Picture: 123RF/KATERYNA GONCHARENKO
Picture: 123RF/KATERYNA GONCHARENKO

Remember when Woolworths hastily recalled a range of girls’ T-shirts on discovering that the fluffy bits on them weren’t faux fur‚ as labeled‚ but real animal fur?

That was two weeks before Christmas and the retailer‚ which has a no-animal-fur policy‚ was mortified.

"We would like to sincerely apologise to our customers for this disappointing incident‚" the retailer said at the time. "Our supplier purchased trims from a third party‚ based on our synthetic specifications‚ and did not test whether the fibre was synthetic or from animal fur."

It turns out the passing off of real fur as fake or faux‚ as the clothing industry refers to it‚ has been happening on a wide scale. A British parliamentary inquiry was initiated after a series of reports on Sky News revealed that major British retailers were selling real animal fur as synthetic. Products advertised as faux fur were tested by a fibres expert and found to be rabbit‚ mink‚ fox‚ raccoon‚ dog and cat.

Sky News was invited to give evidence in parliament about its findings along with major retailers found to be selling the real fur items‚ including House of Fraser‚ Missguided and Boohoo. Global brand Missguided was found to be selling a pair of pink not-quite kitten heeled sandals with pom-poms made of cat fur. The brand is sold in SA by online retailer Superbalist.

All the retailers fingered by the Sky investigation as fur sellers said they had strict no-fur policies and would never knowingly mislead customers. The offending items were immediately withdrawn from sale when the broadcaster told the retailers of their findings.

The parliamentary committee’s report‚ published at the weekend‚ reveals that many retailers told them there had been a lack of knowledge about why a supply chain would be contaminated with real fur and that it had only come to light with the Sky News inquiry. That’s because the fraudulent contamination of products usually involves suppliers substituting or adulterating a genuine product with a fake one‚ to make a bigger profit — not the other way round.

But in this case‚ China’s shocking disregard for animal rights — fur-trade animals kept in tiny cages‚ then electrocuted and skinned alive — makes for a supply of cheap animal fur.

TimesLIVE asked several South African retailers what steps they take to ensure the faux fur on the jackets‚ sandals‚ boots‚ gloves‚ hats and other accessories they sell is not‚ in fact‚ real fur. Woolworths‚ unsurprisingly‚ given its fur recall of December‚ appears to have the most stringent fur-checking practices in place.

A spokesman for the retailer‚ whose current faux fur-trimmed offerings include a pair of pink sandals similar to Missguided’s‚ said all its suppliers had been contacted after the recall‚ "reminding them of our policies governing animal welfare ... We now conduct visual checks of all backings to ensure they are warp knitted‚ not leather‚ and we do a visual check of the fibres‚ as real fur fibres taper at the end but synthetic fibres are the same thickness throughout.

"We then conduct a burn test on our faux fur fibres to check the odour and burn characteristics of fibre. If there is still concern or doubt about the source of the fibre‚ items are sent for formal fibre analysis testing at independent laboratories. We also conduct random product due diligence, which includes testing of items from stores to ensure adherence of production."

Online clothing retailer Zando said: "We trust our brands [that sell] products to us‚ and do not do any further testing on our side. As for our own private-label brand‚ Utopia‚ we are 100% sure that we don’t sell fur as faux fur."

Lezell Peter‚ Spree’s merchandising and sourcing manager‚ said the online retailer had a strict anti-fur policy and would not deliberately buy or sell real fur products. "Spree buyers are hyper vigilant about detecting real fur that is passed off as faux fur‚ and we have adapted our buying processes of faux fur products to combat any chance of being misled by suppliers.

"We feel strongly about partnering with anti-fur community agents to eliminate the supply of real fur products into the marketplace."

TFG confirmed that the faux fur used on all apparel and accessories sold at Foschini‚ both in their stores and online‚ is "definitely faux". "As a responsible retailer‚ we are not complacent about conscious fashion‚" said Bev Pallet‚ Foschini’s head of business. "Our customers can rest assured that our rigorous quality assurance processes ensure that [animal fur] will not be sold in our stores."

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