Every time we buckle a leather belt, don a fur coat, or slip on diamond earrings, we enter the controversies surrounding these items and the animal, environmental, and labor expenses they incur. Thanks to Ingrid Newkirk and PETA, the ethical issues surrounding fur are all over the news and billboards, and thanks to Blood Diamond, we know more about conflict mining, too. Fortunately, innovations in synthetic products that equal, and in some cases, rival, the quality of these controversial items allow us all to live a little more ethically without sacrificing style.
Fur? I’d Rather Go Naked
Thank goodness you don’t have to. PETA’s multimillion dollar antifur campaign featuring celebrities “go[ing] naked” rather than wearing fur exposed the fur industry’s animal abuses to the public at large. Before the campaign, antifur activists were a marginalized group associated with crazed patchouli-scented, granola-eating Joan Baez fans. PETA’s spilling red paint on Anna Wintour’s lunch and Lindsay Lohan’s coat didn’t help that image.
Now A-list celebrities are adopting the cause, and the opposition to fur has become mainstream. Whereas they once would have been ashamed to be caught on the red carpet wearing fake fur, celebrities now proudly flaunt their faux-fur clothing articles made from fine acrylic fibers. According to WiseGeek.com, acrylic can be dyed to mimic the colors and patterns of real animal coats.
Toy manufacturers have been using the same synthetic fur for years on children’s stuffed animals.
The quality of synthetic fur varies, and some varieties shed easily. When purchasing a faux fur coat, choose one that does not release a lot of hairs when stroked.
Of course, faux fur is not as warm as real fur, but hey, when do you really need to wear real animal skins, unless you plan to vacation in the tundra?
It’s interesting that fur has gotten so much media attention and leather hasn’t. After all, the two materials have essentially the same source: animals’ skins. And not only does leather involve the slaughtering of animals for their hides, but the tanning and treating process is a major environmental pollutant. Yet leather goods are ubiquitous, and the material is celebrated in song, in titles like “Leather and Lace,” “Black Leather,” and “Hell Bent for Leather,” to name just a few. Leather carries connotations of sex and danger, but not necessarily of animal cruelty.
But science allows us to appear leather-clad without so much as slapping a cow. And I don’t mean pleather, vinyl, or leatherette, which are cheap looking and have neither the look nor feel of real leather. (They’re also derived from petroleum, which brings up other environmental and health issues.) Today’s synthetic leathers include cork leather, made from cork oak, and ocean leather, derived from kelp. These are still less commonly used than the petroleum-derived materials, but their appearance is closer to real leather and the manufacturing of them is sustainable.
In many cases, synthetic leathers are better than the real thing, even if you remove the ethical issues; animal products break down quickly, and synthetic leathers last longer. The synthetics are stain resistant, too. The elasticity of high-quality synthetic leather is also better, which means that it can last much longer without wearing out or cracking than real leather can.
Lab-Grown Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend
Forget about cubic zirconia and Moissanite, the old go-tos for gals who have champagne tastes on a beer budget. Lab-grown diamonds are essentially the same as natural diamonds, except that they take days to produce instead of millennia and are entirely conflict free.
“We’ve essentially recreated the same conditions that occur hundreds of miles below the surface,” David Hellier, president of Gemesis, the Florida company that specializes in growing colored diamonds, told MSN’s Jennifer Mulrean. “After about four and a half days, we get a three-carat rough diamond. From that day forward, there’s no difference between that diamond and one that comes from the ground.”
Even the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), the foremost diamond-research and diamond-grading body, recognizes lab-grown stones as diamonds. “To say it’s not a diamond is really false,” says William Boyajian, gemologist and GIA president. “It’s just a man-made diamond.”
Lab-grown diamonds, which you may hear referred to as “synthetic” or “cultured” diamonds, are just becoming available and are still a very small part of the overall diamond market. But their supply and demand are expected to grow. That’s good news for customers, who will be able to purchase high-end, conflict-free diamonds for “probably 30 percent less than mined diamonds,” according to one retailer.
According to Boyajian, lab-grown diamonds look just like their traditional mined counterparts. “The material is beautiful,” he says. “You can’t tell visually a synthetic from a natural diamond.”
However, “the average gemologist,” he adds, “will at least know enough to check with a more sophisticated lab.”
But for most of us who just want glitz and glam, wearing lab-grown diamonds will only make a difference in our wallets and our consciences.
Fake Is Fab
Technology has become so sophisticated that we’re able to imitate almost perfectly most materials whose high humane and environmental costs are prohibitive. Go ahead: wear fur, wear leather, wear diamonds. Just be sure to go faux.