Byline: Holly Haber
The current mania for fur trims and accessories has translated into big business for Morris Kaye & Sons, the sole furrier left in Dallas.
In the first 10 months of 2000, the company equaled 1999’s sales with the two biggest months of the year remaining, said Joel Kaye, who is Morris Kaye’s son and the head of the company’s day-to-day operations. Company sales were expected to eclipse $2 million in 2000.
The firm’s heyday was in the early Eighties, when high-flying oil prices enriched the city and drove a frenzy of spending on luxuries.
“Business was hotter then because of the number of units sold, but the volume is higher now and we can charge more because there is nobody left on the wholesale side,” Kaye noted. “With the stock market being good, everyone has expendable income, and when people have money, they don’t mind spending it.
“But when money is tight, fur is a luxury and it’s the first thing to go.”
When oil prices sank in the Eighties, so did the fur business. Kaye and his family pulled the company through its leanest years, from 1988 to 1992, by sometimes going without paychecks. The company also kept afloat by reworking, altering and storing furs. Ironically, Kaye asserted that the anti-fur movement of the Nineties didn’t have a big impact on his business.
“We sell [in] mostly hunting states and they have no problem with fur,” he said.
“Business has been booming, but it’s different now — we sell a lot more variety,” said Renee Kaye, Joel’s mother and the firm’s owner. But mink coats are still a bestseller, as are natural beaver vests, cashmere capes with fox trim and jackets in natural and embossed leather. The firm also does well with lots of accessories, like fox cuffs and collars, mink hair scrunchies and ponytail pom-poms, fur boas and mink-trimmed leather gloves.
The company sells primarily to specialty stores. It has long had a showroom in room 1G32 of the International Apparel Mart, which is a few blocks down the road from its retail store. Kaye also has a retail fur store in San Antonio that sells only its line.
Kaye works with a variety of pelts, including sheared mink, nutria, sable, red fox, crystal fox (a cross between a red and a black fox), Tibetan lamb, knitted beaver, shearling and chinchilla.
A popular beaver vest wholesales for $350 to $375, while mink coats wholesale from $1300 and a shearling jacket starts at $400 and vests $149.
“My great grandparents were furriers in Russia and Poland, and they moved to the States in 1908,” explained Kaye, who does everything from working the sales floor to stitching fur pelts. “The company has been here in Dallas since 1935. It’s a family business that my Dad bought in 1979 from his cousin.”
The firm was called Spivey Bauman until 1985, when Morris Kaye died and the family renamed the firm in his honor. It remains a family business, with Joel’s sister, Joy Kaye, overseeing the company’s books and another sister, Carol Kaye, managing the San Antonio shop. Though the Kaye family has strayed from their fur-only origins — one of their new looks is a faux alligator jacket with matching pants — one thing remains the same, from Morris Kaye & Sons’ earliest days: “We do all the work ourselves — all repairs, alterations, reworking and designing,” said Joel Kaye.