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Is it ethical to wear fur? That has been a debate for decades now. Most fur sold today is taken from farm-raised animals, which animal rights activists oppose. They argue that no animal should be killed for the sake of fashion.
One boutique furrier is making an effort to have it both ways, by using roadkill. Founder Pamela Paquin joins Here & Now's Indira Lakshmanan to talk about her company. Paquin's Boston-based company Petite Mort Fur sells high-end fashion scraped off the side of the road, before it's cleaned and tanned.
How did the company get its start?
“I have been raised as a farmer, and became a sustainability consultant. I worked in Europe, in Denmark, where much of the world’s mink is produced, and used to carry my ferrets around to the furriers and ask them to stop. And when I came back to New England as a new mom, I saw all the bodies and it was very upsetting and seemed incredibly wasteful. And when I found out that it was a million animals a day that are killed on the roads in the United States, that seemed like a massive gap considering they’re all thrown away.”
On the name of the company, Petite Mort Fur
Petite Mort quite literally means a little death in French, however it can also refer to a woman’s state of bliss after having an incredibly pleasurable and sensual experience. That’s the state of being I want my clients to be able to feel with their furs, that we now can celebrate our sensuality and we can also celebrate our furs.”
Do you collect and skin all the animals yourself?
“I collect a portion of them I also have sources. I work with highway departments and animal control officers. I can only collect in Massachusetts, and I am obliged to have what’s called a trapping license and a fur buyer’s license in order to do so. I cannot collect in Connecticut or Vermont, so I have men in those states, like taxidermists or wildlife specialists that can sell me the pelts they receive from highway departments, because I can’t take raw bodies across state lines essentially.”
Are you moving into vintage and repurposed furs also?
“I’m not moving into them, my feeling is that everybody has a different sense of ethics. I provide the pieces I feel comfortable with. So for me, given that all these animals are wasted and being thrown away, that’s where I’m focused. I’ve had people contact me with vintage fur jackets, ‘would you like to have them?’ No thank you. There are people who do that and I respect their work, because it’s one step further away from fur farming and killing these animals intentionally.”
Describe the product
“Currently in my store I have two red foxes, one from Vermont one from Connecticut. The Connecticut fox has a black tummy, which is something I have not seen very much of - normally they’re white. He’s been made into a double-sided fur neck muff and I cannot wait to see who he goes home with. But those pieces where you can use them in multiple ways, to me, seem very sensible. Why buy something and spend money on it when you can only use it in one way? Isn’t it wonderful when it can be used in a multitude of different ways?”
On the high price point of your products
“I have clients from all over the world, currently. They are obviously people who have the money and feel that there is really no option, if you’re going to wear fur then you’re going to wear fur that comes from a place that honors the animals and lets them live wild and free.”
As an animal lover, are you just accepting that roadkill is inevitable?
“Well I think until we stop driving, it will continue to happen. Which is a shame, and what I do is I donate a portion of my profits to building wildlife underpasses through the Critical Pathways Project in Vermont. I’d like to see that solved. I’d like to see jersey barriers with holes so that animals can get through instead of having a gauntlet of death, that line of concrete that cuts them off from moving across the roads. So I’m very much focused on the systems dynamics of any particular issue. So for example when you talk about the price points of my furs, I pay my seamstresses $20 an hour, which in Massachusetts is required if you want to have a living wage. So people who buy my products are also buying into the belief that they’re going to pay for something in a way that is respectful of the people who actually make it.”
How do you plan to revolutionize the global fur industry?
“I have reached out to PETA to the Anti-Fur Society, the Anti-Fur Federation and the American Fur Council. For me, if I’m going to demonize any one of them we’re not going to be able to move forward with a constructive conversation that’s generative and produces change. I donated to PETA’s anti-fur campaign when I was younger living in Denmark, then I saw the industry growing. So again, if you’re frustrated by what you see and you don’t’ like it, there’s a point at which you have to stop complaining and actually do something.”
This segment aired on November 13, 2015.