such as China, Korea and Russia, even in Australia animal fur is still offered in autumn and winter collections by fashion designers and retailers.

Animals Australia is campaigning to get real fur out of shops and off the street. And, thanks to our supporters, we are achieving great things for animals!

Fortunately, there are also caring people standing up for animals within in the fashion industry. Unreal Fur and Designer Duchess are two leading faux fur designer labels driving a shift away from real fur. Their beautiful designs are convincing retailers to stop stocking real animal fur and helping people look and feel great in cruelty-free outfits.

Animals Australia spoke with Gilat Shani, head designer of Unreal Fur and Nayia La Scala, founder and director of Designer Duchess.

What motivated you to start a business designing faux fur fashion?

Gilat:
Fur has been a desirable 'fabric' for women for as far back as we can see. However, sadly this has affected the animal kingdom in a very negative way with no justification. Today there are wonderful fur imitations, which emulate the touch and feel of real fur. A personal love of animals and a growing frustration that there is a lack of awareness about the cruelty behind the fur industry made me feel very strongly about starting this project to replace real fur with faux fur.

Nayia:
I have always wanted to work for myself and I found a way to combine my two passions – fashion and animals – into one business. Designer Duchess will allow me to contribute something to the world. I have always loved the innocence of animals since I was a little girl. I feel that they are such intelligent creatures that have instincts and emotions just like all of us. That’s all the motivation I needed.

Designer Duchess
Designer Duchess

When was your company created?

Nayia:
Designer Duchess was officially created two years ago but has been in the making for over a decade. In order to start the label I needed to find a manufacturer I could trust to keep the quality high as well as the price competitive. I have pursued fashion as a hobby for over 15 years and began sewing myself when I was 19 just because I loved it.

Gilat:
Unreal Fur was born in 2011 and first launched online in 2012. It is hard to believe that we are already to be stocked globally in our second season!

Why should people buy faux fur instead of real fur?

Gilat:
It’s not just about being on-trend, but also being fashion-forward – and going forward it’s all about faux! If you are a style conscious woman, you won’t be seen dead in dead skins.

Nayia:
Excellent quality faux fur can feel exactly like real fur, it can keep you just as warm and style you just as well for a fraction of the price. People should buy faux fur knowing they are helping the fight to eliminate fur farms and free animals destined to a harsh life and a brutal end.

Unreal Fur
Unreal Fur

How do you work to promote faux fur as an alternative to real animal fur?

Nayia:
I try to educate my stockists. They are the ones responsible for selling the product and I feel that if they know about the cruelty in the fur industry and about the quality of modern day faux furs then they are more inclined to keep real animal fur out and they will pass the knowledge onto their customers and stimulate a change in demand. I also promote faux fur through several sources of social media. I find it is a great way to reach out to people and promote our ethical products.

Gilat:
With a lot of stalking and talking! Over the years I have personally met with the head designers of top Australian brands to explain why real fur is OUT and faux is IN.  We have also made an effort to visit boutique retailers who carry real fur to politely protest about why we won't 'shop in cemeteries'.

As a business we have been developing faux fur alternatives for every real fur sourced. We offer design and development services to Australian fashion houses to accommodate 'new converters' over to the faux side.

What are your biggest successes or highlights to date?

Gilat:
Assisting some of our clients, including Australia's top brands such as Country Road, Witchery and David Lawrence, to make a commitment to only sell faux fur instead of the real fur they used to range for many years has been a wonderful experience. And of course we are very proud of our most recent collection – Genesis – which has been received exceptionally well globally and is soon to drop in renowned international retailers such as My Wardrobe, Shopbop, Anthropologie and Harvey Nichols.

Nayia:
I think the greatest success for me is having customers give me such kind and honest feedback about my products. I am so proud that the label has achieved great stockist recognition with new stockists coming on board all the time, but nothing beats someone telling you how much they love your product.

Some designers and retailers claim that the furs they offer are a by-product from the meat industry, or that the animals were treated humanely.  What is your view on such statements?

Nayia:

Nayia La Scala of Designer Duchess
Nayia La Scala of Designer Duchess
Unfortunately the industry is not regulated and therefore retailers and designers can never be sure of what they are buying. I have read that about 85% of real fur comes from Chinese Fur farms where they have no laws to protect animals. My view is that regardless of the accuracy of such claims, by supporting the real fur trade these businesses only encourage others to buy real fur that will most likely be from fur farms where animals are far from treated humanely for the sole purpose of obtaining an unnecessary product.

Gilat:
With a little education, these claims are easily put to bed. In order to skin an animal for its fur, animals are killed in a brutal, inhumane manner, to maximise their fur yield and quality. Simply watch a video on what it takes to skin a rabbit — I fail to understand how anyone can feel comfortable wearing so much pain and sorrow.

What was the most disturbing thing you found out when you researched the fur industry?

Gilat:
How many animals are still bred and killed for their skins, and just how brutal this 'killing machine' of a fur industry is.

Nayia:
The most disturbing thing I found out is that many animal farms like to skin the animals while they are still alive as it presumably gives a better cut to the skin. I can’t even begin to describe how much this disturbs me.

Some people have a problem with faux fur, especially if it looks so much like real fur, because they are concerned that it gives the wrong impression that fur is still ok. How do you feel about that?

Nayia:
The consumer we are trying to target is the one that considers the look of fur a relevant fashion statement. I strongly believe that in the fight to stop fur farming we need to provide a comparable and cruelty free alternative to this consumer. Those people who are aware and humanely conscious will not support real fur. But as with everything, we will never convince everybody not to wear fur or something that looks similar to this and if there is no alternative, more innocent animals will continue to suffer. My view is that if we convince people to go faux then real fur will be superseded and will become an unacceptable practice. 

Gilat:

Unreal Fur
Unreal Fur
I understand the concerns, however the reality is that we are working on “converting” fur and leather lovers to replace their real furs with faux and vegan alternatives. Unreal Fur emerged from an understanding that a proportion of women love wearing fur. They love the feeling, the look and the luxe feel they get from wearing it. We believe that if the faux fur alternatives on the market are a high enough quality, more and more consumers will stop fuelling the fur industry and choose to buy faux over real.

We try to cater for those customers who don’t want to be seen wearing faux fur that looks like real fur, for those customers we have created pieces in 'non-real' looking faux furs – including an array of coloured faux furs and faux piles that do not emulate real animal furs. We hope that Unreal Fur as a brand name speaks for itself!

What role do fashion and lifestyle magazines have to play in stopping cruelty in fashion?

Nayia:
I think we all know what a powerful medium magazines are to consumers. They have the ability to sell out a product within a day of publication. By removing real fur from their pages and supporting faux fur in their shop and editorial sections they can help to reduce the demand for real fur.

Gilat:
We would love to see all fashion magazines making a statement against the use of real furs! We have worked with a wide network of editors who are very reluctant to put real fur on their pages, some of whom refuse to feature them in their own features, we look forward to the day when this becomes the standard.

What is your number one fashion tip?

Gilat:
Be true to yourself and in the words of Annie, "You are never truly dressed without a smile!"

Nayia:
Wear what suits your body with confidence. Don't try to pull off a trend just because it is so.

Help fashion move forward on fur!


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