Fur flies as California moves closer to a statewide ban

In Summary

An advancing bill would ban the sale of new fur in California. Supporters say it's time to end inhumane fashions; furriers call that government overreach.

For two decades Larry Becker’s shop, Dicker and Dicker of Beverly Hills, has specialized in fashions with fur. Now, as California edges closer than ever to banning the sale of new fur, he fears an advancing state bill would be disastrous to his livelihood.

“It would mean the end of the business,” he said. “It would be devastating.”

Assembly Bill 44 would ban the sale and manufacture of new fur products in the state. Beginning in 2022, first-time violators would pay $500—a penalty that could double for further offenses. The exemptions: fur used for religious purposes and Native American cultural practices, and used fur.

“We’re not criminalizing you having grandma’s fur or you even selling grandma’s fur,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Laura Friedman of Glendale, the bill’s author.

Instead she said the aim is to model the values of Californians, who last year passed a ballot measure to ensure that egg-laying hens and certain other farm animals have larger cages.  

“The voters of California have said pretty consistently that if they buy a product in California that involves animals, they want to know that those animals were treated humanely,” Friedman said.

If the bill becomes law, California would be the first state to pass such a ban. Cities including West Hollywood, San Francisco and Los Angeles have city ordinances against fur already in place. Hawaii and New York city have also considered similar proposals. The Humane Society of the United States, a co-sponsor of the bill, has reported spending just over $10,000 lobbying for animal rights legislation in California thus far this year.

Friedman said methods such as electrocution can be used to kill animals for their pelts, while keeping fur intact and blemish-free. But opponents say that fur is strictly regulated and a ban would have a negative impact on California’s economy. The Fur Information Council of America, one of the bill’s primary opponents, has spent roughly $7,000 on lobbying the Legislature this year.

The bill doesn’t cover leather or shearling, used to make Ugg boots, for example. And a number of retail giants that already eschew fur, including Gap Inc., J Crew and H&M, support the bill.

Still, opponents say the bill is an example of substantial state overreach.

“When you impose a ban, it’s the legitimate people, the people who follow the rules, that go out of business,” said Keith Kaplan of the Fur Information Council of America, a trade group. “You encourage growth among the illicit players.”

One furrier from San Francisco did exactly what Kaplan predicts will happen. Bennie Lin, the owner of B B Hawk, closed up shop last year when the city passed a fur ban—and opened a new store in Dallas.

“I was the only one biting the bullet,” said Lin, who had been in business in San Francisco since the late 1980s. “I couldn’t take it anymore.”

Kaplan said banning the sale of fur would drive Californian customers out of the state.  When West Hollywood enacted its fur ban, businesses moved to Beverly Hills, he said. The Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce currently opposes the statewide ban.

“We have reached out to the business community and heard overwhelmingly how much negative impact a ban on fur will have upon our City and region,” Todd Johnnson, CEO of the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce, wrote in an opposition letter. “The City of Beverly Hills is famous around the world for its diverse and comprehensive luxury retail offerings and the prohibition of these products would place our City—and our state—at a great competitive disadvantage with other states where there is no such prohibition.”

Kaplan pointed out that faux fur is also often made with synthetic materials that could harm the environment (that issue has also spurred legislation, now stalled).

His answer: FurMark, a certification program that aims to help ensure animal welfare is the answer in California.

But fashion designers have also made the shift to fur-free items. Prada, along with a slew of other designers, announced it plans to omit fur from its future collections.   

“Focusing on innovative materials will allow the company to explore new boundaries of creative design while meeting the demand for ethical products,” said Miuccia Prada, the company’s head designer, in a written statement.

Gucci garnered nearly 180,000 likes on social media when the company announced its fur-free policy.

“I think this current generation and the future generation are becoming more and more aware of animal cruelty, and they also are really responding when companies take a stand publicly,” said PJ Smith of the Humane Society of the United States. “The writing on the wall is that the fur industry is done.”

Yet fur sales suggest otherwise.

Last year, the fur industry was projected to manufacture more than $352 billion in fur products, an increase from $336.9 billion in 2014, according to a Marketwatch report. The furniture industry has also fueled fur sales by using it to upholster chairs.

The issue proved popular at the state Capitol on Tuesday as animal rights advocates crowded the hallways in support of the bill.  

“All animals are innately born with the freedoms to live the life they should,” said Wendy Bramble, an animal rights activist with several organizations including Anonymous for the Voiceless. “The lives these animals live are miserable. In the case of the fur industry, it’s simply so someone could have a soft piece of skin on their clothing or something along those lines — it’s just for vanity.”

Opponents say if the fur ban becomes California law, the state should brace for a court challenge.

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