by MIKE CHAIKEN
Micayla Barrows loves the fur coat that she inherited from her grandmother, via her mother.
“I never borrowed that coat from her until last year,” said Barrows, who said her fashion sense had been more about track suits than furs back when she attended Woodland Regional High School.
However, the 19-year-old from Prospect said, “After seeing one of my most favorite Victoria’s Secret models wear a black fur coat on social media, I immediately added my great Nana’s coat to my closet.”
The Connecticut millennial’s appreciation of her “nana’s” coat flies in the face of a perceived change in public opinion.
Barrows is wearing real, not faux fur.
Barrows represents a change of fortunes in the beleaguered fur industry.
Rather than her preferences being driven by the animal rights movement that has been successful in getting some to give up their appetite for real fur, Barrows said celebrities have helped turn her into a fur believer.
“With social media as a part of my millennial routine,” said Barrows. “It had given me a new lens with which to look at fashion industry. So rather than (seeing) an old rich woman pulling up to a gala or heading to a fancy restaurant, the fur coat can now be seen on any gender, from any century, ranked in any class.”
Alyssa Anderson of Wolcott, 24, also now views real fur through a celebrity-tinted lens.
“I immediately correlate real fur with celebrities and predominately women,” said Anderson, who is a local style expert.
“I think of Marilyn Monroe… pictured in her mink fur collar,” said Anderson “More recently we have seen Beyonce, Kim Kardashian and (Jennifer Lopez) wearing real fur.”
Fur has lost some ground in the retail arena. Macy’s, which also operates Bloomingdale’s, recently announced it will no longer sell fur. Michael Kors and Gucci also have sworn off using fur.
Other current events also point toward a move away from real fur. California is banning real fur sales. London Fashion Week has not banned fur, but its last few seasons have seen designers present fur-free collections.
More shocking to the fashion world, style icon Kim Kardashian recently renounced her use of real fur and pledged her allegiance to faux fur.
Yet, despite those setbacks to the fur trade, sales are up for pelts, according to Euromonitor, a market research firm. Sales are up because fur trim on shoes and furniture have become the trend for the moment.
The animal rights movement has been vocal and visible.. But it has still not won over the majority of consumers. Even younger consumers are still on the fence about fur.
A Gallup study in 2010 found that fur is seen as morally acceptable by 55% of people aged 18-34 years, 57% of people aged 35-54 years, and 56% of people aged 55+ years.
Tia Hrusa, a figure model active in the Litchfield County arts community, is an activist who sits squarely in the anti-fur camp. She regularly attends protests against the fur industry.
The ethics of how fur coats are made drives the 40-year-old’s opposition. She is quick to cite in exact detail the numerous ways that minks are harmed to make a fur coat.
Barrows is less affected by the public campaign by anti-fur activists such as Hrusa.
“I was raised in an old-fashioned household where my dad taught my brothers and I how to hunt and raise farm animals,” said Barrows. “I learned about the love and good nature that animals can provide.” She also learned that their meat will nourish and their fur will provide warmth.
Susan Pagan of Warren, 57, has a fur coat. But the stylist for My Strongest Suit is looking to get rid of it and doesn’t want another. “I do love animals and can’t bear the thought of killing for fur.”
But, Pagan also understands the other side of the coin of the fur trade.
“My father and family used to be mink farmers,” said Pagan. “We raised the mink for the pelts, the bodies did go to use for feeding of other livestock.”
“I do believe that if wild animals are hunted and every part goes to use – eating, warmth, etc. – then I am not dead set against it,” said Pagan.
A 2016 survey by Mic.com found that 66 percent of millennials are not comfortable wearing fur.
“Fur is still a rare appearance for millennials,” said Barrows. Barrows, the reigning Miss Bristol, said, “When I step into my role as a pageant girl, I (see)… my sister queens (who range in age from 17 to 26) and other individuals in the program… wearing a fur coat.”
Connecticut fashion designers Rachael Al-Mahdi and Kathy Faber walk a fine line when it comes to fur and fashion. They wish to respect the wishes of their clients, even if those wishes may run counter to the designers’ personal opinions on real fur.
Al Mahdi, who has ties to Waterbury, said she understands why real fur is seen as stylish. “Modern real fur is fun and appealing… Consumers purchase real fur for its sense of luxury and warmth,” said the 53-year-old.
But, said al-Mahdi, “I believe if you wear real fur, you’re endorsing the intense suffering of animals.”
However, al-Mahdi, a vegan, will not advise her clients against wearing fur with her clothing “My only concern is providing education to my customer on how my designs are sustainable to the earth and how they can make a difference by wisely choosing what they wear.”
Bristol’s Kathy Faber, who is celebrating her 35th year in business, still uses faux fur and vintage real fur with her bridal and evening gowns.
Vintage fur is fur from used clothing that may have been made prior to concerns about ethical treatment of animals.
Faber said newly harvested real fur is not part of her work any longer.
If a client wanted to use a piece of vintage fur in one of her gowns, Faber said she would do so.
However, said the Bristol merchant, “I personally would not purchase or wear any real fur anymore.”
“The garment industry and public have become more sensitive to animal rights and cruelty so faux fur is a nicer updated choice,” said Faber.
Anderson, although she has a fashion aficionado’s appreciation for real fur, said she wouldn’t buy any for herself.
“I don’t believe it is necessary. I own several faux fur coats that look equally as luxurious without any of the guilt associated with wearing real fur,” said Anderson.
Although she is opposed to using real fur, Hrusa said she does own shoes and jackets trimmed with faux fur. For her, these “cute” clothes are proof that you can look fashionable but still be cruelty-free.