Editorial: Cheap pieces put fur back on the streets

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  April 2001:

If you thought you saw more people wearing fur this past winter,  you probably did.  There were more fur coats on the street–and more fur used for trim,  ruffs,  liners,  and hoods.

Paradoxically,  U.S. retail fur sales were apparently flat, by dollar volume.  Much of the fur seen was actually purchased during the winter of 1999-2000,  when sales hit their highest level since crashing in 1988-1989.

Other furs may have come out of closets,  long after purchase–and some fur on the street was passed out to the indigent by PETA,  as part of an ongoing publicity gimmick with high backfire potential,  using garments donated by people who have given up fur.

But who spent the money,  when,  is beside the point.  The point is that no one should take pride in wearing garments produced by crushing animals’ legs in traps,  slowly choking them in snares, or confining them within cramped,  dark,  stinking cages throughout their lives,  prior to gassing,  poisoning,  or electrocution.

Thus the reappearance of fur deserves concern,  especially with former radio fur tout Lynne Cheney now in frequent public view as wife of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney.

Furriers are trying hard to bring fur garments back to social acceptability,  one scrap at a time.  Mass media for which furriers are prominent advertisers are boosting the effort.  Between the editorial copy and the ads,  for instance,  the New York Times supplement Fashions Of The Times displayed twice as much fur in fall 2000 as in fall 1998.  Fur ads also returned to prominence in New York Times daily editions,  after nearly fading from view.

The fur trade has begun to collect dividends,  as well,  from a decade of using direct subsidies to encourage young designers to return fur to fashion show runways.  Most of the fur garments appearing recently are apparently not meant to appeal to typical customers–but outlandishly dyed furs and novel uses of fur have been taken up by some rockers and rappers who affect fur as part of a “rebel” demeanor.

It is a measure of the success of the antifur movement that wearing fur today can pass for an anti-Establishment gesture–but as the rise of Lynne Cheney attests,  history has not yet retired the Old Money fur fiend Cruella DeVil to the wax museums,  alongside the blood-sucking Count Dracula.  Cruella still appears wherever people wishing to cultivate a ruthlessly privileged image gather,  and ghoulish men still trade furs for bites of her neck.

Despite all the fur on the streets,  new and old,  the fur trade is not actually doing well in economic terms.  Yet anti-fur campaigns are not doing well either,  as ANIMAL PEOPLE pointed out in April 2000,  or there would no longer be any fur on the street,  and the U.S. fur industry would not still be capable of making even the appearance of recovery.

The U.S. retail fur trade must induce new growth soon,  or go down for the count.

Like horse racing,  dog racing,  and purchasing circus tickets,  fur-wearing is a vice which by and large has not attracted the generation of Americans now in the 35-to-55 age range.  Thus far, fur has not appealed to most of the next generation,  either.

Losing appeal to the young did not matter to the fur industry during the 1970s and 1980s.  Most of the Baby Boom generation were then still well short of their peak earning years,  when fur-wearers typically buy their first fur garment.

As the Boomers entered economic independence,  meanwhile, their parents–the World War II generation–found themselves more affluent in their later earning years than any generation before them.  Raised in the deprivation and misery of the “Dirty Thirties,” they bought fur and other luxury items “as if they were going out of style.”

Hunting and trapping,  horse racing,  and greyhound racing also boomed–and,  because members of the World War II generation who had just become grandparents bought circus tickets in growing numbers,  circus attendance declined less rapidly than it had during the first decades after the advent of television.

Then,  as the World War II generation entered retirement, encountered rising medical costs,  and realized the limits of their often fixed incomes,  they bought less fur.   Hunting,  recreational trapping,  horse racing,  greyhound racing,  and circus-going also fell off.

Each was an early casualty of a generational transition in attitudes toward animals.  Each was and is vulnerable as a “non-essential” use,  i.e. not directly necessary to human well-being.  Each,  unlike pet-keeping and zoos,  involved obvious and deliberate harsh treatment of animals,  represented by whips and muzzles even if the worst abuse could be kept out of sight.

As Boomers reached peak affluence,  they bought far less fur than their parents.  They hunted and trapped less,  stopped betting on animal races,  and quit going to circuses. Today,  with the World War II generation passing on,  along with the utilitarian views of animals and nature that predominated in the long gone mostly rural America,  the fur trade has the same two possible strategies for survival as hunting,  animal racing,  and circuses.

One strategy would be to persuade the Boomers to begin to adopt pursuits they have thus far shunned:  to begin hunting in the age range when previous generations have begun to give it up,  and to begin wearing furs,  especially to animal races and the circus.

The other strategy would be to convince Generation X that the pro-animal attitudes strong among the Boomers are quaint artifacts of the Xers’ parents’ era.

Neither will be an easy sell.  Boomers are now of an age where attitudes,  values,  and patterns of behavior rarely change direction.  Xers,  now in the 15-to-35 age range,  have thus far accepted pro-animal values to a far greater extent than Boomers ever did.

Boomers eat less meat than their parents;  Xers are more than twice as likely to become fully vegetarian,  or even vegan.  Boomers hunt at only half the level of their parents;  Xers barely hunt at all.  Boomers bought circus tickets once,  on average,  during their children’s childhood;  Xers attended only when their grandparents–or parents  once–took them.  Boomers may have been to a horse  or greyhound race.  Xers have rarely bothered with either.

Most important as regards fur,  five states with strong concentrations of Boomers and Xers have passed anti-leghold trapping initiatives within the past eight years:  Arizona,  California, Massachusetts,  Oregon,  and Washington.

Demographics indicate that a frontal assault on the attitudes of the two largest generations of American consumers will probably not succeed–unless animal protection organizations completely fail to respond in an effective manner.  Lynne Cheney and other prominent fur-wearers may encourage the relatively few Boomers and Xers who are not put off by fur to buy and wear more of it,  but the Cheney influence can be countered and contained if animal defenders resume reminding the public just what is wrong with fur in the first place.

In April 2000,  ANIMAL PEOPLE pointed toward the soaring fur sales of 1999-2000 and reminded the animal protection community for the umpteenth time that the Humane Society of the U.S. had dismantled its hugely successful “Shame of Fur” campaign of 1988-1991 almost as if intending to allow fur to make a comeback.  ANIMAL PEOPLE also noted that Friends of Animals’ anti-fur themes had drifted from the hard-hitting “Get a feel for fur–slam your hand in a car door” slogan of the late 1980s to near complete obscurity.

Later in 2000,  Coalition Against the Fur Trade founder J.P. Goodwin noted that PETA campaigns,  on fur and other topics,  have recently also veered far off message.

“It’s time to say no to pie throwing,  manure dumping,  and naked models,”  Goodwin opined,  “and get back to talking about animals.”

FoA earlier this year dusted off “Get a feel for fur–slam your hand in a car door.”  HSUS brought back the “Shame of Fur,” and introduced a parallel campaign about the violence inherent in killing karakul sheep so that furriers can use the pelts of their aborted fetuses to make so-called “broadtail.”

Burned repeatedly by models who first attacked fur and then endorsed it,  after the fur trade offered more money,  PETA got burned again in February 2001 by rapper/designer Sean “Puffy” Combs. Renouncing fur upon learning that PETA planned to protest against the debut of his collection,  Combs prominently exhibited fur when the protesters stayed home.

To the extent that fur is back,  it is mostly back by stealth,  reappearing in bits and pieces,  in places where furriers hope no one will say much to those who wear the odd scrap,  until ubiquity overcomes inhibition and–in theory–complete fur coats return to vogue.

This strategy wouldn’t work,  and couldn’t begin to work,  if fur was still expensive,  as it would be if the supply side of the trade had collapsed in step with demand.

Instead,  global ranched mink production fell from 41.7 million pelts in 1988 to 25 million in 1993,  then edged back up to 28.5 million by 1998,  as breeders anticipated new markets developing in Asia and eastern Europe.

Economic and political turmoil thwarted that notion.  Mink coats have since glutted the U.S. market.  Prices tell the story. From 1979 through 1988,  the average list price of a mink coat in New York City was close to $7,250.   It fell to $6,290 in 1993–and was $4,737 last winter.  Actual sale prices averaged $2,902 in 1993, $2,041 in 1995-1996,  and just $1,558 in 2000-2001.  The glut depressed the price of wild-trapped furs,  too,  which listed at an average of $5,499 on Thanksgiving 2000,  but by Valentine’s Day fell to $1,428.

Steep discounting has always been standard in the fur trade, especially toward the end of winter,  but the recent discounts have run half again deeper than usual.


Put a “Tiger” in New York


Fur is everywhere because fur is cheap.  Fur is cheap because fur is in oversupply.  Fur is going to get cheaper still during the next year or two,  as the oversupply grows,  along with economic pressure on brokers and auction houses to dump the glut before it decomposes.

Mink breeders may be cutting back,  but Louisiana, emphasizing “greenspeak” about invasive species,  is still trying to revive nutria trapping.  New Zealand,  encouraged by the World Wildlife Fund,  wants to kill an estimated 60 to 90 million feral brush possums and dump their pelts on the world market.

Placating out-of-work fishers,  who seek someone else to blame for fished-out seas,  Russia in March authorized the massacre of 76,000 baby harp seals on the ice of the White Sea.  The Namibian sealing quota is reportedly to be sharply increased,  from 40,000 last year,  and the quota in Atlantic Canada remains at 275,000, near an all-time high–even though the Canadian government cannot document the sale of 49% of the 1.9 million seal pelts taken since 1982,  according to International Marine Mammal Associaton scientistJanice Hannah.

The IMMA is a subsidiary of the International Fund for Animal Welfare,  whose Canadian office chief,  Rick Smith,  suspects the surplus may have been dumped in landfills.

Canadian seal pelts rarely enter the U.S.,  but their global availability,  in competition with other kinds of fur,  helps to hold all fur prices down.

That will mean more use of fur wherever it can be used without adding enough to the price of a garment ($25) that labeling laws require it to be identified–unless consumers are induced to balk with further reminders that animals suffered horribly for cuffs and ruffs,  too.

J.P. Goodwin is right that effective antifur campaigns need to focus on animals:  even if people who might be induced to wear fur by low prices do not themselves care about animal suffering,  they mostly will care what others think about them for doing it.

Along the way,  ubiquitous cheap fur requires more effective and efficient campaign tactics.  Masing demonstrators eats time and energy,  to uncertain effect;  Boomers in midlife and Xers with increasing career and family duties don’t have time for that.  Civil disobedience,  effective against bad public policy,  rarely

influences consumer choice.  Vandalism backfires.  Picketing and tabling are effective where public access is a right,  not a conditional privilege,  and where most of the traffic walks,  but do not work well at malls accessed mainly by car.

In this edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE,  SHARK founder Steve Hindi’s introduces his “Put a Tiger in New York” campaign,  hoping to raise the funds to replicate his “Tiger” TV van and station one in each major U.S. metropolitan area–beginning with New York City.

More than 80% of the furs sold in the U.S. are sold in the greater New York region.  The “Tiger” is made-to-order for antifur campaigning there.  It is a spectacular rolling demonstration, requiring just one driver to turn thousands of heads.  It is as effective inching along in   Fifth Avenue or Long Island Expressway traffic as anywhere else.

What it can do is display stark wall-sized real-life video of trapped animals and animals being killed on fur farms directly to the public,  with illuminated digital captions.  Screens facing in all four directions mean the images cannot be missed.  As SHARK owns the first truck,  and the technology to build more,  it is not competing with commercial advertisers and station owners’ mercantile considerations:  it broadcasts the message at will.

Contributing to putting a “Tiger” in New York is the most promising investment that animal protection donors can make this year to counter cheap fur–and it will be just as effective in advancing any other campaign which must be taken to the public.

The address is c/o SHARK,  P.O. Box 28,  Geneva,  IL  60134.

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