'Ecological fur' - green-washing gone mad


Basking in the runway spotlight at a Tokyo fashion show recently, next to the €32,000 Russian sable coat is a cape of lowly polyester sewn with chinchilla that's being billed as 'ecological fur'.

The cape, bolero and other items by Japanese designer Chie Imai use real chinchilla and mink from fur farms. The fabric parts of the items use recycled polyester.

The recycled polyester is supplied from Japanese plastic and pharmaceutical maker Teijin Ltd.

"We have not compromised quality and tying ecology with fur is such a fascinating concept" - Imai told The Associated Press.

'Ecological fur' sometimes refers to fake fur, but Imai uses real fur. Her so-called ecological designs use polyester strips and fabric with genuine fur. A bolero, for instance, has real fur trim, but the fabric parts and the lining are all recycled polyester.

Imai is the latest fur designer to use synthetic materials with fur - despite complaints from animal rights activists that the term 'ecological' is a marketing ploy to distract people from the mistreatment and cruelty of animals in the fur industry.

Imai argues that fur itself is ecological because it can be worn for generations and "returns to the earth" as organic material and causes no pollution. "We aren't destroying anything. Aren't you going to eat meat? - wear belts or shoes?" - she said.

Imai's 'ecological fur' - ranging in price from €8,000 for the mink bolero to the €52,000 chinchilla cape - allows her clientele, which includes the Japanese royal family and movie stars like Sarah Jessica Parker, to feel green, according to the designer. "They want to take part in being ecological, but it's hard for them to find a way to do it" - Imai said at a Tokyo hotel, showing her 2008-2009 collection debuting her 'ecological fur'.

Imai's ecological fur will be sold around the world later this year, including the US and Europe, she said.

Luxury fur has drawn protests over the years from those who say animals suffer mistreatment. "The idea of 'ecological fur' is absurd" - Kristin Leppert, director of the Fur Campaign at the Humane Society of the United States, said in an email. "The industry has been trying to 'green-wash' their product for years to distract from the cruelty and killing that continues to be documented."

Ashley Fruno, senior campaigner for PETA Asia-Pacific, believes fur for clothing is unnecessary. "Fur can't be environmentally-friendly, because you can't be concerned about the environment without caring about our fellow inhabitants - the animals" - Fruno said.