Japanese designer adds recycling and polyester to luxury in 'ecological fur'


Basking in the runway spotlight at a Tokyo fashion show Monday was a cape of lowly polyester sewn with chinchilla billed as an "ecological fur."

The cape, a bolero and other items by Japanese designer Chie Imai are made with real chinchilla and mink from fur farms, but their fabric parts and lining are made of recycled polyester from Teijin Ltd., a Japanese plastic and pharmaceutical maker.

"We have not compromised quality," Imai said. "And tying ecology with fur is such a fascinating concept."

Imai is the latest fur designer to use synthetic materials with fur &

despite complaints from animal rights activists that the term "ecological" is a ploy to distract people from the mistreatment and cruelty of animals in the fur industry.

Imai said the composite material &

ranging in price from $12,000 for a mink bolero to $83,000 for the chinchilla cape &

allows her clientele, who include the Japanese royal family and celebrities such as Sarah Jessica Parker to feel green, even when they're buying fur.

"They want to take part in being ecological, but it's hard for them to find a way to do it," Imai said at a Tokyo hotel, showing her 2008-2009 collection debuting her ecological fur.

Fur is ecological because it can be worn for generations and "returns to the earth" as organic material and causes no pollution, Imai argues.

"We aren't destroying anything. Aren't you going to eat meat? Wear belts or shoes?" she said.

Mass-producing T-shirts from recycled polyester cuts carbon dioxide emissions by 77 percent and energy consumption by 84 percent, compared with making them from scratch. Teijin produces some 7,000 tons a year of recycled polyester from used polyester clothing, said company spokesman Yoshihito Usami. Most of it is used for work clothes and uniforms.

"Recycling, rooted in the idea of avoiding waste, doesn't link easily with the idea of luxury fur," said Usami. "This is something we are carrying out as a trial."

Old clothing is first broken down into bits as tiny as rice and processed with chemicals and heat to take out the coloring, buttons, zippers and other foreign objects to produce dimethyl terephthalate, or DMT, he said. That is then made into thread that is spun into fabric.

Luxury fur has drawn protests for years as causing animals suffering.

"The idea of 'ecological fur' is absurd," Kristin Leppert, director of the Fur Campaign at the Humane Society of the United States, said in an e-mail from Washington, D.C. "The industry has been trying to 'greenwash' their product for years to distract from the cruelty and killing that continues to be documented."

Ashley Fruno, senior campaigner for PETA Asia-Pacific, believes fur for clothing is unnecessary.

"Fur can't be environmentally friendly because you can't be concerned about the environment without caring about our fellow inhabitants: the animals," Fruno said.

Hiroe Tomura, a 35-year-old Tokyo restaurant manager, who tried on a cream-color $18,000 sable stole at the show Monday, said she probably wouldn't buy "ecological fur."

"But I am definitely interested in ecology," she said.

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