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It can be tough for a non-vegan to figure out where she stands on the ethics of wearing fur. Complicating matters even further is the fact that the fur industry is a giant business that for decades has been making a concerted effort to convince young people fur is cool. Judging by the backs of many of our young friends, it’s working.

For a while, we thought fur might really be heading out of fashion for good. We still saw fur on the runways and the streets of Aspen, and Anna Wintour certainly never stopped wearing it, but the young fashion writers and bloggers we followed were having none of it. We assumed at the time that in the next five to 10 years those voices would become the establishment, and more big magazines and fashion authorities would be coming down hard on the wearing of animals.

But the ‘90s and early 2000s sentiment didn’t stick around the way we thought it would. Eventually the insiders stopped talking about it, the “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” supermodels like Naomi Campbell started wearing fur again, and the anti-fur push seemed to retreat back to the realm vegan blogs and PETA posters. Meanwhile, fur started showing up even more often on street style blogs and fashion runways. It was everywhere, and the ubiquity made it seem like fur might be OK. If Rihanna likes it, it can’t be all bad. Right?

According to the Daily Mail, 70 percent of 2014 runway shows used fur, and that’s not just a coincidence. Furriers have been supplying designers with pelts as part of a decades-long campaign to rebrand fur as fashionable after it started to pick up a whiff of being “the preserve of elderly dowagers.”

The fur industry has fought back, rebranding itself as ‘ethical’ and ‘luxurious’ with a stealthy, sustained and, some might say, deeply cynical campaign aimed at young women. If the swing in attitudes among the new generation is anything to judge by, it’s working. A 2013 YouGov poll found just 58 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds believed it wrong to use fur compared to 77 per cent of over-55s.

That’s still more than half of young people in the U.K. that think fur is unacceptable, but the swing in perspective has been enough for fur sales to skyrocket. According to the Daily Mail, the fur industry has grown 70 percent in a decade, to nearly $15 billion.

One fur company has taken to targeting the designers of the future by sponsoring an annual competition for fashion students. The company gives free fur to students, who often struggle to pay for the costs of fabric and would happily accept a pile of free supplies from anybody. It even sponsors some of the students’ collections.

“This is their way of getting their foot in the door,” said Shelly Asquith, president of the students’ union at the London College of Fashion. “It normalizes the use of fur with students who will be showing at London Fashion Week in the years to come.”

With the designers in their corner, Big Fur just needs the consumers on their side, and that turned out to be pretty easy to do. A big part of making fur seem acceptable to young people has been giving it out for free to fashionable celebrities. Rihanna, Cara Delevingne, Kate Moss, and Lily Allen are among the celebrities cited as being given free or steeply discounted furs, and we suspect many other celebrities are also receiving free coats, stoles, and other fur accessories.

Everyone has to make up their own mind about whether or not it’s OK to wear fur, including whether or not one will make exceptions for vintage fur, and how they feel about eating meat and wearing leather. It can be very complicated. But it’s important to remember when looking at Instagram photos of celebrities in fat fur jackets that there’s a big industry behind it. Your favorite celebrity could well be wearing that fur because someone gave it to her for free, specifically in the hopes that seeing her in it would make you want a fur of your own. Yours might not be chinchilla, but the furriers would still like to sell you some rabbits. Or some cats.

(Photo: Wenn)