AR-News: Seal skin fashion to boost Canada's fur trade
Barry Kent MacKay
mimus at sympatico.ca
Thu May 6 12:19:09 EDT 2004
By Pauline Mason
In Montreal, Canada
A young girl strides down the catwalk wearing a blue seal skin biker
jacket worth 3,000 Canadian dollars (£1,230).
Sealskin is back in fashion
Welcome to the 22nd North American Fur and Fashion Exposition (Naffem)
Naffem is North America's oldest and biggest fur and apparel show.
It is a showcase for Canada's C$335m export industry.
This year the emphasis is on youth.
"A new generation of designers has re-interpreted fur," says event
organiser and vice president of the Fur Council of Canada, Alan
"It's lighter, sportier and more colourful."
Sealskin back in fashion
The mannequins on stage show off the Nunavut Inuit Collections.
In addition to the pricey fur jacket, other items include a number of
modern looking clothes, including a delicate bustier made from ring
seal skin and leather, priced at C$900.
The collection was set up seven years ago as part of the Nunavut
government's seal skin strategy to promote the native industry.
Elisapee Kilabuk is one of a growing number of Inuit designers working
The Nunavut Inuit Collections' co-ordinators Diane Giroux and Ingo
Moslener run workshops in a range of remote Inuit communities,
including Iqaluit where Ms Kilabuk lives.
Mr Moslener, who is also a master furrier, has worked with sealskin for
Nunavut Inuit designers would like to export more fur
He teaches the Inuit designers modern production techniques, such as
machine sewing, finishing, dyeing, processing and sizing to European
"These are products we could sell providing the market opens up now in
Europe, Russia," says Mr Moslener.
"America is a big market but, unfortunately that's where it's blocked."
The US currently bans the import of sealskin products, though 90% of
Canadian fur from other animals heads south of the border.
"I learn more tricks from [Mr Moslener], like beading when I make a
backpack or purse; a lot of people like them, I get better prices,"
says Ms Kilabuk.
One of her medium-sized, beaded rucksacks sells for C$250 while mittens
cost C$150 a pair.
"I would like to sell more outside Nunavut, if I'm able," adds Ms
The Canadian government's policy of culling 30,000 harp seal sparked a
ferocious campaign by animal rights activists.
Animal rights campaigners insist seal hunts are cruel
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) spearheaded the
"The most important thing we do is educate the public about the cruel
origin of seal products," says the head of IFAW's seal campaign,
"We urge them not to allow this product on the marketplace."
But, the globe's biggest animal conservation charity WWF - which has
been attacked by IFAW and other activists for refusing to back their
campaign - defends the hunt.
"It's a well managed hunt," says WWF's Dr Robert Rangely.
WWF has been monitoring this year's seal hunt, when hunters have been
required to shoot the seal in the head rather than use the traditional
"Right now there is no conservation issue," says Dr Rangely.
Even the environmental group Greenpeace, which led the anti-sealing
campaigns of the 1980s, says the campaign is no longer a priority issue.
Meat not murder
And yet, there are fears that the animal rights lobby could threaten
native people's livelihood.
Do people like Paris Hilton pose a threat to traditional living?
"I'm very worried by the damage they can do to native people like Inuit
seal hunters; in just a few years they've killed a market," says Thomas
Coon, the leader of the Cree Trappers Association (CTA).
"I'm worried they're going to kill our economy, our culture, our way of
The Cree are native to Canada, a "First Nation" people.
They have lived off the land in northern Quebec for centuries,
travelling on traditional sledges and camping out in tents.
They still do, although these days they use snowmobiles to get about.
For them, beaver and bear meat are delicacies. Muskrat and squirrel are
Bone, sinew, fat and fur are tools, thread, fuel and clothes.
Even wolf and fox meat are used as trap bait.
Nothing is wasted.
Mr Coon blames the anti-fur movement for displacing people from the
land by destroying their traditional markets.
"I see young first nation people taking their lives. They feel they
have no future, many think all there is to do is take drugs and drink
alcohol," he says.
"We must preserve our economy, our markets and keep people on the land."
IFAW is dismissive of his concerns.
"We don't oppose native subsistence hunting," says Ms Aldworth, but "it
is an unacceptable use of real problems facing the native community to
justify a trade the world despises".
A bigger piece of the action
The retail fur clothing market was worth $11.3bn (£6.37bn) in 2002-3,
registering its fifth annual rise in a row, according to the
International Fur Trade Federation.
Much of that rise reflects demand for wild fur, as opposed to European
It is becoming increasingly popular, as reflected by a 20% rise in wild
fur prices this year.
Rap stars P Diddy - Sean Combs - and Mr Biggs - Ronald Isley - have
brought out clothes ranges in coyote and fox fur.
Canada remains a major player in the wild fur market.
The trade contributes C$800m to the Canadian economy.
But at the moment, only about 3% of that goes to native hunters and
Indeed, work to promote and market native furs is opposed by some
sections of the native community, in particular when commercial methods
are used by hunters.
Barry Kent MacKay
Animal Protection Institute
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