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Furor Over Fur Coats Heats Up

Rights groups are using aggressive tactics to demand more humane treatment of animals. ANIMAL RIGHTS

By Elizabeth A. BrownStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 17, 1990


IT'S a bitter cold day. The shopping district is packed with shoppers, sidewalk hawkers, and workers on lunch breaks. In the middle of the bustle, protesters are fighting against fur coats. Their ammunition: big signs that say ``Don't Wear Fur,'' leaflets telling of the atrocities suffered by animals before they become clothes, and a megaphone through which the ringleader chastises people - mostly women - wearing fur coats and hats.

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``It takes vain, cruel, selfish people to wear dead animals!'' shouts Louise Dell'Amico, organizer of today's rally and executive director of Citizens to End Animal Suffering and Exploitation (CEASE), based in nearby Cambridge, Mass. ``You should be ashamed!''

This rally is one of thousands that have taken place around the world in the past year as the animal-rights movement has grown more vociferous and more demanding. Today's activists go beyond trying to protect the welfare of animals to demanding that people recognize inherent rights of animals - which they say are equal to those of humans.

THE largest national group to defend animal rights is a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which launched the first major antifur campaign two years ago. The 10-year-old PETA has 300,000 members in the United States, plus a few thousand overseas, according to Dan Matthews, director of special projects.

There's strength in numbers - not only to inform (and intimidate) on the street, but also to fund a media blitz across the country. The message is based on emotion, sometimes to shame but usually to distress with graphic scenes of animal brutality. In Boston, billboards of animals' eyes plead for an end to slaughter.

Bumper stickers are everywhere: ``Fake People Wear Real Furs.'' National magazines carry advertisements with photos of trappers clubbing creatures to death and minks and foxes in cramped cages freezing in winter weather. The activist environmental group Greenpeace shocked British TV viewers with an ad of a woman modeling fur, spraying blood on the runway and audience.

While CEASE is on the street with signs and messages, PETA is getting at fashion's roots, convincing modeling agencies, photographers, and stylists to refuse to work with furs. Three major designers - Bill Blass, Georgio Armani, and Norma Kamali - have stopped using furs, although not specifically due to the prodding of PETA.

Public figures are supporting the cause. ``People listen to celebrities,'' says Mr. Matthews who lauds First Lady Barbara Bush (lover of faux pearls) for refusing to wear a fur that a designer offered to loan her for the inauguration; she wore her wool coat instead.

Next month, residents of Aspen, Colo., - where the rich and famous love to ski - will vote on a measure that would ban the sale of fur coats there.

Coming soon from PETA: A money-raising record called ``Tame Yourself,'' with songs donated by rock stars like Belinda Carlisle (formerly of the Go-Gos), k.d. lang (a country singer who still wears leather) and the B-52's (who shun all animal products).

Is all this having an effect?

``Absolutely,'' says PETA's Matthews, pointing to fur industry growth, which has been flat for the past three years. Pelt prices for wild furs - obtained by trapping - have been cut in half. Matthews quotes a fur industry magazine that documents the falloff: A fox pelt that might have brought $70 a year ago now goes for $30.

The three largest publicly traded furriers - Evans, Antioch, and Fur Vault - all have reported losses in the millions of dollars since 1987.

Yet fur industry insiders refuse to credit the animal-rights movement. Instead they cite other reasons: Furs are cheaper, winters have been warmer, buyers are skittish about such investments, and furs aren't as much in fashion.