Why Did We All Fall for Gucci's Furless Initiative?

Around the world, heads were turned just 5 days ago when Gucci announced that a joint decision between the head of Kering, Marco Bizzarri, the CEO of Gucci, and creative director Alessandro Michele was reached and that Gucci would no longer use the furs of animals in its future collections. From major media networks to independent blogs, both fashion fans and animal rights activists praised this new commitment to animal welfare from the aging Italian brand and commended the house taking a stand for what they believe in. Applause roared from all corners of the world, with even PETA giving a public endorsement to the brand. However, the only real reason this decision was made is because the directors of Kering realized just one thing; they can hugely reduce costs by using fake materials, and pretend it's beneficial for the environment and the world.

The issue that I have with the Gucci furless initiative is the actual motivation behind it. The statement made to the public shows not a caring of animals, but rather a low move by Gucci to protect its own bottom line. The real reasons Gucci has embraced its furless initiative is to cut corners on production costs and to signal to its consumers that the brand both “values animals” and “cares about the environment”. While the term “virtue-signaling”, or the action of publically expressing opinions and sentiments to demonstrate how good one’s character is, may bring forth mental images of unkempt Brietbart editors scornfully writing conspiracy-laden articles about how western society is collapsing, the actions behind the scenes of house Gucci truly show that this brand is only invested in their image to their consumers and not because “fur is not modern”. Essentially, this decision was made because Kering realized that people care more about their image in the eyes of their peers than the consequences of their actions.

For a brand that has now claimed a commitment to both animal and environmental welfare, a massive disconnect seems to exist when examining their current stock of their website. How is a brand truly enlightened for avoiding fur when they consistently stock products full of exotic leathers? While Gucci is obviously on record stating that they are no longer going to work with animal furs, is it really any better to make a coat out of lambkin instead of shearling?  Is a brand really more progressive if they use kangaroo, ostrich, and alligator skin in their designs with alarming frequency? One might rightfully claim that Gucci could very well be moving away from using the hides of exotic animals instead of just those animal’s furs. I wouldn’t be able to quote an article with any words from the Gucci team that clarifies this. However, let me share with you a little fun fact about Gucci that never quite made its way into the common knowledge of fashion fans. Ever hear of Gucci’s brand new “Slaughter Farm”?

Roughly 9 months ago, Gucci announced the newest addition to their brand, which went mostly under the radar in the fashion news world. A brand new python skin processing center was officially in the process of being constructed in Thailand, happily referred to as the Slaughter Farm in internal memos and low-key comments in the media. This farm is designed to source large amounts of python leather directly for Gucci and is set to open in 2018, with production numbers increasing until the year 2020 when the factory is running at full efficiency. Maybe we shouldn’t worry too much about this factory. After all, Gucci did state the snakes will be raised in “the best conditions for animals, farmers and the ecosystem” before they are turned into boots, bags, and belts. Don’t choices such as these invalidate the claims attached to Gucci’s fur free press release, specifically “Being socially responsible is one of Gucci’s core values, and we will continue to strive to do better for the environment and animals”? Is opening the Wal-Mart of python slaughtering really the actions of a brand deserving to be publically praised by PETA?

Moving past their blatant lie about caring about the welfare of animals, at least their statement about caring about the environment might at least carry some validity, right? Sadly, their promise to better the environment is just as deceitful as their claims to better animal welfare. When it comes to synthetic fibers used to make fake fur, hundreds of raw materials are able to be sourced to create said fibers. Going off of the dominant trends in the industry and their own history of designs (many items this season contain items made from a combination of the three fibers listed in the following sentence), Gucci will create fake fur from petroleum-based fibers created from one of three low-cost options: Acrylic, Polyester, or Nylon. These three ultra-cheap fibers are the most commonly used raw materials for the production of fake fur, but carry heavy costs to both human life and to the well-being of a multitude of ecosystems. All three of these products are derived from oil and create massive amounts of waste in their production, as well as being non-biodegradable and incredibly toxic to wildlife. According to a report made by the European Commission in 2014, Acrylic, the principal fiber in fake fur production, has the worst environmental impact of any synthetic fiber studied and comes in last in terms of impact on climate change, human health risks, and resource depletion.  The US Sustainable Apparel Coalition has ranked acrylic 39th out of 48 fabrics that have the worst impact on the environment, with polyester and nylon not far behind. Gucci is on record stating that they plan to phase out fur with the best synthetics they can use, which sadly will mean a combination of the three fibers listed above.

While Gucci may very well be committed to their bottom line and PR, one can hardly call the house committed to “being socially responsible… to do better for the environment” when they have gone on record and stated that they are willing to increase their consumption of fibers that are notorious for destroying rivers and poisoning fish on 6 continents. While using animal furs in clothing historically has lead to environmental damage, (species depletion, damage to ecosystems), modern regulations and conservation efforts have largely removed these concerns in the production of fur. By choosing to stop using natural fur in lieu of synthetics, Gucci chooses to demonstrate how little they value the environment. One hardly has to look deep to see through the pathetic manipulation of the feelings of rich consumers to see just how low Gucci is willing to go to continue their brand’s expansion.

While no one can argue that Alessandro’s short career at Gucci has been anything but successful, sadly not every move during his tenure has been for the greater good of the world. By choosing to reject investing into environmentally friendly forms of tanning leathers and furs in lieu of petroleum-based synthetic fibers, Gucci has demonstrated that their company chooses to value the maximum amounts of profits they can obtain rather than valuing the very world they inhabit. As the world becomes less and less sustainable due corporate PR moves, I hope one day that Alessandro comes across the words of Alanis Obomsawin and realizes “When the Last Tree Is Cut Down, the Last Fish Eaten, and the Last Stream Poisoned, …You Cannot Eat Money.”.