I have been vehemently anti-fur for as long as I can remember. I'm a 22-year veteran vegetarian who moves spiders, ants and beetles outside. I was raised with a menagerie of animals and have rescued dogs and cats as an adult. So to me, killing animals, using horrendously cruel traps and other methods, simply to drape yourself in their furs has always been a completely despicable act.
I have given many a dirty look — and even a rude comment — to women wearing fur coats in New York City, where I used to work. I daydreamed about dumping red paint on them. I once berated a woman on the street who had a beautiful fox tail clipped to her bag as a decorative "charm." I thought she was evil — and I'm sure she thought I was crazy.
I share these stories not because I'm proud of them — I try to be a kind and compassionate person — but because this is a longstanding issue that has always upset me. I have a strong and visceral reaction to fur.
But I have to admit to being pretty confused about what to feel after watching the founder of Petite Mort Fur, Pamela Paquin, talk about her fur.
Paquin makes fur fashion from roadkill. She collects it, processes it and makes various pieces, including stoles, legwarmers and scarves. "It's a resurrection," she says in the video above.
Her background isn't in fashion; she had a 20-year career as a sustainability consultant, and much of that time she spent in Europe. When she came back to the U.S., she was surprised at the amount of roadkill she saw: "There were just bodies everywhere. And it was very upsetting to me, and I did some research. It's a million (animals) a day. So that is seven times the amount that the global fur industry uses every year," she says.
She was looking for a career change, and she wanted to put her training into action.
"There is an excessive amount of animals dying by accident. It got to the point where I wanted to do something, and I wanted to practice what I preached. That meant getting a knife, getting a hazmat suit, getting a license, and going out and scooping up a dead raccoon," says Paquin.
Paquin has been working with a Boston-area furrier and collecting the roadkill for these pieces herself; she jokes about how some people call the practice "vulture culture." Mostly she collects in the winter so it's not smelly and the animals don't start to rot before she picks them up. She is literally using something that would otherwise go to a landfill from her own community. Which is great, right?
So far, I can follow this train of thought, even if I would probably never wear one of Paquin's items myself. The sheer number of animal death on our roadways is horrific, but for the most part we accept that as part of the cost of car travel. (I know there are some smart people working on this issue, installing wildlife bridges and underpasses, but this is not a front-of-the-radar issue, even for animal advocates.)
Using these animals' furs for something, even if it's mostly decorative, makes me feel like some part of their deaths wasn't in vain. At least they can be appreciated in some way.
But then, thinking back to my own awful behavior around fur-wearers, how is anyone to know where Petite Mort's items come from? Isn't fur-wearing of any kind just perpetuating the idea that it's OK and normal to wear fur? Wildlife is under enough pressure, and the vast majority of fur isn't roadkill; it's hunted or farmed. Faux-fur critics have made a similar argument for years, and we have even seen plenty of cases where the real fur was labeled and sold as fake, especially since so much of it is made in countries where oversight over labeling is nonexistent.
Even Paquin admits, "I make a lot of pieces that look a lot like what we see in mainstream fur already. It's a culturally pleasing and acceptable."
In mimicking the conventional fur industry, isn't she's just supporting it?
I can't help but think that Paquin's furs ultimately support a horrible, cruel industry that most of us who care about animals, the environment and sustainability don't want to support.
Unless she is able to clearly indicate that this fur is special — something that proves the wearer doesn't hate animals so much they skin them — it doesn't seem truly sustainable.
The only solution to the above issue I can think of is if Paquin's fur had an easily identifiable mark, patch or token on it, that clearly indicated that the fur was found, not hunted or farmed. It's similar to the solution that Toyota came up with for its hybrid car over a decade ago — people were balking at the higher price, even if it saved them money in gas. When the Prius was designed, it was given a unique shape, indicating to anyone with a quick glance that the driver behind the wheel was a conscious person who was driving a special kind of vehicle. This simple strategy was highly successful for Toyota. Why? Because people want others to know about the brands they support — just look at all the designer-labeled merch that's sold every year, or even your own allegiance to a certain type of car or shampoo.
I mean, if I saw people smoking cigarettes around kids — even if those smokes had no harmful chemicals in them — I'd still have a problem with it, because it makes smoking seem normal to kids.
I may be over thinking this idea, but it's an interesting topic. What do you think? Does roadkill fur makes sense to you?
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