Should McDonald’s stop serving hamburgers because a few PETA members protest? Most people would object. But this common sense reaction is apparently uncommon among the people who run Saks Fifth Avenue.
This month, Saks announced it would phase out the sale of natural fur from its department stores. It’s a dumb move for several reasons.
Saks is capitulating to activists who want to destroy their business. If Saks agrees with PETA types that fur is bad, how can Saks continue selling leather, wool, cashmere, or other animal-derived products? These products make up a considerable portion of any department store’s business—and according to media reports. Saks is already having trouble paying the rent. Speaking of sustainable, by replacing real fur with “faux” fur, Saks is switching from a natural textile to a synthetic one that is typically made from plastic. And that is not socially responsible.
Synthetic textiles are a leading source of pollution globally. Synthetics made from plastic will leach tiny plastic particles when washed. About 1.5 million tons of microplastic enter the ocean every year. A 2017 report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimated that about 35 percent of this comes from synthetic textiles. That’s 1 billion pounds a year. Why would Saks make this problem worse?
Natural materials, which include leather, fur, wool, silk and cashmere, are prime examples of sustainable and natural.
Saks is also opening itself to broader vulnerabilities as a brand. It’s replacing a natural, high-quality textile with cheap “faux” imitations—a cheapening of the luxury brand. Despite activist claims that fur is inhumane—which they’ve been saying for decades—according to a recent Gallup survey a majority of Americans think fur is morally acceptable.
Retailers and designers have faced pressure from a small cult of animal liberation extremists to stop selling fur, leather, wool, cashmere, and silk. These radicals picket at stores. They disrupt executives and families at home. Saks is surrendering to blackmail, feeding this crocodile, hoping it will go away. In capitulating Saks shows weakness. History teaches that these concessions invite more demands.
Saks Fifth Avenue, like much of the retail industry, has reportedly been having financial issues. Perhaps someone in the C-suite thought going fur-free might buy them some PR. Instead it will merely hasten their demise. It is not too late for Saks to correct its course before it crashes—but only if they embrace consumer freedom.