Opinions Please: Fur, Plastic, and Sheepskin

Albany Institute, 1875-85

Darlings, how do we feel about fur?

How do we feel about faux fur?

And how do we feel about sheepskin?

The reason I ask is because I’ve been presented with a dilemma.

As many of you know, we’re working on some Victorian carriage boots for this Winter. They’re going to be splendid and quite fun, in black velvet, with ribbon ties, and….some kind of fuzzy something.


A little while back I polled you ladies on real fur vs. fake fur, and the majority voted for fake fur, but then a couple things happened.

The Problem With Faux Fur
When I started trying to source some nice faux fur, I learned all kinds of nasty things about the stuff. Faux fur is plastic…and plastic is made from oil. It’s a material that is detrimental to the environment, comes from a non-renewable resource, and never biodegrades. It’s also not very nice quality. I don’t know how you feel about that, but it doesn’t make me very excited to use it.

The Problem With Real Fur
Real fur is also a problem. Most of you weren’t for it, and as the fur we would have access to in large quantity would not be vintage, and couldn’t be confirmed to be ethically sourced, I’m not cool with it either.

But what about sheepskin?
Sheepskin, specifically “mouton,” is a food industry bi-product, and I like that as much of the animal is being used as possible, rather than just being thrown away. The mouton “fur” is soft, but also durable, and comes from a renewable and highly regulated resource. It’s similar to sheared beaver, with a short, thick pile, and looks and feels quite wonderful.  I think this could be a really nice compromise between the earth-ravaging plastic faux fur, and unethical fashion animal fur.

FurSource.com – natural mouton sheepskin

But most importantly, what do YOU think? We want to create the best product we can, something historically accurate, elegant, but also ethical. So do let us know:


  • Solitaire

    June 10, 2014 at 1:16 AM

    Let me throw out another alternative. Many years ago, I took a couple of classes with fiber artist Candace Kling. She showed us how to make fake Persian lamb out of velvet/velveteen, using irregular gathers on the fabric. Multiple hand needles are run at the same time both lengthwise and crosswise on the fabric. Might be a little labor intensive for what you do, but it would also create a cruelty free boot. I'm not particularly interested in owning a pair, but I would think that the mouton would be the most sensible version, if one had to do fur. People already eat lamb. I don't like the idea of farmed fur, but trapped fur isn't much better.

    • Lauren Stowell

      June 10, 2014 at 2:26 AM

      That's really cool! I think you could get faux astrakhan, but it's made with the same plastic fibers as the faux fur. Doing the velvet fabric manipulation sounds really cool, but I don't think we could get it, or get it done, in high enough quantity for an affordable price. Worth checking it out, though!

  • Talia Felix

    June 10, 2014 at 1:21 AM

    I have found good-quality fake fur here and there, that can really pass for genuine, when doing costuming, but it's rare to come across (and I don't recall how affordable it was… I tend to buy from unusual sources where it's hard to know what a real price would be anyway.) Personally I am not bothered at all by real fur, anymore than I'm bothered by real leather.

    • Lauren Stowell

      June 10, 2014 at 2:28 AM

      I've seen really lovely faux fur too, but it's still made from oil, and rather earth-unfriendly factories. :- . The other issue we had when sampling the boots with the faux fur is after all the handling when putting the shoes together, the fur wasn't so nice anymore. It was beautiful when it started as yardage, but ended up looking cheap and nasty.

  • Anonymous

    June 10, 2014 at 1:28 AM

    I think sheepskin is a good compromise. It's relatively inexpensive for fur and the lanolin content makes it very easy to keep clean– an important property for shoes! It also has a high pile, so less can be used while maintaining a fuller look. Rabbit fur looks very nasty dirty, so I don't like using it where it might get wet and ratty, plus it takes more rabbits than sheep to make the same number of shoes. Sheepskin holds up much better. I agree with your faux fur observations, though. I live in an area where there are lots of oil wells and refineries. It's not very pleasant and it pollutes. 🙁

    • Lauren Stowell

      June 10, 2014 at 2:28 AM

      I agree about the durability and cleanliness of mouton. Some of the antique carriage boots I have use real fur but it's so dirty and old that is looks and feels like cheap, nasty faux fur!

  • Anonymous

    June 10, 2014 at 2:03 AM

    Real fur creeps me out – something about the skin beneath the fur, I get weirdly panicky that it hasn't been fully preserved. Lady at the opera in your mink coat, I keep imagining maggots crawling on you because your coat is festering. So for this reason, I do not buy fur, even vintage. (No problem with leather, suede, even sheepskin. Bring on the Uggs, if they weren't so ugly. It's just fur.) And i don't buy fake fur because it generally feels really awful and I can't afford the expensive fashion houses that can use the better stuff.

    So, if sourcing the good fake has proved not a viable option, and considering everything you make is leather, anyway (at least in the soles), I think the "don't kill things" ship sailed at the beginning. Use what makes fiscal sense, for everyone – whatever will hold up best for the wearer as well as make production costs reasonable for you. Mouton may be best that way, and you'll probably have me as a buyer. If rabbit turns out best on those scores, then you need to do that.

    • Lauren Stowell

      June 10, 2014 at 2:40 AM

      Well that is genuinely creepy!

      But yes, we do make everything out of leather already – uppers, linings, and soles, and it's all already food-industry bi-product materials. The mouton is winning the vote, and I feel alright about its use, so we will probably go in that direction. It's a lovely material, feel-wise.

  • Mel

    June 10, 2014 at 2:16 AM

    I think the other problem with real fur is that some countries may not let it be shipped in. However most people are accustomed to sheepskin. Especially in Australia, we all by sheepskin uggboots. And at least sheepskin is still a natural product. The synthetic ones can be rather nasty smelling if they get sweaty. They also don't really hold up the pile overly well over time.

  • Anonymous

    June 10, 2014 at 2:42 AM

    I say use real fur (humanely farmed). Unless you can find an eco friendly alternative. As for any type of wool count me out- I am allergic to wool.
    I think it is better to go with a more eco friendly approach. I have often wondered about what faux fur was made of. I made have to look into it more.

    • Lauren Stowell

      June 10, 2014 at 2:43 AM

      You should definitely look into all of these things more – everybody should – because it's eye-opening! I was shocked when I started researching faux fur, and it seems like that is WAY worse for the earth (current and future) than using all the bits of food animals that we can.

  • Kathleen Crowley

    June 10, 2014 at 4:22 AM

    Use fur. Its better for the environment all the way around. Your shoes will last longer also and eventually decay back to the environment. There are some amazing fake furs out there if you want to pay an arm and a leg – but yes, they are plastic. And China does not care at all what the devastation to the environment that making plastic products causes.

    • Lauren Stowell

      June 10, 2014 at 7:07 AM

      Yes, exactly. I'm not for faux fur. The stuff amazes me – it's made from oil, like all our plastics, and is directly linked to the price of oil, too, which is why it's so expensive. It's also detrimental in the manufacturing process.

    • Lauren Stowell

      June 10, 2014 at 7:05 AM

      I like real fur too, so long as it's an ethically source food bi-product, but that's *really* hard to pin down in a supply situation, and there's also the social issues to deal with. I don't want to piss anyone off, and I don't want to aid in the destruction of the environment either, so I think mouton is the best choice (so does 75% of the vote so far, too)

  • bauhausfrau

    June 10, 2014 at 5:27 AM

    I vote for rabbit or mouton. Synthetic fur's quality is getting better, but aside from the other objections you mentioned I'm guessing the really high end stuff is beyond the price point you need for these. And if the fur looks cheap they won't sell well.

    • Lauren Stowell

      June 10, 2014 at 7:10 AM

      Yes, very much so. The price of faux fur is linked to the price of oil, which makes it very expensive. After sampling a boot with the faux, I was really disappointed in how the fur looked and felt, after being handled and worked so much. Blah, it was nasty. I just can't imagine asking anyone to pay what we'll need to charge for the boots when they are using crappy plastic fur. At the same time, I don't want anyone to be upset about farmed fur. I was happy to find the mouton, which seems to be a rather nice compromise, and so far the results of the vote agree – about 75% is for mouton.

  • Ana

    June 10, 2014 at 8:27 AM

    The comments creep me out… It's hard to believe that in the 80's, real fur was not done.
    Now? Everyone seems to forget how cruel it is. Killing a living being just to make your shoes look pretty or preserve some plastic (serious? that's more important than not killing an animal just for its fur?)
    No. Just no.
    If fake fur is not an option for you, just don't make boots with fur. It's that simple.

  • Snowma

    June 10, 2014 at 8:52 AM

    I vote for either real fur or mouton, more in favor of the mouton because of its source. An animal used responsibly and put to use in a well made product that will last for years (like yours!) is so much more ethical than a synthetic material that pollutes the earth and lasts a fraction of the time. I really support your stance on petroleum based faux being harmful to the planet. Also, I'm practical and would want to wear this type of winter shoe…well…in the winter, when its cold. I think Its important to remember fur was/is used for a reason – to keep warm. I view your line as a functional shoe line just as much as a "dress up" shoe line.

    I haven't indulged in Victorian costuming yet but I do dress in 40s and 30s style and am excited to see how this style resembles the rare fur trimmed winter boot from these decades!

  • Lisen Elisabeth

    June 10, 2014 at 10:49 AM

    I voted for sheep and thats because I would rather wear real fur (I love rabbitsfur) but as you put it I would not be wearing anything wich I know had been threated badly. ( I don't buy real fur/leaterstuff from brand I don't know well either). And I dislike the fauxfur very much it does not look good and it's almost never good for nature either so sheeps sounded to me like the best opition, or other fur if the fur is a ethically biproduct.

  • Johanna

    June 10, 2014 at 11:42 AM

    I am not going to vote in the poll, since I don't see myself buying the boots in the end, but after your explanation I would definitely prefer sheepskin to the other alternatives.

  • phaedra96

    June 10, 2014 at 12:05 PM

    I vote for the mouton, As a knitter; I use wool and wool blends because I love the feel and ease of it. I LOVE these boots and will save up to have them!!

  • vintagevisions27

    June 10, 2014 at 1:41 PM

    Real fur would be the most historically actuate but I think sheepskin is a good compromise. Some fake furs are nicer in quality then others but I still wont buy it because of the nasty stuff it's made from. I'd rather have vintage fur for a number of reasons. Obviously for a large run of these boots vintage most likely is not an option. So yes, go with the sheepskin if possible.

  • Scene in the Past

    June 10, 2014 at 2:01 PM

    Mouton is a great idea. I do appreciate the difficulty in finding a consistent source for real fur; and while I'm picky about faux fur, I hadn't thought about what happens to it with wear and after so much processing. You're right, even the nicest stuff would look awful! I have a vintage mouton coat that it AMAZING. It's durable and would be very practical on the boots, too. I'm not sure I'll get them right away; I have so very few cold-weather events in Texas! But they're lovely. 🙂

  • Helen

    June 10, 2014 at 2:03 PM

    I agree with the general consensus, but would add that real fur or mouton would be most useful for folks reenacting in a camp setting or anywhere with a fire or brazier. Anything petroleum based can melt when exposed to a fire, causing severe burns. Always a bad idea in a reproduction shoe. Having shoes we can trust is a great thing!

  • Abigail

    June 10, 2014 at 2:20 PM

    Just to comment on the real rabbit fur, it very well could be a food by-product, as the mouton is, especially if farmed. People do eat rabbit, and I know of a rabbit farm which sells the meat in my area.

  • Material Magician

    June 10, 2014 at 3:20 PM

    I sew sheep skin slippers. The owners often complain that the good stuff goes to China. So be aware that sourcing can be an issue. Other than that, I love the boots and can hardly wait to get a pair.

  • Abigael

    June 10, 2014 at 4:10 PM

    I love the idea of using real fur. Fur farming in certain countries is extremely ethical – once you get past the "killing the animal" concept, which has already been dealt with if you are wearing leather shoes in the first place. However, in other countries, fur farms are horrific operations. If you can't determine where your fur comes from, and the ethics of the farms you are able to source from, I would vote no-fur.

    Mouton is an awesome alternative, however, would it be prone to felting and getting ratty over time? Are there ways to care for it that would maintain the curly, non-felted quality of new sheepskin? That would be my first consideration when thinking about buying these boots.

  • Unknown

    June 10, 2014 at 9:08 PM

    I'm a vegetarian, but not a vegan, but I wear leather and so I don't really have a problem with the Mouton. For some reason rabbit fur freaks me out though, I would use real fur on a costume, but only if I bought it at a thrift store.

  • Leslie Carroll

    June 11, 2014 at 2:30 AM

    Rabbit fur freaks me out, too (I've slept with a toy bunny since I was 3 months old, and won't eat rabbit when it's on a menu, even though I eat other meat without compunction (ok: guilty twinge about veal). Real fur would probably be the most luxe, but also the most expensive and comes with ethical issues, even if/when farmed "ethically." I don't like faux fur. I don't like the texture, it cheapens the look and feel of a product, and (tongue firmly in cheek) I think of all the poor stuffed animals that gave their lives so that people could look like they are wearing actual dead animals. Historical accuracy is important to me, and so is elegance: so my vote is for Mouton.

  • Unknown

    June 12, 2014 at 1:46 PM

    My preference is rabbit fur, then sheep skin or other traceable fur bi-product, however I think I would be just as happy with a silk velvet which I would always prefer over faux fur.

  • Kiyotea

    June 16, 2014 at 12:13 AM

    I agree with others on the mouton. I think it's a good alternative to the faux and the rabbit fur as both ethical and eco-friendly. I'd love a pair or real rabbit fur boots but I'm worried about the ethics. As such, I'd go with the mouton.
    If I knew how to work with shoes, I would totally find some vintage fur and take the boot apart to switch it out, but I'm sure as heck not going to risk ruining a perfectly lovely boot, haha.

  • The Dreaded Seamstress

    June 19, 2014 at 1:23 AM

    I vote sheepskin as well. If you can't be sure of humane fur, and faux-fur is too environmentally unfriendly to have a clear conscience about, then sheepskin seems the middle path.

  • Unknown

    June 22, 2014 at 3:55 AM

    I vote for the mouton: historically accurate and more stable. No one mentioned the fact that rabbit fur is NOTORIOUS FOR SHEDDING/SLIPPING IN A FEW YEARS!!! I'm in my 60's and grew up w/rabbit fur kid's coats and rabbit trim for collars/cuffs. Lovely, soft, cuddly stuff…that starts shedding it's hairs after about 3-5 years as I remember. Have also seen the same problem crop up in a pair of Hubby's rabbit lined dress gloves. So unless a person likes balding trim or is able to replace it as needed, rabbit fur is a very poor choice. Well, in my opinion from past experience.

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