Is it ever OK to wear fur?

Like many other indigenous people, Native Americans have always worn fur. It’s part of their deeply-held philosophy in the circle of life, where everything in nature is connected and each creation plays a role in the survival of the other.

Native Americans
Photography by Morten Smidt

Native Americans consider all animals equal and worthy of respect. They kill only what they eat and use every part of the animal, including its fur, which they wear as a way of honouring and staying connected to the animal’s spirit.

It is this philosophy that Pamela Paquin, founder of Peace Fur, grew up with.

“We do not waste life nor disrespect their spirits but honour and thank them for providing us with life and comfort.”

Native American with horse
Photography by Morten Smidt

Raised on a farm by a Scottish Mother and French-Native American Father, Pamela was taught to understand the value of life and people’s responsibility to the land and animals, from a very early age.

This, combined with her career as a global consultant on sustainable living, is what led her to create Peace Fur, a company that makes fur products from animals killed on US roads.

A conflict of interest or the ultimate in recycling?

For me, seeing a dead animal on the road is very upsetting; a visceral reminder of the serious shortcomings of our modern world. As a society we seem largely desensitised to it, or we choose to look the other way because what we can’t see…right?

I remember my father always carried a shotgun in the boot of his car, so if he ever hit anything he could put it out of its misery straight away. Although it often bought him to tears, he still had the courage to do what he thought was right and I loved him for that.

Maybe it’s from him that I get my deep love of animals but either way, I’ve been signing anti-fur petitions since I was a teenager. So, when I stumbled upon Peace Fur you might think I would balk at such a thing, but in fact the opposite is true.

The idea of making something precious from what would otherwise be left on the roadside to rot, seemed like a bit of a no-brainer to me. But of course, things are rarely that simple and reactions from people have been mixed, to say the least.

I asked Pamela how this all started?

“I’d spent nearly a decade working abroad amongst fur-loving Danes and when I came home to New England (where we have much more forestation), I was shocked by the number of animals I saw lying dead on the roads. I thought it was such a terrible waste, so I looked into it a bit more and the numbers were alarming.”

A million animals are killed on US roads every day, that’s roughly 7 times the number of animals used by the global fur industry in a whole year.

“I saw an opportunity to provide an ethical alternative to farmed fur.”

Fur is such an emotive subject and this has clearly stirred-up some controversy, yet Pamela seems happy to deal with her critics head-on.

“I’ve reached out to both the IFF (International Fur Federation) and animal welfare organisations, like PETA and others. I believe where there is tension there is opportunity, but in order for that opportunity to be realised, everybody needs to work together.”

But the fur industry’s response has not been particularly positive. The IFF states that North American furs are already ethically and environmentally responsible, but what’s deeply depressing is that judging by the information on their website, this appears to equate to little more than guidance on cage size.

Animal rights groups also have mixed feelings about the idea. Some who’ve spent decades campaigning for a complete ban, worry that the products could normalise the wearing of fur, although others are more open-minded. PETA‘s senior vice president, Lisa Lange said there is “never an excuse to wear fur” but admitted that it’s “far better to wear roadkill than farmed fur”.

Pamela explained that before Peace Fur she had also been opposed to the wearing of fur but now enjoys her own ‘accidental fur’ as she calls it, without guilt or shame.

I asked her just what is was that people found so irresistible about fur?

“Nature’s spent 4 billion years on R&D to work out the best way to keep a body warm.”

Peace fur neck wrap
Photography by Sophia Moon

“Real fur has a unique quality quite unlike anything else. It has an incredible softness and intense warmth; it’s a bit like having a cat on your lap.”

So what type of person is interested in ethical fur; is it someone who already wears fur or someone that has never worn it?

“Both. The fact that my fur is cruelty-free gives people that have never worn it for ethical reasons, permission to wear it for the first time. And, for those that already wear it they can now feel better about their choice.”

Many who reject the real thing are choosing faux fur, but Pamela was keen to point out its downsides.

“Faux fur is largely made of non-biodegradable, chemical-based synthetics like nylon and polyester. The sourcing of petroleum to make these materials results in the suffering and death of billions of wild animals. So it is not an ethically sustainable option.”

Every hat, muff and pair of gloves has a story to tell.

Peace Fur’s range of accessories are handmade in New England by local craftspeople and Pamela, who harvests many of the pelts herself. An environmentally-friendly vegetable tanning method is used to process the fur, and all of the knitwear is made out of Alpaca wool from farmers in Massachusetts.

Pamela Paquin at the sewing machine
Image via BBC

Selling for between $245 and $2,500 (depending on the size of the product and type of fur used), each piece is a one-off and features a sterling silver badge with its own unique number. This badge, along with corresponding paperwork, tells you the type of animal and where it came from. It’s also a marque of authenticity and helps to distinguish it from other, inhumane fur.

Badge of authenticity

Pamela often works with her clients on a one-to-one basis, so that she can create something that they’ll fall in love with.

“They feel a strong connection to the piece that’s been made for them, like they are honouring the animal by giving it a second life.”

Peace Fur
Photography by Morten Smidt

My teenage-self may well have rejected the idea of accidental fur. But, although I’m still signing petitions, I’m less black and white about things than I was back then.

Often, taking a fundamental stance on an issue can hinder the progress towards something better, even if it’s not perfect.

To my mind we have about as much chance of stopping people wearing fur, as we have stopping them eating meat or driving cars. So why not provide a humane alternative and in the process repurpose a life into something beautiful.

Peace Fur donates to the National Wildlife Federation Critical Paths Project.

Peace Fur

 

 

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