Macy’s has announced it will end the sale of fur across its stores, notching a major win for animal rights activists.

The US retailer joins a growing number of brands, cities and states turning away from the use of products made with animal fur. Prada, Ralph Lauren, Gucci, and Burberry have already dropped real fur.

While Macy’s is not the first US department store to end fur sales – JCPenney and Sears have already done so – the move is significant because of the company’s enormous size and reach. With sales of more than $24bn in 2018, and hundreds of stores in nearly every state, the decision will make the company the largest US retailer so far to adopt a ban.

Plans are to phase out real fur by the end of 2020’s fiscal year at Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and its discount outlets.

Earlier this month, in a pair of bills signed by the state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, California became the first US state to ban the sale and manufacture of new fur products and the third to bar most animals from use in circus performances. Los Angeles and San Francisco had banned fur sales even before Newsom signed the bills.

Macy’s chairman and chief executive officer, Jeff Gennette, said in a statement that over the past two years the company has been following consumer brand trends, listening to customers and non-governmental groups like the Humane Society of the United States.

“We are proud to partner with the Humane Society of the United States in our commitment to ending the sale of fur. We remain committed to providing great fashion and value to our customers, and we will continue to offer high-quality and fashionable faux fur alternatives,” Gennette said.

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Kitty Block, the president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, applauded Macy’s decision.

“This announcement is consistent with the views of countless consumers in the marketplace, and other retailers should follow. With so many designers, major cities and now a state taking a stand against the sale of fur, we’re that much closer to ending this unnecessary and inhumane practice,” Block said in a statement.

Animal rights advocates argue that animals whose fur is taken for products are subject to cruel treatment and inhumane actions, such as gassing and electrocution. One advocacy group, Direct Action Everywhere, is working with activists to pass similar bills in cities nationwide, including Minneapolis, Minnesota and Portland, Oregon.

But opponents in the fur industry say the bans could create a black market for animal fur and lead to arbitrary bans on other products. Keith Kaplan of the Fur Information Council previously said the ban was part of a “radical vegan agenda using fur as the first step to other bans on what we wear and eat”.

PJ Smith, the director of fashion policy at the Humane Society, said he believed the shift in the fashion industry was being driven by a younger, more socially conscious generation of consumers.

“Across the board the industry has moved away from fur. I think the consumer is really speaking up on this and we’re at a time when retailers really want to align their policies to what customers want,” Smith said.

Macy’s has approximately 680 department stores in 43 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico under the names Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s. It has approximately 190 specialty stores that include Bloomingdale’s the Outlet, Bluemercury, and Macy’s Backstage.

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