Faux fur or real - do you know what you're wearing?
By Marie Jackson
Fashion's obsession with fur means it's everywhere - luxuriously soft pom-poms perching on top of woolly hats, dangling from scarves and handbags, even hanging off keyrings. But can you tell whether the bobble on your new hat is made from fake fur or the real thing?
Most embellishments are made from faux fur - synthetic fibres designed to look and feel like animal fur - and sold as such.
But the "tragically cheap" cost of real fur means that is not always the case and people who think they are wearing fake fur may not be.
There has not been a fur farm in the UK since they were banned in , but it's not illegal to wear fur.
Some shoppers however, cite ethical reasons for not buying it.
"We know the vast majority of British people don't want to buy fur ethically and morally, but we are seeing an increase in it on our streets,' says Claire Bass, director of Humane Society International UK.
"Consumers are being duped into buying real animal fur."
She adds: "Fur is tragically so cheap. It can be produced for the same or less than the cost of fake fur."
As part of an awareness campaign, the charity carried out laboratory tests on three items being sold as faux fur this winter, and found them to be made of mink, fox and rabbit.
Most high street stores have fur-free policies, but adornments and trims from rabbits, dogs, raccoons, foxes and minks are appearing on clothes sold on market stalls, by smaller independent retailers and online.
Often the sellers themselves do not know it is real fur, says Ms Bass, and it is assumed to be fake.
How to spot the difference
- Separate the fur at the base. If it's fake, you will see the fabric webbing. If it's real, it will be attached to skin
- The burn test: Clip off the tip of the fibres and set light to them. If they melt like plastic, it's fake. If they singe and smell of burning hair, it's real
And how NOT to spot the difference
- The price: It is so cheap to produce real fur in China, for example, that it can be cheaper than the fake stuff
- By touch: Today's fake fur can be of such good quality that it can be difficult to tell them apart
- Read the label: Complicated labelling rules are often flouted and the label only has to reflect 80% of the item's composition so a fur trim may be omitted. Labelling laws do not apply to accessories such as shoes and handbags
'You don't want a raccoon pom-pom on your daughter's head'
David, a management consultant from Kent, bought a bobble hat for his month-old daughter from Amazon Marketplace.
He and his wife, pregnant with their second child, had seen the cute pom-pom hats at Christmas fairs so when they spotted one online, they clicked 'buy'.
"It was £9 so I thought it's got to be fake fur for that price."
But, when it arrived, directly from China, their pet terrier "went wild for it", he said.
"You can see the skin at the base of the pom-pom, and the hair at the root was fluffy."
The labelling held no clues, but a closer look at the small print in the online product description revealed it was raccoon fur.
He complained to Amazon that it had been categorised as faux fur, and received a full refund.
"We are not fussed about the cost," he said.
"It's annoying - the dog goes wild, my wife is allergic to some furs and you just don't want a raccoon pom-pom on your daughter's head."
The Humane Society International UK wants to see % accurate labelling and description on products, and a ban on all fur imports.
"If we consider it cruel to produce it here, we should not be paying fur farms overseas to produce it," says Ms Bass.
The charity believes that leaving the EU may be an opportunity for a total ban. Until now the UK - under World Trade Organisation rules - has not been able to ban imports of products still produced by some EU member states.
But in post-Brexit Britain the government could write into UK law a ban on all fur, not just cat, dog and seal, as current EU law states.
The British Fur Trade Association, which represents the UK's fur sector, supports HSI's call for correct and truthful labelling.
"It's a bit curious that anyone would want to hide the fact that they are using this beautiful product [animal fur], that adds luxury and value," the association's chief executive Mike Moser said.
He said real fur was more popular in the UK than it had been for decades, citing a study by Copenhagen University which found UK fur sales had doubled in the last five years.
The industry was pushing for better animal welfare in European fur farms, he said, and people were beginning to realise that some of the propaganda around the fur trade might not be true.
Labour MP Kerry McCarthy said there was "a lot of public concern that we are importing cruelty and that fur can be mislabelled".
"Customers have a right to know what they are buying, and want assurances that the UK will not be complicit in such unnecessary suffering," she added.
What to do if you have been mis-sold fur
- Alert the store where you bought it. Most high street shops do not sell real fur but if the proper checks are not made, it can slip through the net
- Take it to your local trading standards office which can investigate the seller for unfair trading
Related Internet Links
How to Care for Natural Fur and Faux Fur Hats
Fur hats are some of the warmest winter hats available, whether a hat is lined with or made completely out of natural fur or faux fur. And even if there's just a bit of fur trim, both types of fur need some special care to keep them looking silky and to provide long-lasting wear.
Here are some tips to take care of natural fur hats and faux fur hats.
How to Care for Natural Fur Hats and Trim
Whether you have a mink, fox, or rabbit fur hat, proper care will make it last for many years. Natural fur hats should be protected from chemicals, including makeup, perfume, and hair products. So never apply these products while wearing the hat. After every wear, allow the hat to "rest" on a hat form to dry completely from body moisture and outside elements. This will help the hat to retain its shape.
If your natural fur hat gets wet, shake off the excess water. Then, allow the fur to air dry away from direct heat sources and direct sunlight, as they can scorch and discolor the fur. Likewise, never use a hot blow dryer to attempt to dry the fur. Instead, place the hat on a wig or hat form or over a rounded vase or jar, so air can circulate freely. This will also prevent the fur from becoming crushed or flattened due to being placed directly on a hard surface. When the fur is completely dry, shake the hat to fluff it. If necessary, you may brush the hat lightly in the natural direction of the fur with a good quality pet brush to restore the smoothness.
A natural fur hat should be cleaned at least annually by a professional fur cleaner, not a regular dry cleaner. A qualified furrier has the knowledge and equipment to correctly clean furs. Immersion in standard dry cleaning chemicals will rob the fur hide of its natural oils, drying it out and causing it to shed.
Many furriers will be able to store your hat for you in climate-controlled cool storage. To store it at home, place the hat on a hat form and cover it with a hat box or cotton storage bag to protect it from being crushed and from dust settling in the fur. Keep it in a cool, dry location that does not have huge swings in temperature. Do not use plastic storage bags or boxes that can trap moisture inside and cause mildew problems. Also, avoid chemicals like mothballs and other insecticides, as these can create a smell and are hazardous to anyone in your household.
How to Care for Faux Fur Hats and Trim
When cleaning faux fur, pay close attention to the care label. Many items will recommend dry cleaning, but some faux furs can be hand washed or machine washed. The decision depends on the fiber content of the faux fur and how the hat is structured.
Faux fur can become distorted from too much wear, improper cleaning, or excessive heat. So to maintain the hat's longevity, spot cleaning and preventative care will work the best. If the fur gets wet, allow it to air dry by placing the hat on a hat form or jar to allow good air circulation. Keep it away from direct heat and sunlight. And never toss faux fur in a dryer on a hot setting, which can melt the fur. If possible, allow a day between wearings to give the hat a chance to dry from body moisture and so the fibers will relax. This will help the hat maintain the correct shape.
If the faux fur on your hat becomes matted, you might be able to detangle the fibers by mixing 1 teaspoon of hair conditioner with 2 cups of warm water. Place the mixture in a spray bottle, and spritz the fur. Then, use a soft-bristled brush to gently brush the fur. Work slowly in a small area. If any fibers come out, then you are brushing too hard. When you are finished, wipe down the faux fur with a clean, white cloth that's dampened with plain water, and allow the hat to air dry.
If the faux fur completely loses its luster, the ends can be trimmed to bring back the sheen. A professional milliner can help with this. Spot treat stains as soon as possible with a damp cloth and mild detergent, and allow the hat to air dry. To fluff faux fur, give the hat a good shake or use a blow dryer on the coolest air setting. Never store faux fur in a plastic bag. Make sure the hat is completely dry before placing it in a hatbox or cotton bag to protect it from dust and dirt while in storage.
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