The Humane Society of the United States said it purchased coats from reputable outlets, such as upscale Nordstrom, with designer labels — Andrew Marc and Tommy Hilfiger, for example — and found them trimmed with fur from domestic dogs, even though the fur was advertised as fake.
The finding led to some retailers scrambling to pull the coats from shelves, take them off websites and even offer refunds to consumers.
“It’s an industry-wide deception,” said Kristin Leppert, the head of the Humane Society’s anti-fur campaign.
The investigation began after the society got a tip from a consumer who bought a coat with trim labelled as faux fur that felt real. Ms Leppert and her team began buying coats from popular retailers and then had the coats tested by mass spectrometry, which measures the mass and sequence of proteins, to determine what species of animal the fur came from.
Of the 25 coats tested, 24 were mislabelled or misadvertised.
Three coats — from Mr Hilfiger’s website ShopTommy.com, Nordstrom.com and a coat from Andrew Marc’s MARC New York line sold on Bluefly.com — contained fur from domesticated dogs.
The others had fur from raccoon dogs — a canine species native to Asia — or, in one case, wolves. The single correctly labelled coat was trimmed with coyote fur, but it was advertised as fake.
Most of the fur came from China.
In response to the Humane Society’s investigation, Mr Hilfiger stopped selling the fur-trimmed garment and said it was looking into the matter. “We were quite concerned to hear of this finding,” said spokeswoman Wendi Kopsick.
Nordstrom called the 62 consumers who had purchased vests with dog fur trim to give them the opportunity to return the vests “because we would never want to deceive our customers in any way,” Nordstrom spokeswoman Brooke White said.
Raccoon dogs look like oversized, fluffy raccoons and aren’t kept as pets. Importing their fur is not illegal, but activists argue they are still a type of dog.
“This is an animal that is routinely killed by stomping them, or beating them, or skinning them alive,” Michael Markarian, of the Humane Society, said.
Video produced by Swiss Animal Protection and posted on the internet shows raccoon dogs clubbed or slammed on the ground and some writhing, gasping and blinking as they are skinned alive.
Burlington Coat Factory also pulled some coats with mislabelled fur from their shelves. Rap artist Sean “Diddy” Combs stopped producing and selling coats from his Sean John line that had raccoon dog fur, and rapper Jay-Z pulled coats with raccoon dog from his Rocawear label.
Other retailers, the Humane Society said, that sold mislabelled raccoon dog fur included Lord & Taylor, BergdorfGoodman.com and Neiman Marcus.com.
Designers whose clothes were mismarked included Donna Karan’s DKNY and Michael Kors.