Liberty bows to pressure over fur sales

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The Independent Online

Liberty has become the latest major retailer to bow to pressure from animal rights activists and stop selling fur.

The upmarket department store on Regent Street in central London announced its decision in an e-mail to the Campaign to Abolish the Fur Trade (Caft). It follows a protracted lobbying effort which saw hundreds of activists bombard the company with e-mails and stage a demonstration outside the store last November.

Liberty's move comes in the wake of Selfridges' decision to go fur-free in May. Other companies to have made the move include Harvey Nichols, Fenwicks, House of Fraser and Debenhams. Harrods closed its fur salon in 1990, but continues to sell garments with fur trims.

The use of furs from lynx, fox, beaver and sable to astrakhan and broadtail was one of the headline-grabbing features of the Paris and Milan catwalks this year. While some dismissed it as an indulgence of publicity-hungry couture designers, campaigners feared it could be the start of a dangerous trend. Elizabeth Jagger's appearance at London Fashion Week draped in a fox stole provoked fury from animal rights activists.

The British Fur Traders Association said its members saw growth last year of 33 per cent on trade worth up to £500m.

Caft said it was now focusing its efforts on convincing Joseph, the fashion retailer that was recently the subject of a £140m takeover by a Japanese clothing firm, to stop selling fur. The company has already been told to stop offering it at its concession in Selfridges and other department stores. No one at Joseph was available for comment yesterday.

Louise Stevenson, a spokeswoman for Caft, said Liberty's retail services manager, Richard Davis, announced the change of policy last week. His e-mail, posted on Caft's website followed an inquiry by one of the group's supporters.

Mr Davis said: "Liberty no longer sells fur and has no intention of doing so."

The group urged supporters to ring the company to applaud its decision. Those that did so were put through to a voicemail box.

Ms Stevenson said retailers who claimed the fur they sold was a by-product of the meat industry were misleading the public. Since fur farming was banned in Britain in 2003, furriers have imported pelts, largely from rabbits and mostly from China and Spain. While only 15 retailers - most of them boutique outlets - continue to offer fur products, about 400 designers still work in the material.

Ms Stevenson added: "Rabbits are killed for meat when aged between 10 and 12 weeks. At that age the fur is not deemed to be of a good enough quality. They prefer to use animals aged eight to nine months, when they have shed their first winter coats."

A spokeswoman for the British Fur Traders Association said fur remained an integral part of the fashion world and was rigorously governed by national and international laws.

"The views of animal rights organisations should not be forced on others, in particular through threats of intimidation against commercial enterprises," she said. "Unfortunately, not everyone understands the difference between animal welfare, which has the full commitment of our sector, and animal rights, which seeks to ban every animal use by man, whether for food, medical or scientific research, clothing or companionship."