California

The end could be near for California’s fur retailers as statewide ban moves forward

In this photo taken Friday, March 16, 2018, Benjamin Lin holds up a fur coat at the B.B. Hawk showroom in San Francisco. San Francisco could become the largest U.S. city to ban the sale of fur items, a move that would hearten animal lovers but frustrate niche business owners who say they’re fed up with a city that dictates what retailers can or can’t sell. If the ban is approved by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, March 20, 2018, San Francisco would join two other California cities, West Hollywood and Berkeley, in saying no to a symbol of glamour that animal advocates say is built on cruelty and doesn’t reflect the city’s values. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
In this photo taken Friday, March 16, 2018, Benjamin Lin holds up a fur coat at the B.B. Hawk showroom in San Francisco. San Francisco could become the largest U.S. city to ban the sale of fur items, a move that would hearten animal lovers but frustrate niche business owners who say they’re fed up with a city that dictates what retailers can or can’t sell. If the ban is approved by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, March 20, 2018, San Francisco would join two other California cities, West Hollywood and Berkeley, in saying no to a symbol of glamour that animal advocates say is built on cruelty and doesn’t reflect the city’s values. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg) AP

Donna Pappas’ long run leading a Los Angeles fur coat and crafts shop is coming to an end, and a proposed state law could put her out of California entirely.

Her family has a 75-year history designing and selling fur coats in Los Angeles. A citywide ordinance will make that occupation illegal by Jan. 1, 2021 and she says she hasn’t put much thought into what she’ll do next.

She’ll have fewer options if the Legislature this summer passes a statewide ban, which would outlaw fur sales by Jan. 1, 2022.

“This thing has been moving faster than a speeding bullet,” Pappas said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do - that’s the truth, there’s been no time.”

The fur ban, sponsored by Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, D-Glendale, is one of several animal rights bills that are moving forward through the Legislature targeting once-popular industries that now are perceived as out-of-fashion among the state’s power brokers.

Her Assembly Bill 44 would prohibit the sale and manufacturing of fur products. Another measure would outlaw fur-trapping. And one more would ban circuses from using wild animals in live performances.

Supporters of Friedman’s bill argue the fur industry is dying, especially after major retailers like Prada, Michael Kors and Gucci left the fur industry in the past few years.

“With many modern alternatives available, whether in the form of faux fur or other fabrics, fur is unnecessary,” Friedman said.

But fur retailers are digging into defend the industry, which they say records about $300 million a year in sales in California.

They’ve offered to participate in a certification program called FurMark that sets standards for animal welfare and environmental sustainability.

They’re also contending that fur products are safer for the environment than non-degradable, plastic-based alternatives.

And, fur industry lobbyists argue that wealthy fur shoppers will simply buy products from out-of-state if they can’t shop in California.

“In the luxury sector, buyers aren’t limited geographically. If they want a product and they can’t buy it where they are, they will go where they can,” Keith Kaplan, the director of communications for the Fur Industry Council of America said at a recent Senate committee hearing.

Lawmakers also are getting an earful from animal rights activists who’ve already lobbied the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles to outlaw sales of new fur products.

Almost 70 activists from Direct Action Everywhere crowded last week’s hearing on Friedman’s bill, sharing accounts of what they regard as animal cruelty.

Cassie King, an organizer for the group, said in a Facebook video that she uncovered “rotting corpses and terrified babies rattling their tiny metal cages” when she investigated a California rabbit farm last year.

She said she took from the farm one rabbit named Mabel with her, and plans to bring it with her to the Legislature.

“The global fur trade is a $40 billion dollar industry that could send me to prison for saving Mabel. But if they do, I know hundreds of people will rise up,” King said in the Facebook video.

Her organization is skeptical of the concessions the fur industry offered, such as FurMark labeling.

“One thing that’s really telling is that they didn’t propose this at all until right before these bans were proposed. And the fur industry has been around for hundreds of years,” said Matt Johnson, a spokesman for Direct Action Everywhere.

In Los Angeles, Pappas of Somper Furs says her business is going as well as ever this year despite the looming citywide ban on fur sales.

It designs many of its own products. She buys all her linings, threads and velvets that go into fur coats from local merchants in LA, and she believes that they are going to lose a significant portion of their business if she is forced to close down her shop.

Pappas had planned to turn the store over to her 24-year-old daughter one day. She also worries about her 12 employees, who’ve become exceptionally skilled in their niche.

“It is rather ridiculous to think that people can adapt in such a short period of time, that employees can be retrained,” she said.

This story was updated on July 6, 2019 to correct the fur industry’s estimate for the value of its annual sales in California.

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Elizabeth Shwe, from Princeton University, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee interested in politics and immigration. She grew up in New Jersey.
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