The fur biz, like the ivory biz, is forgotten but hardly gone. Not too many Americans wear fur or buy ivory anymore–or beam at the photo of the hunter Melissa Bachman posing with her murdered lion. The problem is the bloodshed has gone overseas.
Thanks to the newly wealthy in China, Russia and other countries, the price of a mink pelt doubled in the last five years and the fur market is booming overseas. Yes, like ivory. “The Chinese consumer just loves the American mink,” Michael Whelan, the executive director of Fur Commission U.S.A., told the New York Times.
Animal lovers in the US and much of Europe have succeeded in dethroning fur and casting it as a cruel and unnecessary fashion banality. Last month, a first-of-its-kind fur ban went into effect in West Hollywood which is expected to make the premier shopping destination “the Humane Capital of the United States.” In the UK, the upscale store Selfridges refuses to carry fur and fur farming has been illegal since 2000 in England and Wales because of its cruelty. This week in Geneva, the World Trade Organization ruled that even though aspects of an EU ban on imported seal products contradict fair trade, they can be justified on “public moral concerns” for animal welfare. Some of the well-known fashion names selling seal fur are Prada and Dolce & Gabbana, says the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
Anyone with a computer has probably seen gory videos of fur “harvesting” by now. Animals are skinned and boiled alive to preserve the “beauty” of their skins. But long before viral videos, the late news anchor Peter Jennings demonstrated the cruel efficiency of the steel jaw trap, used to catch fur-bearing animals, on network TV. And in 1974, almost forty years ago, Mary Tyler Moore, Doris Day, Angie Dickinson, Amanda Blake and Jayne Meadows posed in a glossy magazine ad whose headline was “Five Women Who Can Easily Afford Any Fur Coat in the World Tell Why They’re Proudly Wearing Fakes.”
The changes in the US’s attitude toward fur can be seen in Fur Free Friday parades which have wended their way through throngs of Black Friday shoppers for 25 years. When it began, Fur Free Friday was the one day the tables were turned in luxury shopping districts and women in full length minks and lynxes were not admired but booed as they underwent a perp walk past the marchers. In Chicago, Evans, the world’s largest furrier who anchored the State Street shopping corridor since the Great Depression and Mysels Furs, located in the world famous Palmer House Hilton, were driven out of business. (Before it cried Uncle, Evans used to hire a billboard truck to occlude a store on Michigan avenue during the parade.) Today, Fur Free Friday parades are not as polarizing because….who would wear fur?
Furs may be largely off the streets in the US, except on people over 60 or 70, but fur farms still flourish, including 300 mink farms largely serving overseas markets. Still, their luck may be changing. Between July and October of this year, more than 7,000 minks on farms in eight states were released in a resurgence of direct action by animal activists, reports the New York Times. 1,300 minks and foxes were released during the same time in Canada. While Michael Whelan of the Fur Commission U.S.A. dismisses the activists as “criminal thugs” they’re clearly having an effect. “It’s our livelihood,” said Virginia Bonlander whose minks, which she farms with her husband in New Holstein, Wisconsin, were recently released. “They’re trying to put us out of business.”
Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).