Animals are not ours to wear, walk on or carry our possessions in.

PETA campaign

Animals are not ours to wear, walk on or carry our possessions in. Before animal skins reach store shelves, animals live a life of misery, pain, boredom and fear, and many are skinned alive.

On fur farms, inquisitive and normally free-roaming animals such as foxes, minks and chinchillas spend their entire lives confined to tiny, filthy wire cages. They are denied the opportunity to engage in natural behaviours such as climbing, burrowing and swimming, and many go insane. When they are killed, animals are often gassed, anally or genitally electrocuted, or poisoned with strychnine, or their necks are snapped. These methods are not always effective: some animals wake up while the skin is being torn off their bodies.

Leather is just as cruel as fur. Every year, more than 1 billion animals are slaughtered in the global leather industry, which pulls in £600 million per year in Great Britain alone. In the UK, these animals are most commonly cows. Leather from Asian countries such as India and China often comes from animals whose throats were cut and whose skin was ripped off while they were still conscious.

But it's not just cows who suffer for the leather and fashion industries. The exotic-skins industry claims the lives of millions of snakes, alligators, seals, zebras and other beautiful animals, whose skins are regularly found on catwalks and celebrities' bodies. Other skins come from more familiar faces. An estimated 2 million cats and dogs are killed in China every year, and hundreds of thousands of cats' and dogs' skins are traded in Europe.

Thirty per cent of the world's wool comes from Australia, where sheep farmers mutilate millions of lambs in a cruel procedure known as mulesing. This mutilation is a misguided attempt to prevent flystrike, even though humane alternatives exist.

Why skinned animals alive

Killing tactics deemed brutal by PETA are also in concern. Many fur farms allegedly skin animals alive to keep the pelts intact from damage that could occur while killing them. To avoid bullet holes, tears or slits from a knife, fur farmers can use methods such as beating the animal, electrocuting them, using poison to paralyse them, or breaking their necks. Although these methods ensure an undamaged pelt, they are sometimes not enough to confirm the death of the animal, leaving the creature to be skinned alive.

Animal rights campaigners protest as fur comes back into fashion

There is a popular uniform for many of those attending the present round of fashion shows in the world's hippest cities – skinny jeans, trainers and a fur coat. Big-name design houses including Dolce & Gabbana, Alexander McQueen, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Tom Ford have been pushing fur on the catwalks, and the fur coat for the male market is a major new trend for next winter.

This month the biggest auction of furs ever seen in the industry will take place in Helsinki, when dealers and designers will be vying for 11 million mink pelts, two million fox and one million assorted wild animal furs. Prices are expected to reach record levels.

Mark Oaten, chief executive of the International Fur Trade Federation, says that demand for fur is so huge that the industry is suffering a desperate skills shortage. According to Oaten, a younger generation has discovered fur, while recent technological advances mean that the industry can do far more with fur in terms of mixing it with other fabrics, thinning it and dyeing it.

"The traditional fur was grandma's fur coat, which was a one-off luxury buy that you bought and treasured all your life," he said. "But five or six years ago technology moved on and allowed designers to use fur in fashion, allowing it to be used in a million ways. It can be affordable and there is a whole new generation to fall in love with fur."

The renaissance of fur poses a major challenge to anti-fur campaigners such as Meg Mathews, who is now leading the latest effort by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) to persuade people to stop wearing furs.

Mathews was behind last week's decision by the nightclub Mahiki, frequented by London's young rich, to announce that it would no longer admit anyone wearing fur. She spent last Thursday evening at the Mayfair venue's front door, handing out "no fur" badges to customers. "The idea of wearing an animal's fur has always made me feel sick," she said. "You only have to see the videos of skinned animals lying in a heap, still breathing and lifting their heads, to understand that stealing an animal's skin for the sake of vanity is wrong.

Leather industry - PETA

In the U.S., many of the millions of cows and other animals who are killed for their skin endure the horrors of factory farming—extreme crowding and deprivation as well as castration, branding, tail-docking, and dehorning—all without any painkillers.

Leather is also no friend of the environment, as it shares responsibility for all the environmental destruction caused by the meat industry as well as the pollution caused by the toxins used in tanning.

What Is It About an Elephant's Tusks That Make Them So Valuable?

In a beautiful and brutal report, New York Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman describes the carnage, both animal and human, in harrowing detail. Last year, he writes, "broke the record for the amount of illegal ivory seized worldwide, at 38.8 tons (equaling the tusks from more than 4,000 dead elephants). Law enforcement officials say the sharp increase in large seizures is a clear sign that organized crime has slipped into the ivory underworld, because only a well-oiled criminal machine -- with the help of corrupt officials -- could move hundreds of pounds of tusks thousands of miles across the globe, often using specially made shipping containers with secret compartments." (Although there are many sources of ivory such as walruses, rhinoceros, and narwhals, elephant ivory has always been the most highly sought because of its particular texture, softness, and its lack of a tough outer coating of enamel.)

Wool industry - PETA

Shearers are usually paid by volume, not by the hour, which encourages fast work without any regard for the welfare of the sheep. This hasty and careless shearing leads to frequent injuries, and workers use a needle and thread to sew the worst wounds shutwithout any pain relief. Strips of skin—and even teats, tails, and ears—are often cut or ripped off during shearing.

Within weeks of birth, lambs’ ears are hole-punched, their tails are chopped off, and the males are castrated without any painkillers. Male lambs are castrated when they are between 2 and 8 weeks old, either by making an incision and cutting their testicles out or with a rubber ring used to cut off blood supply—one of the most painful methods of castration possible. When the lambs’ testicles don’t fall off as expected, shearers often just cut off them with clippers. Every year, hundreds of lambs die before the age of 8 weeks from exposure or starvation, and mature sheep die every year from disease, lack of shelter, and neglect.

Sustainable & cruelty-free materials

There are many plant-based, sustainable, and renewable fabrics available, including hemp, cotton, bamboo, and linen. Designers such as Polo Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Kenneth Cole, Tommy Hilfiger, and Stella McCartney don’t use fur in their collections, and stores such as J.Crew, Gap Inc., Express, and Ann Taylor do not sell fur items.

There are many alternatives to leather, including cotton, linen, rubber, ramie, canvas, and synthetics. Chlorenol (called “Hydrolite” by Avia and “Durabuck” by Nike) is perforated for breathability and is used in athletic and hiking shoes. It stretches around the foot with the same “give” as leather, gives good support, and is machine-washable. Designers such as Liz Claiborne, Capezio, Sam & Libby, Steve Madden, and Nike offer an array of nonleather handbags, wallets, and shoes.

People with allergies to wool have been using cotton, cotton flannel, polyester fleece, Tencel, synthetic shearling, and other cruelty-free fibers for years. Buy clothing from retailers, including H&M, Abercrombie & Fitch, Timberland, Perry Ellis, and Limited Brands, that have pledged not to sell Australian merino wool products until the worst abuse—mulesing (live flaying) and live exports—have ended.