On the runways at the just-ended New York Fashion Week, there was pink tulle and tattered denim, black mesh and purple fringe, handmade kente cloth and 3D-printed metallic apparel. The Area brand used the opportunity to debut its faux fur gowns with imitation bones and puffer jackets printed to look like fur. But there was one material entirely missing from the event, which draws an estimated 230,000 people to more than 300 shows: real animal fur.

Although the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which organizes New York Fashion Week, hasn’t banned animal fur at the event, fur has simply fallen out of favor: Thanks in part to decades of work by our teams in the U.S. and internationally, designers such as Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren have pledged to go fur-free. The rest of the industry has followed, moving on from using mink, fox and other animal fur, which is mainly produced through the cruelty of confining wild animals in small cages.

Trying to counter criticism of animal fur, industry groups such as the International Fur Federation have argued that pelts are “natural” and “sustainable.” However, a Humane Society International report released earlier this summer shows that animal fur is anything but what that public relations campaign asserts. Fur’s Dirty Footprint documents the industry’s heavy environmental impacts.

Fur farms contribute to climate change, largely because animals raised for their pelts are carnivores and must eat a meat-based diet. The carbon footprint of producing 1 kilogram of mink fur is 31 times higher than that of producing 1 kilogram of cotton, 26 times higher than 1 kilogram of acrylic and 25 times higher than 1 kilogram of polyester.

Farming mink, foxes and raccoon dogs for fur also uses 104 times as much water as producing acrylic, 91 times as much water as producing polyester and five times as much water as producing cotton, a crop known for being thirsty. And runoff from the concentrated excrement found on fur farms pollutes water sources: Fur production on average is 100 times more water-polluting than cotton and 75 times more than acrylic.

After the estimated 100 million mink, fox and raccoon dogs raised for fur globally each year are slaughtered in excruciating ways, their skins are processed and preserved using toxic, carcinogenic chemicals such as chromium and formaldehyde.

All of this is completely unnecessary. For designers who want the look of animal fur without causing animals to suffer or doing environmental harm, there are innovations being developed and several sustainable options already:

  • The world’s first fully recyclable nonanimal fur made from recycled polyester (70%) and plant-based materials (30%): KOBA, produced by Dupont and Ecopel in partnership with designer Stella McCartney.
  • The world’s first 100% plant-based fur: BioFluff, launched by Ashwariya Lahariya and Martin Stübler, who are using the stems, flowers and leaves of cover crops plus agricultural waste to produce non-animal fur that looks like mink or fox.

Using animal fur for fashion isn’t just cruel, it’s irrelevant: Designers can get the looks they want without harm to animals or the environment, and that’s a trend that’s here to stay.

Follow Kitty Block @HSUSKittyBlock.