Becci Gindin-Clarke: Check your coats: Not all "faux" fur is fake

When is the last time you saw someone wearing real fur?

If you’re like most Vancouverites, you either don’t remember, or you recall the woman you saw wearing a full-length coat—oh, a week or two ago.

The truth, though, is that you’re more likely to have seen someone wearing fur the last time you were outside. You just didn’t realize it. But once you learn how to recognize real fur, you’ll start seeing it everywhere. Perhaps you even have some in your own closet.

Does this mean that we’re a cruel city? Not at all. I’ve talked to many people who wear fur, asking them whether they were aware that it was real when they bought it. Those wearing full coats or large, ornamental collars certainly knew, but the majority of people I asked had no idea and were horrified.

This is nowhere more true than in the case of those trendy and almost ubiquitous fur-trimmed hoods that so many people in Vancouver wear. (Depending on where you are in the city, one-third to one-half of that fur trim is actually real.) These coats are inexpensive, I’ve been told. Most people think of fur as a luxury product: “It can’t be fur—it was so cheap!”

Nowadays, fur—including cat and dog fur—can be had for as little as $1 to $6 a pelt. Is a coat labeled “rabbit”, “raccoon”, “goupee” or “Asian wolf”? It might be the fur of Fido or Fluffy, and according to Canadian labelling laws, that’s perfectly legal. Our labelling laws are very lax, especially concerning fur, and cat and dog fur can legally be imported into Canada and sold with any number of misleading labels. Is your fur labelled “faux”? It might not be. In the past few years, Humane Society of the United States investigations have revealed that several major brands, including Burberry and Marc New York, were selling real fur coats with a “faux” label.

One might suggest that most of these coats just use a little fur trim, but consider this: analysts predict that soon the number of animals killed purely for trim will actually outnumber those killed for full coats.

The fur industry is full of animals being gassed, electrocuted, and skinned alive, or stuck for days in traps while they die slowly. But if labelling laws aren’t protecting consumers, how can animal lovers avoid buying fur? The Humane Society of the U.S. offers a few tips:

1. Separate the fur and examine the backing; fake fur will generally have a fabric backing, not leather. You should be able to see layers of soft, almost woolly fur through which longer hairs protrude. Fake fur is generally one simple layer of nearly identical hairs. You can also push a pin through the base of the fur. If it is real, the leather backing will be hard to force a pin through. If it goes through easily, the fur is probably fake.

2. Examine the hairs; if they are real, they will (usually) taper to a fine point, like a cat’s whisker or a sewing needle. Fake hairs will always be cut straight across.

3. If you own the coat already, pluck a couple of hairs from the coat and set them on fire. Real fur singes like human hair and smells the same. Fake fur melts and smells like burning plastic, and forms into small balls at the end.

Stuck with some real fur that you didn’t mean to purchase? Consider donating it to the Wildlife Rescue Association of B.C. or to the B.C. SPCA, both of which can use the fur as a comforting bedding for orphaned animals.

Becci Gindin-Clarke is a director of Liberation B.C.



Lindsay Brown

Jan 21, 2010 at 1:29pm

Great Article!

I am so worried about the possibility of buying real fur that I stay away from that style all together! I think it is terrible how vain a person can be wearing fur trim...does nothing to keep you warm. Pointless cruelty.


Jan 22, 2010 at 10:58am

Good Info.

Roslyn Cassells

Jan 23, 2010 at 2:40am

The leather industry, the fur industry, the meat industry, and the dairy industry are all big money-makers for some of Canada's richest families. Unless you are a member of the fraction of one percent of Canadians living a subsistance life in the north, there is no need to kill an animal for his or her skin or flesh. There are many beautiful fabrics and tasty healthy foods that nourish our bodies and souls without depriving another being of their very existence. As the Dalai Lama said "we don't need more Buddhists, we need more people living compassionate lives"


Jan 24, 2010 at 9:00am

What about down from waterfowl?

Lindsay Brown

Jan 25, 2010 at 12:28pm

RE: What about down from waterfowl? miguel

Usually the coats are labled correctly but to double check I suggest rubbing your fingers over the filling to see if you can feel any hard pieces of feather...hope that helps.

Kate M

Nov 21, 2011 at 8:48pm

I have one coat that I"m sure people would think it's leather and fur. However, the cleaning instructions say "machine wash separately. Tumble dry on low".

Denise Swanson

Nov 21, 2011 at 9:55pm

Thanks, Becci. Those are really useful tips, some of which I hadn't known about.