Fashion For Felines: New Bio-Based Fur Created to Reduce Killing of Wild Leopards in Southern Africa

Sewing synthetic leopard fur
Tristan Dickerson/Panthera

Panthera Media Contact: Susie Weller Sheppard,, 347-446-9904
ECOPEL Media Contact: Arnaud Brunois,, +33 6 10 32 89 85

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Panthera and ECOPEL unite conservation world and fashion industry to replace use of authentic leopard furs in religious ceremonies

New York, NY - Seeking to reduce the killing of wild leopards in southern Africa, Panthera and ECOPEL have joined forces to create a new collection of high-quality, bio-based “Heritage Furs” that will replace authentic leopard furs worn during cultural and religious ceremonies in southern Africa. Merging the worlds of sustainable fashion and conservation, the latest garments will incorporate KOBA, the first-ever bio-based fur textile, to decrease the energy required, emissions produced and environmental impact of the product.

The global leader in wild cat conservation exclusively dedicated to protecting the 40 species of wild cat and their vast landscapes, Panthera conducts leopard conservation initiatives across 13 countries around the world. ECOPEL serves as the prime international faux fur textile and apparel manufacturer for over 300 premier fashion brands.

A decade ago, with leopard populations under pressure, Panthera scientists discovered that while fewer than 5,000 leopards existed in South Africa, at least 800 leopards were being killed annually for their fur in the country. Panthera’s researchers further documented as many as 15,000 illegal leopard furs being worn during religious gatherings in southern Africa, with those donning furs believed to take on the leopard’s strength.

Panthera’s Furs for Life Leopard Program (FFL) has since worked with digital designers to create an alternative “Heritage Fur,” supplying over 18,500 synthetic leopard fur capes or amambatha to the Nazareth Baptist Church eBuhleni (Shembe Church) for use in religious gatherings. Supported by Cartier For Nature Philanthropy, the Royal Commission for AlUla, and Peace Parks Foundation, the program has already led to a 50 percent reduction in authentic leopard fur use. This, in turn, prevented thousands of leopard deaths, with some wild leopard populations stabilizing or in fact increasing in the region, all the while promoting a culturally-sensitive conservation solution supported by Shembe leaders.

Building upon the program’s success to date, the new Panthera-ECOPEL alliance will now provide the Shembe community with at least 600 meters of a KOBA-blend textile for the creation of 1,200 amambatha. Marketed as a higher-end, luxury garment for Shembe followers and leaders, the latest Heritage Furs will be created by tailoring enterprises in South Africa to ensure that the Shembe community directly benefits from both employment opportunities and profits from future Heritage Fur sales.

Developed in collaboration with renowned vegan fashion designer Stella McCartney, KOBA debuted at her 2020 Paris Fashion Week show. It serves as Ecopel’s greatest sustainability initiative towards meeting the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) target of reducing 43% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

KOBA fur integrates up to 40% of Sorona, a corn-based fiber (37%) that offers a soft, versatile and long-lasting alternative to illicitly-sourced leopard fur and fossil fuel-based materials. Compared to nylon, KOBA production requires 30% less energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 63%. The KOBA Heritage Fur additionally utilizes Oeko-Tex certified fibers, which have tested harmless to human health, that are produced through ECOPEL’s Global Recycle Standard (GRS) certified facility.

Panthera Leopard Program Director Dr. Gareth Mann stated, “As an organization dedicated to protection of some of our planet’s most magnificent wildlife and wild lands, Panthera seeks to create strategic partnerships that provide the most sustainable conservation solutions. ECOPEL has been at the forefront of developing pioneering products that do not harm wildlife and are kind to the environment. At the intersection of conservation and luxury fashion, this collaboration demonstrates the vast possibilities that exist for bettering our planet when innovation and cross-industry alliances are embraced.”

Now considered a status symbol of modernity and ethical responsibility, faux furs are gaining popularity in luxury fashion. Beginning with its Fall 2022 collections, global luxury group Kering banned the use of fur by all of its brands, including Gucci and Balenciaga, as celebrities also increasingly contribute their voice to the movement.

ECOPEL Sustainability Manager Arnaud Brunois-Gavard stated, “The world of luxury has always been inspired by the coats of wild animals and particularly the timeless and beautiful fur of the leopard. Creating garments in their likeness is one way of showing our awe and gratitude for the planet’s wildlife.”

Brunois-Gavard continued, “In honor of the leopard, we are thrilled to help advance the Furs for Life program and join this tremendous movement of solidarity for the future of the species. This collaboration is a win-win-win that conserves leopards, reduces the environmental footprint of the initiative, and ensures that local communities can celebrate meaningful traditions.”

While the species’ fur is ubiquitous from store windows in Beijing to the sidewalks of New York City, leopards in the wild are highly threatened. Along with direct killing for their fur, leopards are persecuted across their dwindling range due to conflict with communities over livestock and bushmeat poaching.

In 2019, Panthera expanded the Furs For Life program by launching Saving Spots, another culturally sensitive conservation partnership developed with the Barotse Royal Establishment of the Lozi people of western Zambia. At a recent gathering, almost 70 percent of participants wore synthetic Heritage Furs, replacing authentic leopard, serval and lion furs and helping reduce illicit wild cat hunting across southern Africa.

Alongside the Furs for Life and Saving Spots initiatives, Panthera’s LeopardSpotted campaign aims to raise $20 million for leopard conservation around the globe. It also encourages the use of the #leopardspotted tag for social media posts featuring leopard print fashion to help bring awareness to the plight of this charismatic yet greatly imperiled big cat.

About Panthera
Panthera, founded in 2006, is devoted exclusively to preserving wild cats and their critical role in the world’s ecosystems. Panthera’s team of leading biologists, law enforcement experts, and wild cat advocates develop innovative strategies based on the best available science to protect cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, lions, pumas, snow leopards, tigers, and the 33 small cat species and their vast landscapes. In 39 countries around the world, Panthera works with a wide variety of stakeholders to reduce or eliminate the most pressing threats to wild cats—securing their future, and ours.

ECOPEL is a global faux fur textile and apparel manufacturer that straddles from fabric to garments with a vertically integrated supply chain and sales offices servicing markets all around the world. Working with more than 300 fashion brands, ECOPEL is committed to create lower-impact faux furs and champions the use of recycled and bio-based materials. Visit