What is faux fur, is it toxic and how to buy better

Girl in faux fur trimmed jacket, is it toxic?

What is faux fur, is it toxic and how to buy better

The fashion industry has long been falling out of love with animal fur, and as of 2021, seventeen European countries have banned fur farming within their borders.

As a result, faux fur products are getting more and more popular, proving that while we’re definitely willing to give the classic fur coat a pass, we’re still just as attached to the signature softness, appearance and warmth of fur.

Unfortunately, however, faux fur fabrics are far from being 100% ethical, and according to some troubling studies, they might also be toxic for both our health and the planet!

So, is faux fur really toxic and are there any eco-friendly alternatives available if you want to avoid real animal fur?

Here’s all you need to know…

What is faux fur and how is it made?

Girl in faux fur hood
How is faux fur toxic for the environment? Photo by Vitolda Klein on Unsplash

Faux fur, also known as fake fur, is a synthetic fabric engineered to replicate the look and warmth of real fur. 

In terms of which synthetic fibres are used to create faux fur products, you’re likely going to come across polyester and acrylic as the most popular options, or even more commonly, a blend of the two.

These synthetic materials can be either knitted, weaved, or tufted, and even blended with other materials like cotton or wool to create textile fibres.

The final stage of production involves treating the fabric with plenty of heat and silicone resin to improve stability and give the texture a softer feel.

Is faux fur toxic?

As you might already have guessed, the process of making faux fur is far from sustainable.

Between the use of petroleum-based raw materials and its energy-intensive finishing process, faux fur cannot be considered an eco-friendly fabric, and to make matters worse, the material is also believed to be incredibly toxic for our health and for marine life.

But how toxic is faux fur, exactly, and why is it so harmful?

Faux fur requires plenty of harmful chemicals

The production process behind faux fur revolves around the extraction and refinement of petrochemicals, including coal and natural gas.

Once the materials are sourced, they are used to create the monomers and polymers we make synthetic fibres from, such as polyester and acrylic.

Turning petrochemicals into synthetic garments is, of course, a chemical process: In order to create polyester, for example, monomers like terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol go through a chemical reaction called polymerisation.

Both of these chemicals are considered carcinogenic and have been proven to cause acute toxicity in humans, with terephthalic acid especially being a chemical of concern due to its xylene content.

Xylene, found in terephthalic acid as para-xylene, can be absorbed into the body through inhalation, ingestion, and even skin contact, making its use in synthetic garments especially troubling.

As these harmful chemicals are spun into thread, they become trapped within the fibres, potentially entering the human body through skin contact with the fibre and resulting in a wide range of health issues, from more innocuous skin rashes to severe endocrine disruption. Alarmingly, this applies to all traditionally produced polyester.

pexels-mentatdgt-girl in beige faux fur jacket checking price
Faux Fur and Real Fur's Impact on Climate Change. Photo by mentatdgt from Pexels

Faux fur contains microplastics

Another key reason why faux fur is toxic not only to human health but also to the environment comes down to the microfibres found in all sorts of synthetic textiles.

In the fashion industry, the term microfibre refers to the tiny pieces of plastic that all synthetic garments end up shedding after a few washes, completely invisible to the naked eye.

Outside of the fashion world, however, we call these particles microplastics: Tiny pieces of plastic, smaller than 5mm and able to travel all around the world through our water pipes, contributing to our ever-increasing waterway pollution.

While microplastics come from all sorts of plastic items, including containers and personal care products, synthetic textiles are definitely one of the main culprits.

According to a recent study, synthetic jackets can release an average of 1,174mg of microplastics with every wash!

You can find out more about the effects of microplastic pollution and what you can do about it in our article How to avoid microplastics in clothing: 8 things you can do now.

Faux fur is not biodegradable

Faux fur is made with harmful chemicals, releases tiny plastic chemicals, and finally, also contributes to landfill pollution.

While untanned real fur products are made from biodegradable and natural materials, faux fur is not biodegradable, taking hundreds to thousands of years to break down.

This means that while your faux fur coat is sitting in a landfill, more microplastics are being leached into the ground and even more emissions are being released into the atmosphere in the form of landfill gas.

To read more about which fabrics are biodegradable, read our guide here.

so should I buy real fur? 

charisse-kenion-toxic real fur jacket
Is real fur any better? Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash

Now, if you’re thinking of going back to real fur garments instead, we have a bit of bad news to share: Real fur isn’t too great for our health and the planet either. Fur “tanning” and “dressing” to preserve fur hairs and follices involve toxic chemicals too.

According to a recent report on the Chinese fur industry published by ACTAsia, five out of six samples produced in China’s biggest fur factories fail international standards for toxicity.

The independent labs used for the research have detected the presence of hazardous toxic chemicals (including lead and formaldehyde!) in almost all of the samples. 

European fur is no different: Labs have found the same range of harmful chemicals in different fur samples, no matter their country of manufacture, clothing brand, or price range.

These items have since been recalled by the European Commission, mostly due to the detected Chromium VI, a potent carcinogen. 

But how many more are going to slip under the radar?

Is eco-friendly faux fur possible?

So, here’s the conundrum: If faux fur is toxic for both our health and the environment, while real animal fur is just as toxic but less destructive in its environmental impact, does this mean that buying real fur products are the best ethical choice we can make?

If you’ve caught our blog on animal cruelty in the fashion industry, you already know that animal-derived fabrics, from real leather jackets to fur coats, are anything but ethical, which is why fur farming has now been banned in so many countries.

Girl in denim and faux fur jacket, non toxic alternative
What about eco-friendly faux fur? Photo by Vladimir Yelizarov on Unsplash

Conscious consumers believe that we shouldn’t have to compromise our ethical beliefs for the sake of better environmental outcomes, and the faux fur industry is listening.

More and more brands are striving to create faux fur designs that tick all the boxes: Non-toxic, eco-friendly, and cruelty-free.

Unfortunately, however, eco-friendly and polyester-free faux fur is not yet a reality for the mainstream fashion industry, but it’s a future that is very much within our grasp!

1.  ECOPEL (KOBA faux fur)

ECOPEL is developing “responsible faux fur” by using plant-based and biodegradable fibres, becoming the first faux fur manufacturer ever to use bio-based ingredients in faux fabrics.

Released under the name KOBA faux fur, ECOPEL’s fur is made using 100% Sorona polymer homofilament fibre, a partially plant-based monomer derived from corn.

Unfortunately, while ECOPEL’s efforts can cut GHG emissions by as much as 63%, KOBA fur is still not a fully eco-friendly option, as it contains recycled polyester.

2.  VitroLabs

The startup VitroLabs is using tissue engineering to create lab-grown furs and faux leather, changing the source of these materials rather than changing the material itself.

Using the power of regenerative medicine, scientists at VitroLabs are developing hides from animal cells (taken without pain or discomfort caused to animals and developed much in the same way as lab grown meat). They can perfectly reproduce the fur and leather we know without the ethical and environmental repercussions.

It might sound like science fiction, but it likely won’t be long until these lab-grown textiles are commercially available!

3.  Denim fur

Fashion designers Tiziano Guardini and Ksenia Schnaider have made headlines with their denim fur pieces, designs made with layers of shredded denim that can perfectly replicate the volume and movement of fur.

While conventional denim does come with its fair share of environmental issues as well, both Schnaider’s and Guardini’s collections are made with recycled denim, making for a creative and more sustainable alternative to classic faux fur.

4.  Unreal Fur 

The Australian brand Unreal Fur specializes in realistic faux coats and faux fur jackets, and ensures that all fabric scraps are reused to create more sustainable pieces.

While all their products so far are made with synthetic materials, they are working on developing faux fur made from recycled PET bottles and hemp fabric.

Girl in eco friendly faux fur that isn't toxic
Non toxic faux fur is catching up. Photo by Hao Wen on Unsplash

5.  House of Fluff

NYC-based House of Fluff is combining biodegradable cactus leather with either recycled faux fur fabrics or GRS-certified synthetic materials.

Even more remarkably, the brand launched an exclusive BIOFUR collection consisting of recyclable faux fur pieces made with either plant-based or 100% recycled materials. 

The plant-based ingredients behind BIOFUR are yet to be revealed, however, the brand does disclose that recycled polyester is still needed to hold the bio fibres together.

We love that plant-based alternatives are taking the world by storm, and explore plant-based leather alternatives in further detail here.

Cruelty-free alternative or toxic faux pas?

The faux fur industry has come a long way, yet despite all the recent innovations, we still haven’t mastered the recipe for a faux fur coat free of all synthetic materials, recycled or otherwise.

In the meantime, conscious fashionistas can still enjoy the warmth and soft feel of fur by choosing recycled and second-hand faux fur garments… or even leave this classic look in the past altogether!

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