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Despite calls for its demise, fur still fills closets in Korea

2012/01/09 | 250 views |  | Permalink | Source

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A handful of college students of performing arts gathered on a bustling street in Myeong-dong during the lunch hour on Dec. 29 to perform a hypothetical scene in which animals retaliate against humans for using their fur to produce clothing.

The hour-long performance piece, which grabbed the attention of both the media and pedestrians, including a number of tourists from around the world, was led by students from Sangmyung University in northern Seoul and the Korean Society for Animal Freedom.

The society, one of the biggest animal-rights groups in Korea, said the event was part of a larger campaign designed to criticize Korea for still being a major importer of fur.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, an animal protection organization, Korea ranked third in the world in terms of fur import volume as of 2001, the year with the latest available data, and is currently the world's No. 3 importer of fur from China.

"We urge humans to stop killing animals for unnecessary consumption of fur and hope the campaign will reverse the trend of encouraging fur purchases so that Korea can clear itself of the disgrace of being a primary fur importer", said Kim Jin-young, a spokeswoman with the organization.

The efforts to raise awareness of animal rights and draw attention to the brutal process of fur harvesting from animals such as fox, mink, rabbits, seals, chinchillas and many others seem to have had little effect on fur lovers in the country, who continue to use the substance for decoration and insulation.

Data show that Shinsegae Department Store has seen sales of fur products climb 37 percent compared to last year, while Hyundai Department Store reports an increase of 21 percent for the same items as of late November.

Kim Jin-a, a 33-year-old researcher who recently returned from New York, where she spent the past seven years studying, commented on the prevalence of fur at her church, one of Korea's biggest and richest.

"Whenever I go to church these days, I am shocked to see the sea of luxurious fur coats worth tens of millions of won worn by the women in attendance", Kim said. "Wearing a fur is a personal choice, but to see so many God-loving people donning animals? I just don't get it".

Sangmyung University students stage an anti-fur performance in collaboration with the Korean Society for Animal Freedom, a civic group, in Myeong-dong, central Seoul, on Dec. 29. [YONHAP]

But not everyone follows the trend. A 44-year-old mom surnamed Huh, who asked that her full name not be used, said she could never imagine wearing fur because of what her children would think.

"My kids say they would be extremely ashamed of me if they saw me in fur", said Huh, who is also an executive with a local insurance firm and whose two teenage children go to school overseas.

Unlike in other leading economies such as the United States, where a number of high-profile Hollywood celebrities such as Charlize Theron, Leonardo DiCaprio, Pink and Jessica Biel protest fur, singer Lee Hyori is one of a mere handful of high-profile celebrities in Korea who have objected to it. But she's not alone.

Local designer Park Seung-gun, of PushBUTTON, unveiled his 2011 fall/winter collection with the slogan, "Fur is over!"

Kim Hyun-seong, publisher of OhBoy! magazine, said, "Demand for fur seems to have exploded as the trend-setting younger generation has jumped onto the bandwagon in the past couple of years".

Asked why the fur craze shows scant signs of abating, the photographer-publisher, who is widely recognized for his animal-rights campaign, pointed to Koreans' tendency to gauge social status by their looks.

"I also think fur producers have pitched marketing efforts to promote furs that turn hefty profits. Therefore, passive consumers - exposed to commercials and ads - seem to be inevitably attracted to furs", he said, adding that fashion-conscious people tend to opt more for fake fur.

The fashion guru Karl Lagerfeld already heralded fake fur, which became trendy earlier in 2010. He particularly praised its use in Chanel's fall 2010 runway show.

"It's the triumph of fake fur ... because fake fur changed so much and became so great now that you can hardly see a difference", he was quoted by PETA as saying.

Compared to last, this season has seen an array of lighter, softer and more realistic furs, according to Kim Joo-hyun, an editor with Allure Korea magazine.

Fake fur is made of acryl or polyester. The higher the percentage of acryl, the softer the fur. Fake fur's edge over real fur is that the former is lighter since the material does not have a leather lining.

But fake fur is not necessarily cheaper than real fur. For instance, while the majority of domestic boutiques sell fake fur coats for less, some coats from designer Italian brand Elisabetta Franchi cost over 1 million won.

By Seo Ji-eun [spring@joongang.co.kr]

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