Q: I work in the fashion industry, and feel that I must follow the trends. This winter fur is trendy. Should I design garments from real fur from a humane farm or synthetic fur made from polyester? Which is the more sustainable option? (Though I do not doubt that neither of them is that great.)

— T. Dominguez

A: Fashion and fashionistas can be fickle. One year, supermodels pose draped in chinchilla, the next season they’re barely covered in lettuce leaves and forsake all fashion that once had a face. It’s an industry that thrives on keeping the rest of the world guessing. But I respectfully disagree with your assertion that you must follow the trends.

The Burberry trench coat (originally designed for soldiers), Coco Chanel’s tweed suit and Diane Von Furstenberg’s sexy wrap dress defied the trends and live on as classic fashion staples.

As for whether real fur or synthetic fur is more sustainable, that’s like deciding which 10-scoop ice cream sundae is healthier: the one topped with a cherry soaked in red dye or the one topped with the real Bing au naturel. Neither is particularly good for the environment or your karma bank. Even on a humane farm, animals have to lose their pelts at some point, and that isn’t a cute process.

Manufacturing polyester-based faux fur involves a lot of chemicals, according to fashion consultant Kevin Knaus, professor of fashion marketing and management at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta. Knaus also notes that faux fur tends to break down during the cleaning process. Chemical-free dry cleaners are essential to keeping that faux fur on its faux skin.

Faux fur also puts a dent in the karma bank.

“The companies here couldn’t keep the price points low,” he said, citing cheaper labor overseas. “Most of the best fake furs right now are coming out of Korea. There are some faux furs that are so good you can hardly tell the difference.”

That high-end synthetic product makes a negative impact on the environment and the labor force producing the fabric. Like I said, neither option is ideal.

Of course, the fashion world is far from ready to ditch authentic fur-lined collars and floor-length sable coats. If you truly must follow the trends, Knaus said some U.S.-based companies sell vintage fur pieces that can be used as accents on collars or cuffs. But increasingly, the fashion world is moving away from the real thing.

“I’m doing a trend forecasting class with younger people,” he said. “Ninety to 95 percent will never wear real; they just don’t believe in it. It’s how they’ve been raised."

-- Morieka

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Tease photo: echoforsberg/Flickr

Inset photo: s-a-m/iStockphoto

Should designers use real fur from humane farms or synthetic fur?
Neither option is good for the environment (or your karma), but there are other solutions such as bucking the trend entirely or buying vintage.