Animal Law

“Skin Trade” and the Cruelty of Fur.

Last night, I attended a screening of the documentary film “Skin Trade” at Bluestockings Bookstore and Activist Center. I wanted to attend because even though I already boycott fur, I wanted to learn more about the industry.

“Skin Trade” was directed and produced by Shannon Keith, also an animal rights attorney. The film was a blend of animation, interviews, and undercover footage. “Skin Trade” details the history of wearing fur and the rise of its cultural value and describes the lies and deceit of the fur industry.

Fur Fact… The film showed a coat priced at $3,000. The number of coyotes killed to produce that one coat? 11.

Official poster of the documentary, "Skin Trade."

Official poster of the documentary, “Skin Trade.”

Scattered throughout the film are scenes of undercover activists posing as interested and curious consumers looking for a fur coat at high end retailers. Fur comes from animals who were trapped or animals who were “farmed” for their fur. I don’t know which method is worse – both methods are inherently cruel, and all of it brought me to tears. Unsurprisingly, all of the customer associates at the stores wanted the consumers to believe that their fur came from a humane place and that no cruelty was committed.  Some animals who become trapped can be stuck there for days, suffering in agony until a trapper comes along to kill them. Animals on farms, imprisoned in cages, can become so stressed out that they resort to cannibalizing their cage mates.  On fur farms, animals suffer from lack of water, from abuse, and finally from death — which results from having their necks broken or being anally electrocuted. We know this happens, that this is the reality of the fur industry because of activists who have gone undercover and filmed these horrors. Juxtaposing the reality of the industry against their false claims was a powerful editing method. At one point, an associate at a retailer even went so far as to claim that the animals at the fur farms are “treated better than humans.”

Fur Fact… Synthetic fur can be just as warm as real fur, and both have the same “R-value,” which is the measure of heat retention.

Some of the people interviewed in the film were James Cromwell (actor), Todd Oldham (fashion designer), Jorja Fox (actress), John Salley (former NBA champion), and Ingrid Newkirk (PETA). The film also featured commentary from designer Donna Salyers, who makes incredible faux fur clothing. With designers like Salyers and Oldham (not to mention, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hillfiger, Stella McCartney, etc — here’s a complete list of fur-free retailers) who can produce clothing without animal cruelty, why are some designers still working with fur?

Fur is dead. NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 06:  Editor-in-chief of American Vogue Anna Wintour attends the "Girls" season three premiere at Jazz at Lincoln Center on January 6, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

Fur is dead.
NEW YORK, NY – JANUARY 06: Editor-in-chief of American Vogue Anna Wintour attends the “Girls” season three premiere at Jazz at Lincoln Center on January 6, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

There are a couple of answers to that question offered in the film. One is that the fault lies with the editors of fashion magazines, who are really the ones dictating the direction of trends. These are people like Anna Wintour, notorious for wearing animals (pictured, right). The other answer is that consumers are ignorant and their ignorance helps create the demand. I’m sure there are some people who do not know the reality and horror of the fur industry — that’s why films like “Skin Trade” and activism is so important. But the information on this industry is readily available online for anyone with access. I personally think it’s more so that consumers are aware of the cruelty — and just don’t care. For example, in the film, people (all women) interviewed on the street about their fur clothing described their outfits as “elegant and yummy” and exhibited no remorse for their fashion.

In November, an article published on, Who’s got a problem wearing fur today?, describes how fur fashion is once again a rising trend. Consumers are either ignoring the readily accessible information on the Internet detailing the reality of the fur industry or they have seen the information — and just don’t care.

The world [fur] trade is now worth $15.6 billion, with pelts reaching record prices at auction. And the demand is not merely issuing from Asia, where sales have tripled in under a decade.

Last month, results were published of a survey of 6,000 adults across six European countries, including the UK. Thirty-nine per cent of European consumers said that they liked seeing fur in fashion and furnishings — more than double the number in 2010; 35 per cent had at least one fur item at home and 36 per cent either wear fur, or would like to do so.

How can people not care? Wearing fur is an act of speciesism. Speciesism allows us to continue to exploit animals. Fur apologists, like the ones surveyed above, perceive (certain) animals as no more than a commodity. To them, a mink, a fox, a coyote, or a lynx is not a sentient being with integrity and an interest in his or her own life, but something to be killed, skinned, processed, and made into an object. But note that I wrote “certain” animals are commodified. When it comes to animals we interact with as pets, all of a sudden the cruelty of the fur industry is obvious. For example, when it was discovered that cats and dogs in China were being rendered into “faux fur” coats in the United States, consumers complained. Burlington Coat Factory had bought 400 coats from an Asian vendor and later discovered that the “faux” trim on the jackets was dog fur. Their spokesperson had this to say: “It is not our policy to sell products with fur from domesticated animals. We find it repugnant.”

Their wording is interesting — Do they find it repugnant to wear a non-domesticated animal, like a fox? The good news is that I did a quick search through Burlington’s website and haven’t found any real fur items.

Would designer Marc Jacobs parade around in a Prada coat made of dog?

Designer Marc Jacobs in a fur coat. Would he parade around in a Prada coat made of dog?

Following the  fraudulent labeling controversy, legislators enacted H.R.2480, the Truth in Fur Labeling Act. Before this Act, products that were less than $150 did not have to disclose that they were made of real fur. Now, regardless of value, fur must be labeled. Interestingly, the change in the law doesn’t apply to fur from a trapped or hunted animal.

Would legislators have acted so quickly if the mislabeled fur was not a domesticated animal?

Mickey Z.  Photo by Chiu Ng Photography. Used with permission.

Mickey Z.
Photo by Chiu Ng Photography. Photo used with permission.

Following the film, my friend Mickey Z. spoke about activism (his speech from the event has been uploaded to Facebook) and speciesism. As Mickey points out, there are so many roles for us to play: We need to embrace a diversity of tactics in our activism. “We need more people involved, and we need more solidarity amongst the groups.” From making films about the exploitation of animals to leafleting to protesting outside the Fur Source in NYC, there’s a role for each of us; everyone has value to add to the animal rights movement.

He also points out that many activists have not yet embraced surrendering their speciesism. This is an important point that must be said again and again; “There is only one kind of liberation and that is collective liberation.” Justice belongs to all earthlings — not just the ones you see as cute and cuddly, or the ones you get to walk on a leash, or curl up with on the couch. Relating this back to the fur industry — consumers should be outraged and boycotting the exploitation of all animals used for fur, not just the dogs and cats.

Crowd at Bluestockings for the screening of "Skin Trade." Photo by Robert Jensen and used with permission.

Crowd at Bluestockings for the screening of “Skin Trade.” Photo by Robert Jensen and used with permission.

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11 replies »

  1. I’ve never really been into fur coats. However, a conflict arises because I really do like my leather couch, and my leather shoes. I also like good, barbecues chicken. What do I do? I think one of my blogging friends from Texas said it best: “Enjoy what animals can provide us but honor them and be kind to them while they are still alive.”


      • What about plants? Do you consider them living creatures, or just living? There is a considerable amount of research indicating that plants communicate with each other. Does that make them “creatures.”

        I still abide by what my wise old grandmother taught me: “All life is precious, fauna and flora.”


    • Hi Russel,

      I think you rightly recognize that a conflict arises between supporting industries that inflict suffering and death on animals and opposing animal cruelty. So your question–What do I do?–I take it, essentially asks how to resolve the conflict: should it be in favor of supporting animal cruelty or in favor of opposing it? Framed in those terms, I think the moral choice is clear.

      In the overwhelmingly vast majority of cases, especially with chickens, there is no middle ground as implicitly suggested by your Texas friend: it isn’t possible to enjoy the remains of a slaughtered chicken and ensure that that chicken, during his lifetime, was treated with anything remotely approaching kindness.



      • Sure it is. One can shop at one’s local mom & pop stores and farmers’ markets for beef, goat, chicken, venison, pork, etc. Many mom & pop outfits actually get emotionally attached to their raisings, as I used to, and it was heartbreaking when we had to slaughter them to eat and share with family and friends.


      • On small farms, while the situation for animals may be better than in factory farms — where the overwhelmingly vast majority of farmed animals are raised and killed — there still exists unjustified animal cruelty, such as the act of slaughtering them. Imagine if the slaughter methods used in those small farms were used to kill innocent children: would we not say that causing their death was cruel?

        And even if animals on some small farms do live completely happy lives and are then painlessly killed, that wouldn’t make killing them right, only easier to rationalize. Cutting their lives short deprives them of years of positive experiences that they otherwise would have had, something we recognize as a tragedy in the case of humans–all for the sake of fulfilling pleasures and needs that could be easily be satisfied with veg eating.


  2. I had a incredible time visiting NYC again. I love Bluestockings Cafe. I saw familiar faces, met new friends and had my picture taken with the lovely Rose McCoy. I hope to have her on my show soon. The Kevin Storm Show on WNJC 1360 Phila.


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