Mostly Trapping

Outdoors: Attitudes on fur, trapping have changed over time
Apr 21, 2020 09:10 ET

(Reprinted from above link)

The future of local trappers will be determined by ladies’ fashion attitudes, which will depend much on education, ethical trapping methods and a revived market.

Attitudes are moldable. Current trapping methods here are humane. But the demand for furs has plummeted.

Shockingly, California recently became the first state in America to ban fur. It’s now illegal to sell, donate or manufacture any furs for fashion there. On the other hand, in Alaska, you’ll see clothing made with caribou, fox, wolverine, and seal.

Historically, class and fur have been long connected. For hundreds of years, England actually legislated that only the aristocracy could wear marten (similar to our mink) and ermine (the white, winter form of a weasel). Middle classes were permitted to wear fox, hare and beaver, while lower classes were restricted to just goat, wolf and sheepskin. Ironically, shearling lamb, has become today’s most popular animal coat, in some high-fashion stores selling for over $10,000.

During the last month, I asked numerous women how they felt about fur fashion. Age mattered.

The three young women cutting hair at Super Cuts in Grafton typified the younger generation’s response. Each suggested they’d “never wear a fur coat,” that “they’re too bulky” or “out-of-date.” But a good many baby boomers had far different responses, recalling well when there was nothing more stylish than an expensive fur coat.

Several of those women shared that they own beautiful fur coats that were handed down to them from mothers and even grandmothers. They all recognized the practical value of furs being capable of lasting generations — and not going out of style.

Worcester’s Donna Rose, a model of class, elegance and reason in our community, wore to a winter dinner party at my home a long, grey, wool coat with a billowy soft and luxurious lynx collar. “I inherited it from my aunt,” she shared. “It’s perfect for private parties, concerts, dinners and church services.”

She feels, “There’s a wonderful tactile satisfaction that comes with fine furs that can’t be matched. The only issue for me is assuring the responsible and ethical procurement of those pelts. We don’t want to repeat mistakes of the past when bird populations were decimated in the drive for exotic feathers for women’s hats. And we need to assure that mink farms or other commercialized processors for raising animals for market are done properly and humanely, whether done to please our fashion senses or our palates.”

Rose noted the hypocritical double-standard of those who are “horrified by the sight of dead animals or a dead chicken in a butcher shop but are happy to dine on veal cutlet or chicken cordon bleu because they don’t have to look it in the eye. Many are disturbed by the sight of a fur coat yet they contradictorily own a leather wallet, purse or pair of dress shoes.”

Mary Borgatti, the late Spag’s sister-in-law, whose son is a professional opera singer, shared with me that she attends opera performances at the Met regularly. But even in New York, the hub of the fashion world, she’s noticed that “women aren’t dressing elegantly in evening gowns as they once regularly did. I’ve consequently given most of my evening gowns away. Sadly, you might even see jeans at the opera. This past month, I didn’t see a single fur coat there. Glamour is disappearing. I’d feel shy now wearing one of my fur coats and haven’t taken any of them out in two years. I don’t want to stand out.”

Growing up in Worcester, I remember my two grandmothers wearing their full-length mink and raccoon fur coats with great pride on especially cold or celebratory days here. Church and Lithuanian club festivals always brought out their fur coats. They felt their furs were both practical and elegantly fashionable. As a child, I was fascinated by them and loved how they felt.

My mother inherited her fur coats from them and told me that if properly cared for, they would never wear out or go out of style. Money drives so much of our lives, though, and so it goes with furs.

As a result of customer pressure — in other words, dollars — American fashion houses have largely fled from fur. My daughter Jessica, for whom fashion is a fun safari, helped me enter the women’s high-end coat world, directing me to Net-A-Porter, a website that sells women’s luxury brands.

To my surprise, not one company in its high-end fold marketed fur. Instead, Alaia, Michael Kors Collection, Alexander McQueen, Givenchy, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Chloe, Prada, Balenciaga and Saint Laurent featured shearling lamb or long-haired goat for up to $10,000. Shearling lamb, of course, is sheared fleece attached to its tanned skin. Calvin Klein, Burberry, Stella McCartney and Armani, I discovered, are presently all fur free, too. While trappers are in depression, it’s a great time to be a sheep farmer.

The American fur market certainly isn’t extinct, though. In Worcester, Furs By Michael has seen its business evolve but survive, shifting from long-hair furs like natural fox to shearling lamb that can be additionally worn inside-out as a leather coat with a soft lining. Sheared female mink is a big seller there, too, because it’s difficult to find anything lighter, softer, warmer and more luxurious to the touch.

For women shopping for the world’s most luxurious furs, Nieman Marcus now has fox and mink coats — and an $87,000 Russian sable coat on sale for just $47,000. Hermes, Dior, Fendi, Oscar de la Renta, Louis Vitton, Canada Goose, Saks Potts and Chanel have remained among the last high fashion houses satisfying demand.

Europe and Asia are the trapper and fur farmer’s biggest markets today. There, Saga Furs is the center of business. Finland, Denmark, Germany and Russia are the key players in that still-vibrant market. Korea and China are the big buyers in Asia. But shaky economics are hitting America’s fur business hard.

The two main fur auction facilities in North America are Fur Harvesters Auction (FHA) in North Bay, Ontario, and North American Fur Auctions (NAFA) in Toronto. NAFA, the oldest and second largest fur auction in the world, just went bankrupt as a result of its banking partners getting out of fur investment. NAFA was responsible for much of the world’ global promoting and marketing of ranch and wild fur.

That crash resulted from catastrophic events in the ranch mink industry. In 2013, ranch mink pelts were averaging $100, stimulating great farming expansion. Over-supply followed, creating a glut on the market, which dropped the prices to about $20. Considering it costs about $45 to raise a farmed mink to marketable quality, the entire industry saw the bottom fall out. That’s impacted trappers who had shipped thousands of pelts to auction. NAFA was already burdened with huge quantities of unsellable ranch mink, which had previously made up 90% of their gross sales. Unwanted wild trapped mink were just shipped back to the trappers.

NAFA was renowned for its international sales of sable, lynx, fox and beaver. So today, North Bay, Ontario is the epicenter of the North American fur market, relying exclusively on wild furs for its business.

Meanwhile, Canadian trappers are warning that the cost of managing pests and predators would fall hard on municipalities and taxpayers if the fur market disappeared. While American trapper numbers have declined greatly, there are still about 60,000 full and part-time Canadians in the fur business contributing a billion dollars to the economy. About 25,000 trappers are Canada’s indigenous people, who more than anyone depend on trapping.

Trappers want the public to understand that unharvested furbearers would otherwise go to waste, dying in the jaws or claws of a predator — at best with a quick bite to the skull or drowning. All too often, a furbearer is a victim of a long, slow, painful disease. Their mortality comes from a menu of painful choices, including starvation. One trapper asked me to share that “Fur bearers don’t die comfortably of old age in a rest home in the care of a compassionate doctor or family member the way we do. We can take advantage of a valuable, renewable harvest, with methods no more inhumane than a farmer’s — or let the resource just go to waste.”

How that message resonates in a public becoming ever more distanced from nature and its realities is playing out now with an uncertain ending.