Faux pas: Is that 'fake fur' actually real?

For the second time since 2013, media investigations have revealed that Neiman Marcus and other retailers sold real animal pelts that they marketed as fake fur.

M. Spencer Green/AP/File
In this 2009 file photo, the Chicago skyline is reflected in the exterior of Neiman Marcus on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) hopes animal lovers will stop shopping at Neiman Marcus stores after a media report on Friday found the retailer has again violated Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules by marketing real fur as fake fur to the nearly 100 million Americans who think buying and wearing fur is "morally wrong."

Investigators for NBC's "Today" show proved that the practice of marketing items produced using animal fur as being faux fur is still alive and well among some major retailers, including Neiman Marcus, which was already sanctioned by the FTC in March 2013.

The Rossen Reports segment on Friday's "Today" show bought jackets, a sweater and boots, with designer names including Michael Kors, Aquatalia, Jacadi and Cluny from Nordstrom Rack, Belk Department Stores, and Neiman Marcus in New York and took them to a lab for testing to see if they were faux fur or faux pas.

What they found were coats, sweaters and boots all made with fur from coyotes, rabbits and raccoon dogs.

In 2013 Neiman Marcus and two other major retailers agreed to settle FTC charges that they violated the FTC Act and the Fur Products Labeling Act (Fur Act) by falsely claiming that some products had “faux” fur, and by not naming the animal that produced the fur. 

The FTC released a statement in 2013 outlining the agreement between the government agency and retailers Neiman Marcus, DrJays.com and Eminent, stating that the retailers agreed to settle charges that they falsely claimed certain products were made of "faux'' fur, when they actually contained real rabbit, raccoon dog, coyote and, possibly, dyed mink. 

The FTC statement at the time showed that the trio of companies also violated federal laws by not naming the animal that the fur came from.

In both 2013 and now, animal rights activists were quick to respond to reports of a violation.

“There are so many retailers that have committed to taking fur off their shelves altogether that there’s no need to give Neiman Marcus your business at all,” said PETA Campaign Specialist Ashley Byrne in a phone conversation. “PETA would encourage people to shop elsewhere.”

Byrne adds, “Neiman Marcus is already guilty of selling fur products that come from countries like China where the animals used have been drowned, beaten and even skinned alive. They have shown that they have no accountability when it comes to animals.”

For the Rossen Reports story, Microtrace Laboratory in Chicago tested samples of the hairs on each item and came to the conclusion that “all five of the items contain real animal hair," according to Dr. Chris Palenik.

Then Jeff Rossen’s team bought Aquatalia “faux fur ankle boots” at a Neiman Marcus store in New York City, labelled to “contain faux fur." However, testing showed that, like the sweater from Nordstrom Rack, the Aquatalia boots actually had rabbit fur.

According to the report, Neiman Marcus blamed the manufacturer for what it called a labeling error. Under the terms of the 2013 FTC settlement, that may be enough to keep the retailer from being fined, FTC spokesman Frank Dorman said in a phone interview. "If we investigate and if we find them in violation, each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of up to $16,000," Dorman added.

The show also found a coat by "Project Runway" television show judge and fashion designer Michael Kors to have a collar marketed as faux which turned out to be coyote, according to Mr. Rossen.

The upshot of the 2013 incident was that the FTC published for public comment orders prohibiting the retailers, for 20 years, from violating the Fur Act and the Rules and Regulations Under the Fur Act,” according to an FTC release.

“Under proposed consent orders that apply for 20 years, the respondents are barred from violating the Fur Act and the Fur Rules.  Consistent with the Commission’s Enforcement Policy Statement announced in January, the orders provide that the respondents will not be liable for misrepresentations about fur products that they directly import if they do not embellish or misrepresent claims provided by the products’ manufacturers, they do not sell the product as a private label product, and they neither know nor should have known that the product is marketed in a manner that violates the Fur Act,” according to the FTC statement on the case from 2013.

Prior to the 2013 FTC report, other major retailers had been publicly chastised by the media for marketing real animal fur as fake.

Last March, The Humane Society of New York investigated retailer Century 21 stores for selling unlabeled and misrepresented fur, including raccoon dog on a Marc Jacobs jacket sold as "faux fur".

Back in September, USA Today reported on a June investigation by The Humane Society of the United States that found that a man's parka sold by retailer Kohl's with the description "faux-fur trim" uses real fur from raccoon dogs.

CBS News2 in Los Angeles also conducted its own local investigation of local stores including Ross, Burlington Coat Factory and others and bought allegedly fake fur products and handed them over to an expert who determined them to be real animal fur, possibly raccoon dog or coyote.

For buyers now wary of faux fur but who still long for the faux feeling, PETA has a list on its website of products it has verified as the real, fake, deal.

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