Below we’ve put together a comparison guide between real fur (from animals), and faux fur.
In this guide we’ve outlined the key differences between the two materials, and have given an analysis of which one might be better across different indicators, with a key focus on sustainability, eco friendliness and the use of animals.
This guide compliments our other individual guides on the sustainability and animal friendliness real fur, and also on faux fur.
Summary – Real Fur vs Faux Fur Comparison
The main difference between real fur and faux fur is what they are made of, and also how they are made:
Real animal fur is part of a pelt, including the skin of the animal (which usually becomes a form of leather backing when the fur and skin are treated at the dressing/tanning stage)
Instead most faux furs are currently made of synthetic fibres, such as acrylic, polyester, or nylon
Faux fur fibres are essentially made up of plastic polymers, and are derived from compounds from petrochemicals like petroleum
The fibres are attached to a fabric or mesh backing (which can be polyester for example)
Which Is Better?
It really depends on which indicator you are measuring ‘better’ with:
Faux furs can have cheaper and more affordable options available, and conversely, there are high quality real furs available that are more expensive.
Real furs are known for the warmth they provide in cold climates, and when a high quality real fur garment is cared for and maintained properly, they can last many years.
Real fur has also been used prominently in fashion in the past, although, there’s been a push to look for alternatives to animal fur in modern times.
Faux fur can be cut, dyed and processed into a wide range of colors and textures, giving it flexibility with appearance.
Some cheaper faux furs may not not last as long in terms of their lifespan of use as some higher quality real furs might.
Depending on the product, real furs may provide more warmth in some instances than faux fur when there is an undercoat. It can be debated though as to whether real furs are better than insulating body heat better than faux furs.
– Sustainability & Eco Friendliness
There are a number of sources that indicate that faux fur is better than real fur overall from an environmental standpoint, and also across specific eco/sustainability indicators.
For example, some sources indicate that the carbon and energy footprint of a finished faux fur jacket is smaller than a finished real fur jacket.
However, other sources indicate that it may be unclear as to which is more eco friendly and sustainable, and the conclusion drawn can depend on whether it’s a pro fur or anti fur group publishing the report.
Real fur may rate better environmentally across several indicators such as not coming from a non renewable resources like fossil fuels, being biodegradable and compostable under certain conditions and in certain instances, and not contributing to micro plastic pollution when it breaks down.
High quality real furs may also last longer at the consumer stage than some cheaper or lower quality faux furs, and this may give it an opportunity to average it’s sustainability footprint out over a greater number of years.
Some go as far as to say that faux fur is essentially a plastic (made of polyester, acrylic or nylon), and should be assessed from a sustainability perspective like plastic is.
Additionally, these points apply to conventional real fur and conventional faux fur.
Similarly, there are newer bio based faux furs derived from plants, and faux furs made from recycled or upcycled material, amongst other ‘more sustainable’ faux fur products entering the market. These products aren’t perfect though, and may still have their drawbacks.
The sustainability footprint of these newer products may be different than the conventional products and materials.
Additionally, some fur farmers may implement more sustainable farming practices, and real fur and faux fur producers may implement more sustainable production practices like closed loop processing, and these things can further change the sustainability footprint of a material or product.
– Animal Welfare
Real fur obviously uses animals in production, with the farming of animals like mink, and also the trapping of wild animals.
There can be a range of animals welfare issues that arise from the use of any animal in production.
Some groups explain that some fur farming and trapping in some countries can be reasonably humane in modern times, whilst other groups point out that this is either not the case, or animals shouldn’t be used in production at all.
Some point out that that there are more ethical real furs being produced, such as real fur from roadkill, or real fur from pest species and overpopulated species, where their culling is actually a benefit to local conservation of the ecosystem.
Although faux fur does not use animals for fur production, what should be pointed out is that faux fur may have the ability to indirectly impact wildlife.
Pollution caused during production, and micro plastic pollution that gets into the environment are two examples of this.
The data at the moment suggests that there is still far more demand for real fur than faux fur, and faux fur is still more of a niche market.
Some question whether this is because consumer preferences for real fur products outweighs ethical priorities, or whether it’s something else such as consumer awareness, or that the faux fur has not had as much time to develop and establish itself.
– Social, & Human Health
Not only is there employment and income related to the size of the real fur industry, but fur farming may provide an income and livelihood to rural and small community land holders where other income options are limited (conventional agriculture for example may not be an option because the land and climate is unsuitable).
The chemicals used during real fur production, such as formaldehyde and chromium, are identified by some as having the ability to impact worker and consumer health and safety.
It’s noted that micro plastic pollution from faux fur can get into the human water and food supply, although, the data on the impact of micro plastics on humans may either be inconclusive, or lean towards it not being a significant threat at the levels humans are exposed to micro plastics at the moment.
* This Guide Is A Generalisation Only
Which fur is better though really can come down to individual variables and factors to do with individual brands and products containing fur material.
These factors may include but aren’t limited to the type of fur, where the fur is produced, how it’s made, the sourcing of materials, the company supplying or producing materials or products along the supply and production chains, what the fur is being made for, how the fur is used by the consumer, and how the fur is disposed of or recycled once used.
There can be tradeoffs to each individual fur product and material.
New technology and new fur products may also have different pros and cons from conventional ones.
Real Fur vs Faux Fur – Features Of Each, & Differences
What They Are Made Of
Real fur is made of fur from animals, which is attached to the skin – this is known as the pelt.
Faux fur is made mainly from petrochemical based synthetic fibres like acrylic and modacrylic, polyester or nylon. These fibres are usually attached to a fabric backing, which can be made of polyester. The backing can also be a mesh material too though.
There are newer faux furs available though that are made from bio based sources like plants, recycled plastics, pre and post consumer materials, and so on. These are not as common though.
How They Are Made
Real fur involves farming or trapping wild animals to source the fur as the initial stage in the making of real fur.
Instead of farming and trapping, faux fur starts out with extraction and refining of petrochemicals like petroleum, and then the creation of monomers and polymers to make synthetic fibres like acrylic, modacrylic, polyester, and nylon.
Both types of fur then have a processing/manufacturing stage where the fur is goes through modification, treatment, finishing and dying of the fur, and the final product … just to name a few common steps.
Real fur in particular can use a range of chemicals for dressing/tanning – some fur processors may have a more natural approach, whilst some may use formaldehyde, chromium, ammonia, and other chemicals that might be considered ‘heavier’ or ‘more harmful’ chemicals.
Real fur uses animals directly to make the fur – animals are mainly farmed, but, wild animals can also be trapped.
There can be a range of animal welfare issues that might arise from this depending on farming practices, and trapping practices.
Faux fur doesn’t use animals for production.
However, some sources indicate that faux fur could impact wildlife indirectly from pollution such as micro plastic pollution, and pollution from production.
Sustainability & Eco Friendliness
Read more about the potential sustainability and eco friendliness of real fur in this guide, and read more about the potential sustainability and eco friendliness of faux fur in this guide.
A range of reports indicate that faux fur is more environmentally friendly and sustainable than real fur overall.
Faux fur coats may use less energy and have a lower carbon footprint than real fur coats.
On the other hand, other sources indicate that it’s not clear which type of fur is more sustainable and eco friendly – it may depend on whether a pro fur or anti fur group is reporting on the issue.
Refinery29.com illustrates this point: ‘One study, which was commissioned by a pair of animal rights organizations, says that a fur coat is worse for the environment; a competing study commissioned by the International Fur Trade Federation says a faux fur coat is worse.’
Some sources indicate that real fur might be biodegradable and compostable under some conditions where faux fur isn’t, real fur may break down in a year or a few years where faux fur might take hundreds or thousands of years to break down, faux fur may release micro plastics fibres when it breaks down where real fur doesn’t, and faux fur is essentially a plastic derived from non renewable petrochemicals whereas real fur is a natural/organic material (although real fur is treated with chemicals or substances at the tanning/dressing stage, but medium.com indicates that ‘harmful chemicals and synthetics involved in the production of both real and faux fur’).
There’s also other factors consider like the lifespan of each material to consider – if a high quality real fur product lasts significantly longer at the consumer stage (assuming it’s properly cared for and maintained), it’s sustainability footprint average out over a greater number of years.
Beyond this, whether newer more sustainable, eco friendly or humane/ethical real furs and faux furs are produced (such as bio based or recycled faux furs for example), and the production practices used, can impact sustainability footprint.
Whether the fur garment is donated or used secondhand/recycled/upcycled after use can have a further impact.
There’s different variables that can impact the sustainability footprint of different fur materials.
Cost & Price
The production cost of faux furs can lead to cheaper/more affordable faux products.
[Artificial furs can be cheaper, and so] Artificial furs become increasingly popular when the prices of genuine fur rises (montanatrappers.org)
Demand & Market Size
Modification Options During Production, Manufacture & Crafting
Faux fur can be processed, dyed, and cut to match a specific fur texture and color, which may give it a range of different appearance and feel options.
Having said that, real fur is available in a range of different types, depending on the animal fur used. But, it’s not a man made/synthetic fibre like faux fur.
Feel & Look
Related to the point above, many argue that real fur is softer and smoother, and has a ‘natural look’ to it that follow the animals’ variation in their fur fibres.
Faux fur on the other hand may feel coarser (unless it partially contains natural fibres too), and might be produced to have a more uniform look with how the fibres are arranged.
Having said this though, newer technology may continue to allow faux fur to look at feel closer and closer to the real thing, until it’s hard to tell the difference.
Maintenance For The Consumer
Natural fur may require more regular cleaning and maintenance, and more specific cleaning and maintenance.
Higher quality fur garments for example may have to be cleaned yearly by a professional furrier or a dry cleaner, and at-home washing and machine washing may damage the garment.
Durability/Lifespan, & Ability To Keep Quality Of Appearance
Higher quality real furs may last longer (when the real fur is properly cared for and maintained) than some cheaper and lower quality faux furs.
In addition to lasting longer without falling apart, real furs may keep their quality of appearance longer (when properly maintained)
This can be the tradeoff of some faux furs – they may not need as much maintenance, but they may fall apart or lose their quality in a shorter period of time.
Fur Backing Material
Faux fur may generally have a fabric backing (which can be polyester for example) to attach the synthetic fibres to.
Real fur on the other hand comes as a pelt – the natural animal fur is attached to the skin.
An animal’s pelt goes through tanning/dressing at the processing stage, and is treated with chemicals or ingredients that turn the skin and fur into stable material that can be used and that won’t rot.
Fake fur … might be easier to sew … (wikipedia.org)
Real fur with an undercoat may have an added layer for warmth, and there’s some debate as to whether real fur is a better insulator against the cold compared to faux fur.
Real fur might be a safer bet for warmth in colder weather and climates.
[Fake fur may not be as insulating as real fur, and, Faux fur may not be as suited to snowy conditions because it may not be able to] keep snow from melting and re-freezing on the fiber filaments (wikipedia.org)
Breathability & Aeration
[Fake fur may not allow the skin to sweat and breathe as much as real fur] (wikipedia.org)
Storage & Deterioration
Fake fur … may not need cold storage to prevent deterioration (wikipedia.org)
Some consumers, as well as fashion designers, place a higher subjective value on, or have a deeper preference for real fur compared to faux fur.
… furring is a real handcraft and takes a lot of skill. “Real fur cannot be matched for its beauty, softness and glamour. The attraction of real fur is also in its touch, its feel and its three-dimensional quality” (medium.com)
Both real fur and faux fur may be able to be recycled in some instances.
Biodegradability, Composting, & Decomposition
Several reports indicate that some real furs can break down in some soil conditions within a year. Real fur may be able to be composted too.
Faux furs that are essentially plastics (polyesters, acrylics, nylons, etc) may take hundreds or thousands of years to break down, or may only ever break down into micro plastic fibres.
10. Animal Legal & Historical Center (Author,: https://www.animallaw.info/article/detailed-discussion-fur-animals-and-fur-production