The Fur Industry Is Ready to Fight New York City’s Proposed Ban ‘Tooth and Nail’
NYC lawmakers have proposed a ban on the sale of fur, following the lead of Los Angeles and San Francisco. It could cost the city over 1,000 jobs and $3.3 billion.
The fur coat, a symbol of unabashed glamour and wealth, is at the center of a rather ugly battle in New York City.
In March, Council Speaker Corey Johnson proposed a ban on the sale of fur in New York. This follows the lead of San Francisco and Los Angeles, where similar laws have been passed.
In a statement sent to The Daily Beast, Speaker Johnson wrote, “There is a growing movement in the fashion industry that believes that the use of fur is no longer ethical, and I agree with that assertion.”
“Some world famous designers are refraining from using fur in their collections, and I am sure some local designers are opting for the same choice. It is just cruel to kill an animal for the sole purpose of wearing a fur coat. Banning the sale of fur is the right thing to do.”
Indeed, many large fashion houses are ditching fur. Donatella Versace, head of the Italian label once well-known for its brightly-dyed pelts, told The Economist last year, “I don’t want to kill animals to make fashion. It doesn’t feel right.”
Lines like Donna Karan, Diane von Furstenberg, Gucci, Kate Spade, Maison Margiela, and Michael Kors have all pledged to go synthetic in the past year.
Even the obviously named accessories brand Furla has pivoted to alternative fabrics.
Since launching her line in 2001, Stella McCartney has never used fur in any collection. On April 4th, the British designer won an appeal to trademark the term “Fur-Free Fur,” a phrase used on the tags of her imitation styles, which are made from acrylic, polyester, wool, or mohair.
PETA’s senior vice president Dan Mathews, who met with Speaker Johnson to discuss the fur ban, told The Daily Beast that the animal rights organization will hold training in New York later this month to teach members how to lobby their council members.
PETA representatives will also take leghold traps to City Hall to show council members “the real violence that animals endure in the fur industry.”
Though New York has long been known for its mink-clad socialites (many of whom still proudly parade their Dennis Basso coats around the Upper East Side), Mathews believes it is time the East Coast follows California’s lead.
“This is New York, one of the cradles of civilization, and there is nothing civilized about electrocuting and skinning animals just for a frivolous fashion item that has already fallen from favor,” he said.
Fallen from favor for PETA’s target demographic, maybe, but definitely not for all buyers. Industry studies suggest that demand is rising in recent years.
While millennials may not be running to cop a full-length rabbit coat, there is no denying the popularity of fur trim. Google Trends reports that searches for “Canada Goose jacket” and “Women’s coat with fur hood” are up more than 80 percent. New York, Washington, DC, and New Jersey lead the states that search such terms the most.
In the New York neighborhood of Chelsea, where the fur industry is based, an average one bedroom rents for $3,700 and a cup of pour over coffee costs $4 with tax. The always-rising cost of living has displaced family-run fur shops, some of which have existed for four or five generations.
Furriers see the proposed ban as yet another attack on their livelihoods. “How do you take a business that has been around for hundreds of years and decide you want to end it?” said Marc Kaufman, a fifth-generation shop owner. “It’s beyond the fur business. Next is cashmere, goose down, suede shoes, leather shoes. Once they’re done with us, they’re going to go to the next prize.”
Larry Cowit, vice president of Madison Avenue Furs, also asked “What’s next?”
“Do we close Peter Luger’s [Steakhouse]? It’s been there 100 years. Do we close every Canada Goose store in the city? There has to be a line, or we’re all going to eat tofu and walk around in plastic sandals. Where does it end?”
When asked why ban fur as opposed to leather or suede, Mathews said, “You have got to start somewhere. Fur is just a luxury adornment of a bygone era—it’s not something people need to keep warm.”
Miguel Inclan runs Dimitrios Furs, which was founded by Greek immigrants in 1937. Like many of the stores on 30th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenue, multiple posters that read “Save NY Jobs!” line the front window.
“A fur ban would kill us,” Inclan said. “We make our living through this, put our kids through college. This is the only thing we have been doing forever.”
All of the furriers who spoke with The Daily Beast believe that the ban is rooted in more than just ethics. “Everything is political,” Inclan said. “This could be about real estate. The rent in the area is so high, you have no idea.”
During a furrier protest on City Hall last month, WLNY reported that more than 1,100 people work in the industry, so a ban would cost New York $3.3 billion in revenue over the next decade.
“We are fighting tooth and nail,” Cowit said. “We went through this in the ’80s and late ’90s, and now we’re going through it again. The public has to realize that you’re talking about taking away people’s rights.”
Representatives for Speaker Johnson, whose constituency includes the fur district, declined The Daily Beast’s request for an interview. The Speaker told WLNY, “I never want to see jobs lost or businesses close, but this is the right thing to do.”
Mathews, the PETA vice president, put it more bluntly: “Smart furriers have diversified,” he said. “If you go into a lot of shops that sell furs, they sell other things, too.” He also noted that, “People who made cigarettes said the same thing [about losing jobs], despite the fact that smoking is such a leading cause of death in this country.”
Though Mathews claimed that PETA reps have met with “loads of furriers over the years,” the organization has no plans to speak to those impacted by the ban. As he put it, “I don’t see the point of PETA having those conversations.”
Of course, a ban on the sale of fur in just one city will not crush the entire international industry. In fact, during a recent afternoon at Madison Avenue Furs, one shopper was a woman who lives in L.A.
Since the sale of mink is prohibited in her hometown, she made a point of stopping by New York's fur district to pick something up where it's legal—for now.