Buying my first sustainable winter jacket

Exploring the history of fur trading and recent anti-fur movements

In Canada, fur trading has a destructive history.

In mid-November, I walked out of my house in disbelief and found everything beautifully covered in snow. After spending three months at Queen’s while on exchange from Japan, the Canadian winter finally welcomed me, and it was time to buy my first winter jacket. 

When thinking about my ideal winter coat, I imagined myself wrapped in warm fur clothes like the traditional winter clothing worn in the Arctic, as I’d heard about Kingston’s negative 30-degree winters.

But in researching the destructive history of fur trading in Canada—and the manufacturing process of fur products—I’ve decided not to wear fur and advocate for others to do the same. I wondered if I’d be making a sustainable choice by seeking out fur-free clothes.

Canada Goose is the most famous brand for winter jackets, but the company uses animal fur in its products. Its classic jacket features a fur hood, and most of its insulated jackets are filled with bird feathers inside. On the other hand, less popular brands like Marmot are known for selling featherless and environmentally-friendly insulated jackets.

Indigenous peoples played significant roles in the history of Canadian fur in clothing. The British and French came to Canada and started fur trading—mainly using beaver fur—with Indigenous people from the 17th century to the mid-19th century. While the Europeans’ business brought financial success, it also negatively impacted the Indigenous community’s independence.

“Generally, trading with the outsiders and getting close to Southern way[s] of life has not been a good thing for Inuit [people],” said Noel McDermott, an Assistant Professor in Queen’s Language, Literatures and Cultures department. “There are some positive things, but not for the [general Inuit] society.”

The Europeans exploited the Indigenous communities’ fur supply and employed Indigenous men under extremely dangerous conditions. It’s important to consider these traumas when buying fur coats, since it supports an industry built on the forced hardships of Indigenous peoples.

The modern anti-fur movement started in the late 1960s, but it’s become a hot topic in recent years within the fashion industry.

This year, London Fashion Week became the first major fashion week to ban animal fur, and more fashion brands continue to join the Fur Free Alliance coalition. Marco Bizzarri, CEO of Gucci, announced the brand would go fur-free after the summer of 2018 commenting that, “Gucci is so visible, so well-known—we need to use that in a positive way.”

The fashion industry already has fur alternatives, and clothing doesn’t justify sacrificing animals for the sake of making a profit. 

“Indigenous people do not make a living by fur trading anymore,” McDermott told The Journal. He added he hopes Inuit people can continue hunting, as it provides the opportunity for Indigenous youth to learn traditional skills from their culture.

If you’re purchasing a winter coat, I urge you to think twice about choosing a product with animal fur or feathers, and the potential impact of your decision on the fashion industry and the environment.

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