Real fur: Dressed to kill

Revealed: UK fur imports at record levels, 'IoS' investigation shows<br/>Top designers and celebrities defy the anti-cruelty lobby
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Record numbers of Britons are buying real fur, overturning decades of campaigning by activists who say substitutes should be worn instead.

Sales of fur clothing have hit £500m for the first time, up 30 per cent on two years ago, with £40m of new fur products being imported every year.

To the fury of the anti-cruelty lobby, the championing of real fur by supermodels and top designers is sending sales soaring, with, say protesters, young animals being clubbed and shot by hunters as a result.

The fashion designer Stella McCartney last night told The Independent on Sunday: "The continuing use of fur is a real problem in the fashion industry, and there is an issue with people assuming that fur trim is fake when most of it is real."

More than a decade after top models posed in placards with "I'd rather go naked than wear fur", new figures show that sales of fur have risen by 30 per cent in the past two years.

Figures compiled for the IoS by HM Customs and Revenue show that almost one million tons of fur are being imported each year - and that the global market for fur has hit almost £7bn.

Fendi, the luxury retailer, has led the move to "rebrand" fur, selling products using dyed and shaved fur to make it look more appealing. Other top stores have followed suit, with designers such as Julien Macdonald, Jean-Paul Gaultier, John Galliano and Alexander McQueen staging shows with models in real fur.

The British Fur Traders Association said that sales of fur have risen by a third in two years, while Hockley, a London furrier, is reporting a 45 per cent rise in business. Concern over the comeback of fur in the UK is so great that the RSPCA is preparing to mount a major new anti-fur campaign early next year.

The World Society for the Protection of Animals blamed the fashion industry for fuelling the rise, saying catwalk shows were making fur seem acceptable to the public. "Fur-bearing animals are forced to endure life in cruel cages and are... slammed against concrete floors and skinned alive," said a spokesman for the charity.

Such is the scale of alarm at the rise in fur use that the Government is moving to ban all imports of harp and hooded seal products into the UK.

This has been prompted by a sharp increase in the past year in the amount of seal skins imported into Britain. Official Customs figures show that the amount of seal pelt imports rose from 3.6 tons in 2004 to 4.1 tons last year. In 2004, the UK imported almost a third of the value of all Canadian seal skins into the EU. Protests continue over the Canadian seal hunt, where hundreds of thousands of animals are clubbed or shot each year. Campaigners claim that some seals are still alive when they are skinned.