Dennis Basso RTW Fall 2019

New York City’s proposal to ban the sale of new fur and shearling apparel and accessories is shaping up to be an all-out battle.

Furriers, designers and other New York-based links in the supply chain are expected to square off against animal-rights activists and other pro-ban supporters at a public hearing at City Hall this afternoon. Should New York City go forward, it would become the largest in the U.S. to ban the sale of new fur apparel and accessories. The term fur applies to any animal skin, in whole or in part, with the hair, fleece or fur fibers attached, according to the proposed legislation.

Fendi Fur-Trimmed Leather Sandals.

Fendi’s fur-trimmed leather sandals.  Courtesy Photo

The bill was put forward by Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and City Council members Mark Levine, Fernando Cabrera, Justin Brannan, Helen Rosenthal and Robert Holden. If approved, violations would be punished by a civil penalty of no more than $500 for the first violation, and no less than $500, but no more than $1,500 for subsequent ones. Fur apparel sold or offered for sale would be subject to seizure and forfeiture. Used fur apparel and fur apparel that is worn as a matter of religious custom would be exempt.

If approved, the proposal could go into effect 90 days after becoming law, except that the commissioner of consumer affairs shall take such measures as are necessary for the implementation of this local law.

If successful, New York City would join a wave of antifur laws taking effect across the U.S. In February, the Los Angeles City Council voted to support an ordinance to ban the sale and manufacture of new fur throughout the City of L.A. The ordinance will take effect on Jan. 1, 2021, and prohibit the sale of products and apparel made in whole or in part of fur or any fashion accessory, such as handbags, shoes, hats, earmuffs and jewelry. Last year, San Francisco also banned the sale of fur, and other California cities including West Hollywood and Berkeley have done the same. In late March, a proposed law that would create consistency statewide on where California stands on the subject of fur product sales moved forward in the legislative process.

This highly contested debate comes at a time when many leading designers and labels have stepped away from selling fur — although some do continue to sell shearling. Versace, Jimmy Choo, Burberry, Michael Kors, Giorgio Armani and Diane von Furstenberg are among the ones that have stopped using fur. Given the contentious debate, it’s not surprising that several brands — Choo, Kors, Moncler, J.Mendel, Canada Goose, Maison Atia, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s and Barneys New York among them — found various reasons not to comment or declined to respond to requests for comment.

Protesters stormed Michael Kors’ conversation with Alina Cho at the Met in June 2017. 

While the antifur camp is backing the ban in the cause of animal rights, brands and businesses that use fur are pointing to the potential economic fallout and the jobs that would be lost, if the fur ban proposal passes.

There are more than 150 fur businesses operating in New York City that make up 1,400 full-time jobs — 300 more than previously known, according to a representative for Fur NYC. As a sign of the multigenerational industry, the average fur business has been operating in New York for 44 years. Primary and secondary fur retailers in New York City generate more than $400 million in revenue annually, according to Fur NYC. Over a 10-year period, a ban would cost the city up to $3.3 billion in lost revenues, the group claimed. Last year, the U.S. manufactured more than $352 billion in fur apparel and accessories, a nearly $20 billion increase since 2014, according to the group.

Fur NYC’s marketing specialist Tim Grant said, “I want people to realize this is an industry that employs multigenerations of families and craftsmen. It is a serious industry that brings $800 million to the city alone in terms of revenue. Seven thousand five hundred jobs would be affected. We have been around for the better part of a century and a half. We have true craftsmen. They work hard, they support families. This is a humane business. There is nothing about what we do or how we handle ourselves that could even [come] close to being identified as inhumane,” he said.

Noting how his primary job is with Marc Kaufman Furs, a fifth-generation furrier dating back to 1870, Grant said, “Many of these furriers have been pretty much ensconced in the fabric of New York since the very beginning. We’ve seen New York grow from farmland to what it is today — more so than any other industry. To say that we’re a small insignificant industry that is on the decline couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Having sold fur for 36 years in New York, designer Dennis Basso said, “It’s a generational business that employs a ton of people in New York City. It brings revenue to New York City. There are immigrants, who came to this country in the Twenties, Thirties and Forties, and their sons and daughters took over the businesses. I have diversified into many different areas. But for certain people, it’s what they put their hard work, blood, sweat and tears into.”

With a store on Madison Avenue, Basso said it is a given that no fur ever used in New York would ever be an endangered species. “It’s been 30 or 40 years since that has gone away,” he said. “Where does one stop? Are we not going to have chicken? Are we not going to have beef? Are we not going to have fish? We’re living in the greatest country in the world for freedom. People came here for freedom.

“So, if this happens, are people going to go to Connecticut to buy fur or to New Jersey?” Basso said. “There are many other things to worry about before this. Let’s make sure that every child in New York goes to bed at night not hungry. And we’re working on a cure for cancer and to get HIV eradicated.”

Before this afternoon’s meeting, animal rights activists and other pro-ban supporters will stage a rally on the steps of City Hall. “Project Runway” host Tim Gunn, who penned an op-ed that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals was helping to circulate last week, will be among the speakers. Three New York City Council members — Justin Brannan, Helen Rosenthal and Fernando Cabrera — are also expected to air their views, as well as former licensed fur trapper Bill Manetti. Organizers said “hundreds” are expected, including representatives from Voters for Animal Rights and PETA.

In the past month, PETA supporters have met with City Council members to demonstrate how a steel trap works, according to the group’s senior vice president Dan Mathews. Morrissey, the former frontman of The Smiths, agreed to let PETA sign up pro-ban supporters in the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre’s lobby during his seven Broadway performances. The sold-out run attracted nearly 10,100 attendees and city dwellers were encouraged by PETA reps to lobby city council members in support of the ban.

The British musician also wrote his own letter of support to council speaker Johnson on May 1. He told WWD in a statement why he wanted to get involved Tuesday. “New York City is such a fantastic place, but would be so much better with a total ban on fur sales,” Morrissey said. “PETA are wise, Total Animal Freedom are wise, and we must listen to them and support them.”

PETA also enlisted its honorary board member Anjelica Huston to send a copy of her op-ed to each council member, with a personal note and a link to a one-minute video montage of fur production.

In opposition to the shearling and the hair on cowhide aspects of the proposed ban, Tapestry and Capri Holdings Ltd. — parent of Kors and Versace — will present a joint statement at the hearing, according to Todd Kahn, Tapestry’s president and chief administration officer. Unlike New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles did not include shearling in their respective bans, he said.

“Shearling and hair on cowhide are a byproduct of the meat industry. About 95 percent of the value of the sheep for the farmer who raises it is for its meat, not its hide. It’s very different than the way that you think of coyote, mink, raccoon — those kind of furs are not harvested for their meat,” Kahn said.

He described New York’s as “a very radical ban as proposed today.” Beyond its eight Coach doors, seven Kate Spade doors and eight Stuart Weitzman doors in New York City, there is Coach’s Fifth Avenue global flagship and the newly opened Hudson Yards, as well as Stuart Weitzman and Kate Spade flagships. They all sell some form of shearling. Coach, obviously given its size, uses the most shearling. “It would be highly detrimental for our brand not to sell shearling in our stores. But we think it would be highly detrimental for New York City and the consumers,” Kahn said.

A shearling coat from the Coach fall 2019 runway.  Isidore Montag

Banning shearling would probably result in the loss of “hundreds of millions in sales across the city and the associated tax base that goes with that,” Kahn said. “It just seems that for the issues that we are striving for in New York — to make it a world-class place to live and work — I’m not sure that this is the burning platform issue.”

In a joint interview Tuesday, fashion photographer Alexi Lubomirski and New York City-based designer and activist Joshua Katcher spoke of their efforts to support the law. Both men plan to speak of their support of the ban at today’s hearing. Through his recently launched Creatives 4 Change initiative, Lubomirski called on creative types to ban fur, feathers and exotic skins and he cited Phillip Lim, Von Furstenberg and InStyle as supporters.

With fellow supporters of Fur Free NYC, Katcher, whose first book is “Fashion Animals,” said he wants to impress upon people that “this is a global trend. The use of animals for fur in fashion is something that is being legislated away across the world. We’re seeing an increase in the desire for a more compassionate, sustainable and fair fashion industry and an emphasis on transparency and circularity. This falls right in line with that.

“Our generation has a disconnect. We love animals on one side and then we have a massive gap in our consciousness where we don’t notice that these fur coats and fur trims are coming from these gorgeous beautiful animals. It’s about tying the two sides together and making the connection,” Lubomirski said. “It’s very difficult to get people to take note. You can go the hard route and show people these horrible videos of how fur is produced and the cruelty that goes on. People often turn away from that.”

The American Apparel & Footwear Association is working with an extensive coalition to oppose the fur ban as it is envisioned. Senior vice president of supply chain Nate Herman said the proposal “would kill thousands of jobs and do great damage to the fashion, manufacturing and retail sectors in a city where many of these businesses are struggling to survive.”

AAFA representatives plan to be at City Hall this afternoon. Their message for the council will be, “Cease work on this harmful proposal and instead work with industry stakeholders to craft something workable,” Herman said.

Nicole Miller noted how the ban would affect a lot of industries such as home furnishings, accessories, and tabletop that use hair calf. Although Miller has used shearling and fur trim sparsely in her signature collection in recent years, she said she wore a shearling coat all winter. The designer was more concerned about the financial impact on fur and shearling-based companies. Planning to attend, but not speak at the hearing, she said, “They’re really affecting people’s livelihoods. They’re really going to affect a lot of businesses with this. And you can’t make decisions for other people about what they can and can’t do. It’s crazy how this country is getting to be — imposing your will on other people. Not to mention that a lot of the synthetic stuff is not good for the environment.”

Miller said she also finds the issue “a bit sexist,” since the council is comprised predominantly of men and one woman. “Women are primarily the users of these things,” she said, noting how six men and one woman have presented the legislation. “It just boggles my mind. I mean, foie gras is one thing.”

Representatives from The Humane Society of the United States plan to give testimony at the hearing. As a proactive measure, they asked their supporters, who live in New York City, to contact their council members to show their support for the ban.

“We hope New York City’s council will see that consumers, especially in New York City, care about animal welfare, the environment and innovation more than ever, and with the passage of Intro 1476, New York will solidify its position as one of the most innovative and humane cities in the world,” according to HSUS director of fashion policy P.J. Smith.

Steven Kolb, president and ceo of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, said, “We really are letting our members individually and personally express at the hearing and throughout this process the impact that this bill will have on their businesses or why they think this is a good thing. What we do in issues that are connected to legislation or other policy issues is we often organize our members who have a shared position as a collective to collaborate on an issue or a position. Last year, for example, the CFDA hosted two editorials on fur from both the fur industry and the Humane Society, giving their perspectives on the use of fur.

“We have members that believe in the bill and we have members who are against the bill. Our position is to let those members speak for themselves. When a member needs support, information and knowledge, we connect them to that.”

While a group of CFDA members are concerned about the bill, the CFDA has helped them to understand the components of the bill, updated them about the hearing dates and other key dates and helped connect members with others in the industry that share their concerns, Kolb said. “We’ve been more of a way to bring like-minded people together. We have no official opinion one way or the other. My position is there is no position,” he said.

Trying to explain the potential impact of the ban, the Accessories Council president and ceo Karen Giberson took an Ugg boot and Cole Haan shoe from Macy’s to illustrate her point, especially in relation to accessories. “We’re perplexed by the labeling of the law [as an apparel ban] and the breadth of it. A number of our members and people we talk to look at it on the surface and think it doesn’t apply to them,” she said. “It also includes shearling and hair on calf and that concerns me very much.”

Ugg boots. 

With 320 active corporate members, the Accessories Council also works with other companies “episodically,” Giberson said of the group’s reach. She questioned the lack of an economic study about the proposal and the lack of time to understand the broadness of it. “What disturbs me is that a special interest group can ban a choice. No one has to buy fur, work with fur — it’s not forced upon anybody. I’m afraid of where they might go next.”

Giberson said the bulk of the product is farmed in sustainable ways and the product is used from head-to-toe — not unlike food-first products. She continued, “How I feel personally about the use of fur is irrelevant. But I do feel strongly it is done in an ethical and sustainable manner and it’s responsibly farmed, which the bulk of the product is.”

Tom Garcia, senior vice president compliance officer for Deckers Brand (which make Uggs) also noted how “virtually all legislatures that have banned fur — or are considering doing so — have exempted sheepskin. They recognize that, unlike luxury furs, sheepskin is a byproduct of food like leather. Deckers Brands also has a strict animal welfare policy which can be found on our public-facing web site.”

Having been making leather, sheepskin and textile products in the U.S. since 1975, Cockpit USA president Jeff Clyman and cofounder Jacky Clyman plan to attend today’s hearing to air their concerns. With about 25 full-time employees and indirectly employing another 40 to 50 people in the factories the company uses practically exclusively, the duo are strongly opposed to the proposal. Jacky Clyman said, “We plan on testifying and taking whatever measures are needed to stop the ban. Such a ban would force businesses to leave New York or close.”

She added: “The fur ban is absurd as it is contrary to all conservationist theories, since using leather and sheepskin are organic and are byproducts of the food we eat. Pushing more use of faux leathers and textiles, many of which use petroleum products, is worse for our environment.

Pologeorgis’ ceo Nick Pologeorgis and his sister Joan Nathenas, who serves as executive vice president, are the second generation in their family to work in the 59-year-old business, and the first to be born here. Pologeorgis said, “I hope by this time next year, I’ll still have a business and my employees will still have a job. There are more than 140 fur businesses that operate in New York City — many of them in Speaker Johnson’s district. Hope he visits my business so he can see the faces of all my employees who will lose their jobs if he continues to push this reckless fur ban.”

Diane von Furstenberg9th Annual DVF Awards, Arrivals, New York, USA - 13 Apr 2018

Diane von Furstenberg has opted not to sell fur products.  MJ Photos/WWD/REX/Shutterstock

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