Famous fashion house Gucci has announced its intention to be fur-free by 2018. Speaking at the London College of Fashion on the 12 October, Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri stated that from the spring / summer 2018 collections, the brand will replace fur with wool and faux-fur. All remaining garments containing fur will be auctioned off during the summer, with the proceeds going to charities supporting animal rights.
Furthermore, the label will join the Fur Free Alliance, an organisation which works to end factory fur farming and promote ethical practices in fashion.
The move signals a change towards a more aware ethos, as explained by Bizzarri: “Being socially responsible is one of Gucci’s core values, and we will continue to strive to do better for the environment and animals.”
However, whilst being hailed by some as a “watershed moment for fashion”, the move is hardly ground breaking. In making their designs more humane, Gucci is following a path already carved out by many other big names in fashion. Tommy Hilfiger, Armani and Ralph Lauren are all fur-free and Calvin Klein has been humane for more than two decades. High-quality alternatives to fur have been available for years. Stella McCartney has showcased animal-friendly materials at successive shows, most notably when she used synthetic fur for the centre-piece of her autumn / winter 2015 collection, and debuted the concept of ‘Skin-free skin’ two years later in Paris.
Yet Gucci has waited until 2017 to make this transition. Comments made by Bizzarri on the 12th, suggested that the reasons for the change taking place now were possibly more commercial than matters of conscience. Describing fur as “a little bit outdated”, the Gucci CEO said that the material was no longer “modern”, and that “Fashion has always been about trends and emotions and anticipating the wishes and desires of consumers.” An increasing proportion of these consumers are young people – recent figures suggest that 40 per cent of Gucci’s customers are millennials. The under 35’s are far more likely than previous generations to take umbrage with the use of fur and non-humane materials in fashion, and while concern for animal welfare in fashion by charities such as PETA is well established, this strong popular demand for it is relatively new. Taken together with Bizzarri’s statements, this would seem to imply that concern for revenue is the primary driving force behind the change.
Some of Gucci’s sister labels, including Alexander McQueen, Bottega Veneta and Yves Saint Laurent, are yet to commit to eliminating fur from their runways. It is likely that their parent company, the Kering Group, is waiting to see if the move will damage Gucci’s £1.9 billion revenue before making the same commitment with other brands.
There are more factors that suggest Gucci’s commitment to ethical and humane practices are more superficial than they might seem. When it comes to committing to “socially responsible” values, going fur-free is a low-hanging fruit. Fur-alternatives are well established at the very highest levels of fashion. Eliminating it from the runway is an act which requires little real effort or creative sacrifice, whilst still being a highly visible way to appeal to “woke’” millennials and ethically-minded consumers.
Gucci has been accused of multiple breaches of ethical practice in the past. In 2011, conditions for the workers manufacturing its products in Shenzhen, China were found to be dangerous and highly exploitative, with employees being denied food and water and having their overtime pay withheld. Investigations were carried out, but this didn’t lead to any radical overhaul by the brand. Perhaps this was because there is less public interest. For the consumer, the conditions of the worker who made their garment are less evident than whether an animal gave its life to make it.
However, it would be unfair to say that Gucci has made no progress in improving the sustainability and responsibility of its practices. Since 2010, Gucci’s packaging and instore mannequins have been 100 per cent recyclable, and it plans to donate €1 million later this year to Unicef’s Girls’ Empowerment Initiative, a platform to “transform the risks and deprivations adolescent girls face into pathways towards a better life.”
Saying that Gucci’s decision to ban fur represents a pivotal moment in fashion is an overstatement, and perhaps its motives are more closely tied to profit and the changing tastes in fashion than to passionately-held beliefs. Yet these changes are testament to the power of the conscious consumer, and give hope that more labels will follow suit.
Illustration: Yang Yifei