In the loft of a warehouse in Melbourne’s Abbotsford, racks and racks of lush, puffy jackets surround a large, wooden table. On the walls, pictures of celebrities wearing these very same jackets have been printed out and stuck to the side of the room.
“That's all the Victoria's Secret babes,” Neomi Shani pointed out. “Jennifer Lawrence, Becky Judd, our number one fan, she loves us!” The list goes on – Dannii Minogue is there, “Miley Cyrus is here somewhere.”
None of the garments in the pictures or in the room, or, for that matter, in the building, have any animal products in them. This is Unreal Fur, which is leading its own self-described fauxvolution.
Founded by Gilat Shani in 2011, the brand knows the fur industry inside out.
“When we started Unreal fur we already had quite a lot of experience designing and making faux fur for other brands like Country Road or Witchery or Sportsgirl and we worked with a small factory that used to do real fur, so they had all the techniques.”
Using synthetic yarn from Japan and Korea, the resulting garments feel identical to animal fur. The focus on getting the feel right comes from the initial reticence of retailers, buyers and stockists to the idea of faux fur.
“People associated it with cheap and nasty products,” highlighted Gilat.
While the brand may have gotten the look and feel of faux fur down, they didn’t stop there, as Gilat noted: “We always ensure that in each collection some of the furs come to replace the real thing, they look real, and there's always fun ones for people that don't want to look like they're associated with it.”
This sense of fun has led to campaigns such as the Furry Tales AW17 collection and collaborations with other, like minded brands such as Sans Beast, which embrace the nature of the product and the attitude of its founder.
“I like the fun element of fashion. I think even when we have to dress for comfort and utility it should be taken light heartedly and you should have fun,” expressed Gilat.
As fur was previously confined to a limited number of consumers, and associated with conservative styles, the focus on fun overcame a quizzical customer base.
“Some [clients] said our customers are not exactly the lady who goes to the opera on a Saturday night,” recalled Gilat. “I said we're not catering for her; wear it over your denim and sneakers, wear it over your shorts, wear it over anything.”
This suggestion has been taken up around the world, and Unreal Fur is now stocked in major department stores and online retailers in Australia and the United States. This success has been part of a broader shift in the fashion industry to cruelty free alternatives and sustainable fabrics. Although fur is sometimes seen as a byproduct of the meat industry, Gilat countered that that is not the case.
“The worst part of the fur trade is for a lot of the most beautiful furs the animals are skinned alive so they'll be fluffy and puffy.”
The process of constructing a garment for Unreal Fur begins with Gilat, who is unusually open to inspiration, as Neomi described.
“Gilat will go for a walk and pick up some random leaf that's a bit ombré and she's like ‘Yeah, this is going to be my next jacket’ and the next thing you know she's managed to make a fur exactly the same colour.”
Working from the fabric, Gilat will then construct the garment while following the techniques of traditional fur designers.
“Because it's a three dimensional fabric and I say it every time there's a new young designer joining us, you can't actually just do it on the screen because it's so untrue, so we need actually to work from the product.”
In this process, the design team are constantly searching for ways to improve the fabric. Recently, Unreal Fur have been experimenting with fur made from hemp mixed with Polyethylene terephthalate, made from recycled water bottles. This means the product is not only cruelty free, but increasingly sustainable.
While younger consumers are ready to embrace these alternatives, Gilat knows that for the stalwarts of the fashion industry, change has to come in other ways.
Sitting in the dentist’s chair one morning, Gilat found that the previous client was Allanah Hill. The dentist told her that Hill had to leave quickly, as demonstrators were waiting outside the clinic, protesting the eponymous brand’s use of animal fur.
“They already took it from the stores out of the stores this morning because they barricaded her house first,” recalled Gilat, who had been trying to get Hill to change to faux fur. “When I got back from the dentist I said to our sales manager, ‘Just give them a call.’ They said, ‘Can you come now?’
With a wink, Gilat smiles, “I always say you will get a lot more cuddles wearing it.”
Unreal Fur’s collection can be found here: https://unrealfur.com.au/collections