Coyote ugly: how big brands made consumers forget fur’s cruelties

Remember when fur was murder? The mere idea of wearing fur was seen as nothing short of barbaric. A can of paint was a fitting punishment for those outrageous enough to flaunt pelts as fashion. But that was the ’90s. Today, when looking down any cold, busy street there’s lots of fur and a dearth of opposition. To wear fur now, like it or not, is cool–and even mainstream.

According to British Vogue, fur appeared in nearly 70 percent of fall/winter runway collections for 2013. The fur industry in Canada, in response to this trend, is booming. Statistics Canada reported fur farming is on the rise, with farmed mink pelt sales reaching $245 million in 2012–more than double that of 2008. Last year, was also a record year for wild fur sales at Toronto’s North American Fur Auction, the biggest trade show in North America.

While fur was about luxury in the past, now it’s pragmatism driving the markets. Local and natural are the buzzwords of today’s hip shoppers and the industry is quick to point out why fur makes sense for them. Furisgreen.com–a marketing campaign for the Fur Council of Canada–rebrands fur as “a natural, renewable, and sustainable resource.” If you’re not wearing fur, the site claims, you’re probably wearing something synthetic and petrochemical-based, “which is NOT consistent with the sustainable use of our environment.”

This rebranding has helped propel winter-wear kingpin Canada Goose–the company’s annual average sales have catapulted more than 3,000 percent in 10 years. This is largely because the company has managed to shield its customers from the realities of fur, Joseph Pace, campaign director for the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals, told media last March. Instead, the company focuses on “functionality” in cold weather, which it says is “paramount.”

The opposing camp is uninterested in such semantics. Toronto tween Jasmine Polsinelli, 11, made recent headlines by protesting the company’s use of coyote fur trim–and, as Pace has said: “She’s going to keep on speaking up until Canada Goose listens.” In December, Polsinelli spent several weekends in a popular Toronto shopping district with her morn, and other volunteers, educating people about the fur trade. “People are open and want to learn more,” Polsinelli told media. “Some shoppers decide not to buy a Canada Goose product because of the coyote fur trim or down filling; we’ve even had some people return jackets.”