Last weekend, this almost-full-time vegetarian found her spontaneous self in Aspen, trying on fur coats - a local wardrobe staple. I did it specifically to report here how terrible it was and gross it felt. Except that it didn't - it felt criminally soft and ultra glamourous. Sick, I know.
But for all the sensory pleasure, I can't imagine purchasing ($$$$!!!) such an item while I'm also eschewing factory meat and seeking out products with "No Animal Testing" on the label. Sure, humans kill animals for all kinds of reasons - food, sport, accidents, science and product testing, clothing - but somehow, wearing a pelt is pure flaunt. Unless you are Eustace Conway, it's no longer about warmth and survival, it's straight up ego-driven body decor.
I asked the store's proprietor if the furs were crafted locally, hoping at least there might be an economic plus here. "No, none of them are," he said, "They mostly come from Canada." So much for that idea.
"What's more, in my hometown, the fur industry built Canada – for better or worse, depending whether you were a beaver, an aboriginal or the Hudson's Bay Company – and employed thousands. There was even 'the fur district,' with lofty old factory buildings filled with giant sewing machines. In the streets below, men would scurry with racks loaded with skins or finished coats. That area is dead now and … most of the companies are gone.
But still, according to the Fur Institute of Canada, the industry contributes $800 million to our GDP and employs 60,000 trappers (including 25,000 aboriginals), with another 5,000 in farming, manufacturing and sales. That's about half what it used to be …"
--Antonia Zerbisias, Living Columnist, Toronto Star
But the biggest shocker came when I asked the fur store owner if he still sold chinchilla, which is basically a chubby squirrel that hails from South America. "Sure," he said, "I just sold a chinchilla throw for $35,000."
This broke my heart in so many places, I could only gape at him. Not-so-fun fact: A single, full-length coat made from chinchilla fur may require as many as 150 pelts. This has led to the extinction of one chinchilla species, and now threatens the other two. (Though it is illegal to hunt wild chinchillas, illegal hunting continues.) Meanwhile, domestic chinchillas are being bred for their pelts only. And why? So, somebody has something nice to 'throw' on the couch.
After watching an horrific video presentation (hosted by Eva Mendes) on the PETA site, I learned that fur farming is the only sector of animal agriculture that is unregulated by the federal government. This made my blood run cold even more than watching an animal (I couldn't even tell what it was) blink into the camera after it had had its coat ripped off its body. No regulation means no regard for the animal whatsoever.
Born Free USA released a report last month, Cruelty Uncaged: A Review of Fur Farming in North America, that reviews the scientific literature, statistics and legislative oversight (what little there is) of otherwise wild animals raised for their fur in the U.S. and Canada, especially foxes, minks, lynx and bobcats. Evidently, Wisconsin has the most unregulated fur farms in the nation - more than 100, and that's an estimated guess. As the report states:
"Wisconsin is also one of a handful of states with government regulatory agencies that are apparently unaware of the lack of regulation of this industry in their state, despite the potential impacts on other agriculture and other wildlife. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources both erroneously implicate the other as having regulatory oversight of fur farms."
In other words, nobody's in charge.
Naturally, PETA has aggressively lambasted any public figure who wears fur, including actresses, models and fashion designers who include fur in their collections. (Their most recent 'Worst Dressed List' included Kate Moss, Elizabeth Hurley and Rihanna.) But their latest tactic has them in trouble with White House. PETA's newest ad - featured in DC's Metro stations, magazines and the PETA site - shows Carrie Underwood, Michelle Obama, Oprah and Tyra Banks, with the header: "Fur Free and Fabulous!"
The White House insists that PETA is using the First Lady's image without permission. Meanwhile, PETA claims that since Michelle has already publicly stated that she would not wear fur, all's fair game.
“We haven't asked the White House to fund or promote the campaign, as they can’t do such things, but the fact is that Michelle Obama has issued a statement indicating that she doesn't wear fur, and the world should know that in PETA's eyes, that makes her pretty fabulous."
--Ingrid Newkirk, PETA’s President said in a statement issued to ABC News
As for my own furry past, I have but two stories:
#1 - My grandfather put together a pioneer museum in North Dakota and one part of it was a church. (He bought it in Canada and drove it back to his farm - the only church known to serve two countries.) In the back, behind all the pews, hung three fur coats: One made of bear, one of buffalo and one, beaver. Though they have since disintegrated, I recall that they were profoundly heavy and wildly stinky. They were made out of necessity by a local trapper, sometime in the late 1800s, because it is butt ass cold in NoDak.
#2 - When I turned 16, my mother gave me two gifts that made me feel every bit the woman I was becoming: diamond stud earrings and a rabbit fur coat. For a middle class single mom, this was a big purchase. Though I rarely wore the coat, mostly due to a lack of wintry conditions in SoCal, I never got rid of it. Mostly because it reminds me how cool my mom is and how she always honors my wacky, show-off ways even though she is completely the opposite.
Maybe one day I'll take it to Aspen…and just leave it there.
The very witty Victoria Dunn (I mean, just the name alone should earn her her own talk show) blogs on vintage patterns and such over at Handmade by Mother and carries a bit of nostalgia for the fur:
"Ah, the 1960s. An innocent time when the only objection to wearing fur was that it would cost an arm and a leg. Sex Kitten Brigitte Bardot didn’t hug a baby seal until 1977, and PETA, the inventors of the naked tango, didn’t appear on the scene until 1980. So, with a clear conscience, a teenage girl could demand a fashionable fur scarf, and woe betide a Mother whose budget was smaller than her daughter’s fur fetish!"
Staunch New Yorker, Brian Dube, feels "surrounded by fur" sometimes as he writes on his superb blog, New York Daily Photo:
"Furs and the fur industry are a highly contentious matter. I recently photographed a anti-fur protest outside Max Mara in SoHo but decided not to post them on this site because the posters being displayed were so disturbingly graphic. Kaufman Furs is located at 232 West 30th Street in the heart of the fur district and is one of the larger and older furriers in the city. On their website I see a "Dare to Wear" link soliciting models - one way to handle the fur controversy at this point in time, I suppose, is by offering a challenge to models willing to brave public anti-fur outcry."
Finally, Polka Dot, who blogs over at Street Style London, settles the debate by wearing only vintage furs:
"Been thinking about what a strong response the fur issue brings out in people: it's so primitive to love the feel of fur (I could happily pet my cat all day) and yet I also feel revulsion at the thought of killing these gentle creatures for fashion. My rule of thumb is, vintage is okay because they're already dead, but faux is better."
BlogHer Contributing Editor, Animal Concerns, Proprietor, ClizBiz
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