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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 9 January 2005 Issue

 Fur scurrys off of store shelves
By Mary Ethridge

Industry's renewed popularity brings cheers from retailers, jeers from animal rights activists

This holiday season, the fur was flying out the doors of retailers across the country.

Although it was a disappointing Christmas for many merchants, those who cater to America's wealthiest enjoyed another year of stellar sales.
Luxury furs, long out of favor, have made a comeback among flush consumers.
``This past year was just great for us. It keeps getting better,'' said Mark Ayzman, owner of Vollbracht Inc., a furrier in Fairlawn's Summit Mall.
Ayzman recently remodeled the store, tripling the size of his sales floor and storage area.
``We needed room to expand,'' he said.
Overall, sales of furs, which dropped by a third from 1987 to 1995, rose an estimated 15 percent in 2004 to more than $2 billion, said Robert Southwick of the Florida-based research firm Southwick Associates.
It was the third straight year of sales gains for the industry. Sales were led by mink, which accounts for 60 percent of all fur sales, Southwick said.
Animal rights activists are horrified and suspect the fur industry of inflating sales numbers. They note that the number of fur farms has declined over the past few years.
``We certainly wouldn't put it past the fur industry to lie. What else do you expect from people who slaughter baby animals?'' said Matt Prescott, campaign coordinator for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.
Ayzman believes people are tired of listening to the animal activists.
``That's long forgotten. It has not had an impact on furriers in a long time,'' he said.
Whatever side of the fur debate you're on, one thing is clear: Fur coats aren't just being worn by well-heeled grandmas on their way to church.
Today, your mink may be pink. Or purple. Or both.
Sheared, shaved, grooved, sculpted and dyed, fur is used to create and adorn all manner of clothing, from ponchos and pants to pins and purses.
Furriers have created new styles to appeal to younger shoppers who are looking for a little fur flash to go with their bling-bling.
``When I took over the business 23 years ago, most of our customers were well into retirement age,'' said Ayzman. ``Now most of my customers are in their 20s, 30s and 40s. And I have a lot of male customers.''
Others see the same trend.
``We have seen an increase in considerably younger customers,'' said designer Dennis Basso, who operates stores in New York City and Aspen, Colo. ``Fur has become a mainstream part of fashion.''
Neiman Marcus, whose average customer has an income of about $190,000, posted a 10.4 percent same-store sales gain in December that was partly fueled, it said, by sales of furs. (Animal rights people call the company Neiman Carcass.)
Not everyone can afford or wants a full-length, flashy fur. That's why many designers have included fur trim on their accessories for a touch of luxury.
``Fur has come back after being politically incorrect for so long,'' said Pam Danzinger, founder of Unity Marketing, a consulting firm based in Stevens, Pa. Still, she said, many consumers want to wear fur ``in a subtle way.''
Ayzman tries to offer something in all price ranges and for varying tastes, from a multi-colored fur scarf for $29 to a $30,000 Russian sable jacket.
Among younger consumers, his beaver vests, dyed in hot colors, are popular. More conservative customers like shearling, lamb skin that has the hide on the outside and fur on the inside.
``I got in 100 shearling coats at the beginning of the season. I'll sell them all before the end of the season,'' he said.
Older women are unlikely to be wowed by the hot pink fox shrug with satin ties, he said.
``The grandmother is not going to be interested,'' Ayzman said. ``but the granddaughter will be.''
Prescott of PETA points out that the look and feel of fur can be easily created with synthetics.
``Synthetics are as warm as they are stylish,'' he said.
Although no one to date collects sales figures on faux fur, it is popular. Several trendy designers, including Todd Oldham and Marc Andrews, use only faux fur in their designs.
Prescott said PETA and other anti-fur groups have directed their attention back to the cause they thought they had won 15 years ago.
``The gloves are back off in our battle with the fur industry,'' said Prescott. ``They're going to lose.''
So while fur may be warm and fuzzy, the feelings on both sides of the debate are not.
Meanwhile, consumers are expected to seek fur in their fashions again this year, retail watchers predict.
Editors Note: we are going to have to work harder to expose the horrors of the Fur Industry._ Suggest People watch The Witness
Directed by Jenny Stein
Volume 1 of the Animal People Anthology
A Tribe of Heart Documentary
43 min. Not rated.

“A miracle is a change in perception,” says Eddie Lama, the down-to-earth hero of the newly released animal rights documentary, The Witness. If that is so, then this film may work many miracles.

Crossing old ground by way of a remarkably fresh path, The Witness manages to make harmony of the interplay between two diametric poles, the rational and the emotional. Director Jenny Stein and Producer James LaVeck, co-founders of Tribe of Heart, the non-profit organization behind The Witness, discovered the perfect instrument through which to create such harmony: Eddie Lama.

Eddie, now a successful architectural metals contractor in New York City, grew up in a tough Brooklyn neighborhood. His New York accent, heavy enough to make the Sopranos wince, gives Eddie’s simple, direct words an extra edge of authenticity, perhaps because we don’t expect a guy like Eddie to express intense compassion with such sublime eloquence.

Interweaving laughter and sobriety, he traces his evolution from a meat-eating, Camel smoker (two packs a day, unfiltered) with a mild disdain for animals, to a vegan and animal advocate—who quit smoking in order to save animals from his second-hand smoke. Before Eddie’s change in perception, he agreed to cat-sit for a woman in the hope of scoring a date with her. Instead, Eddie fell in love with the kitten. Then he started rescuing strays. One day, he made a connection between his cat’s leg and a chicken’s “drumstick,” and that was the end of meat for Eddie.

While Eddie is fluent in the language of every kind of animal cruelty, it was the fur industry—an issue close to home in the glamorous streets of New York—that made him decide to make people “see what I see.” Having been the victim of a vicious attack himself—a savage mugging that left him nearly dead—he has suffered feelings of helplessness and terror, and of bewilderment at the by-standers who ignored his cries. So Eddie resolved not to be a by-stander to the fur industry’s brutality: “My sense of despair and helplessness transformed into action.” He created Faunavision, a mobile audio-visual system that turns the side of a van into a movie screen with digital captions and interactive sound. Knowing that harsh underground footage of the fur industry wasn’t coming to prime time or to a theater near you, Eddie brought the big screen to the streets. The response of his street audience, brilliantly depicted in The Witness, illuminates the force and mystery of empathy.

Although Eddie still contracts, countless animals are fortunate that he moonlights. Along with his Faunavision excursions, Eddie founded a sanctuary for abandoned animals called Oasis and founded a grass roots advocacy group called COATS (Citizens Outraged at Animal Torture and Suffering). It’s hard to believe that Eddie—the recent recipient of PETA’s You Did It! award for his work with companion animals—once viewed a cat as nothing but an “ambulatory organism,” making his awakening all the more miraculous.

Relating a few points in the progression of The Witness hardly does justice to its majestic grace. The 43 minute documentary packs all the dramatic punch of an epic Hollywood feature, not only because of the aesthetic genius which Stein and LaVeck bring to the film, but because of its crescendo to a heart wrenching climax. The Witness ultimately sparks a volcanic release akin to the catharsis one might expect from a great performance of Don Giovanni.

In spite of its intensity—or because of it—The Witness charms AR veterans as easily as it does people not familiar with the issues, in part because it does not compel examination by didactic righteousness. Rather, it evokes a universal sense of interrelationship, baring truth at once with beauty, making each undeniable. Deceptively simple, the film works on many levels, providing such easy and deep access to “animal consciousness” that it ranks among the most effective cinematic tools for social change to date. Its debut at this year’s Canyonlands Film Festival earned The Witness the award for best documentary, one of many accolades that are sure to follow.

As the first installment of a four part series called the “Animal People Anthology,” Stein and LaVeck have created a masterpiece that will be a tough act to follow. Anyone who sees this film will certainly await Tribe of Heart’s second volume not only with anticipation, but with awe, for The Witness is a powerful gift.

Please go the this website for more information: on purchasing this powerful video


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