Boston firm makes roadkill into fashion. Ethical or just gross?

Pamela Paquin founded a company that makes fur pieces out of roadkill, saying it is the best way to honor the dead animals. 

Charles Krupa/AP
Pam Paquin tries on a fawn scarf and belt at her home in Central Massachusetts, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015. Paquin's source for fashion is either tres chic or will make you shriek: She creates muffs, wraps and scarves from road kill _ "accidental fur," as Paquin puts it. Her company, Petite Mort, uses roadkill fur harvested from animal carcasses culled with the help of highway departments and animal control officers.

While most people speed past roadkill, Pamela Paquin puts the animals into the trunk of her car. 

Ms. Paquin, the founder of Petite Mort Fur, started her business in Boston two years ago by skinning and selling the fur of roadkill – or as she likes to call it, ‘accidental fur.’

“If they’re dead, make use of it,” Paquin says in an interview with ABC. “Don’t be wasteful.”

Highway department and animal control workers tip Paquin off about roadkill sightings, calling her when they see a dead animal she might want. After she gets a call, Paquin skins the animals on site, then sends the furs off to a tannery before sewing the final piece herself. The items sell for thousands of dollars, with a raccoon muff and coyote hat both selling for $1,500 and a fawn scarf selling for $2,500. 

During a photoshoot for Paquin’s website, the models and photographers questioned her decision to bring a frozen, dead raccoon into the shoot. While everyone else at the shoot felt uncomfortable, Paquin said these dead animals are all part of the process. 

“It’s not just about fashion,” she said. “I started it because I love animals, and people need to look at what’s happening.”

Paquin hopes to inspire a new industry of “ethical fur” that can one day “completely mitigate the need to have animals in cages.” With a million animals killed on the road each day in the United States, Paquin says her company has the potential to shift the $35 billion fur industry away from caging more than 50 million farmed animals each year. 

Animal advocacy groups don’t outright condemn Paquin’s business, but they don’t particularly welcome it either.

Colleen O'Brien, a senior director at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), tells The Christian Science Monitor in an e-mail Monday that "There's never an excuse to wear fur, but if anyone has a morbid fur fetish, it's far better to wear roadkill..."

And while Paquin's roadkill strategy is far better than raising animals on a fur farm, PETA tells The Monitor that "it's impossible to tell at a glance whether a garment came from a faux-fur production line, a cruel fur farm, or a tragic car accident," so sympathetic shoppers should avoid the look of fur altogether. 

Virginia Fuller, from the Boston-area Citizens to End Animal Suffering and Exploitation, or CEASE, told the Associated Press that "accidental fur" could indirectly support the farmed fur industry.

“A business that promotes wearing real fur as fashionable and acceptable may well create more demand for fur from all sources and could give all fur wearers a shield from legitimate criticism,” said Fuller. 

But Paquin argues her "accidental fur" is one of the highest forms of animal advocacy.

“It’s a way for the customer to honor the animal and the animal’s life, rather than dissociating from it in the way you have to when you have fur that comes from trapped or caged animals,” Paquin told CNN. “If I’m going to benefit from an animal’s life and consequential death, then I need to be able to look it in the eye and face it, and make sure that it’s done well and with respect.” 

Paquin tries to make every stage of her business as sustainable as possible. After skinning the animals herself, she leaves the rest of the roadkill in a nearby for forest for other creatures to eat. This practice not only makes use of the rest of the animal, but it also prevents other forest creatures from venturing onto the roads to harvest the food themselves. 

The company’s website says Pamela believes in kindness between humans and animals. “She puts loving care into each piece she designs because she sees it as a tribute to the life it once belonged to.”

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