San Francisco Chronicle: Fur clothing's days could be numbered in California - bill would ban sales
SACRAMENTO — For more than three decades, furrier Bennie Lin outfitted San Francisco’s elite in custom pieces — chinchilla vests, full-length mink coats and lynx jackets — from his showroom in the South of Market neighborhood.
But Lin’s run ended last year after San Francisco became the first major U.S. city to ban the sale of animal fur, a prohibition that California could soon take statewide.
“Basically, my whole business collapsed after 35 years,” Lin, 73, said by phone from Dallas, where he opened a new store last fall. “I had no choice. I can’t fight — I don’t have the time or energy.”
Fur retailers across California may face a similar fate: State lawmakers are close to approving a bill that would outlaw the sale and manufacture of new fur clothing and accessories. It would be the first such statewide ban in the country.
Supporters say the bill, AB44, is necessary to end a cruel and inhumane fur trade that raises animals in filthy conditions and slaughters them solely for their fur, a description that industry groups dispute.
Assemblywoman Laura Friedman’s bill would prohibit selling or trading clothing and decor from animal fur, including “handbags, shoes, slippers, hats, earmuffs, scarves, shawls, gloves, jewelry, keychains, toys or trinkets, and home accessories.”
Friedman, D-Glendale (Los Angeles County), said the fur industry keeps wild animals like foxes and mink in cramped cages, contrary to their nature and Californians’ values.
“This bill is years in coming,” she testified at a legislative hearing this month. “We’ve known from people who’ve gone undercover for years in the fur industry that it is impossible to be assured of humanely raised fur.”The bill would be a blow to an industry that is already in serious trouble. Major fashion labels have gone fur-free in droves, and the industry has seen a nearly 18 percent drop in sales since 2015, according to the Business of Fashion, a fashion news website. Several major brands have endorsed the California legislation, including Gap Inc., Diane von Furstenberg, Hugo Boss and Patagonia.Brandy Kuentzel, an attorney for the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which endorsed the bill, said it’s already become “faux pas to wear fur.”“You really don’t see fur on the streets of San Francisco,” she said. “I just think it’s kind of a bygone era.”
Berkeley, Los Angeles and West Hollywood have enacted bans similar to San Francisco’s.Under the California bill, violators could face a civil fine of $500 or up to $1,000 for repeat violations within the same year. Each fur item sold could be treated as a separate violation.The bill passed the Assembly by 52-16 in May and faces a final vote in the Senate after the Legislature returns from its recess next month. It would take effect in 2022. Gov. Gavin Newsom hasn’t said whether he would sign the measure.Retailers could still sell second-hand fur clothing or decor under the bill. The measure also wouldn’t apply to faux fur, which is generally made from plastics. Taxidermy and the sale of leather, cow hides and the full skin of deer and sheep and goats would remain legal, as would fur used in religious ceremonies or by a member of a Native American tribe for cultural practices.
Activists from the Bay Area have been at the forefront of the fight. Dozens came to the Capitol earlier this month for a Senate committee hearing, some of whom walked 150 miles to draw attention to the issue.Priya Sawhney, 30, an activist from Berkeley with Direct Action Everywhere, an animal-rights group, spent a week walking to Sacramento. She hopes the bill will inspire not just similar efforts in other states, but also more far-reaching measures.Banning new fur sales is “just the first pillar of taking down the animal agriculture industry,” she said. “If we can ban the sale of fur, that’s just the beginning of a bigger conversation about animal rights.”Industry groups have argued that real fur is more eco-friendly than alternatives made from petroleum-based plastics.
“Fur farming and wild-sourced fur production has strong oversight and is far more regulated than our harshest critics contend,” the International Fur Federation wrote in a letter to lawmakers.A small group of protesters opposed the bill at the Senate hearing this month. But activists with Direct Action Everywhere uncovered Facebook posts suggesting some had been paid.In one Facebook post, Andrew Aguero, a student who later testified against the bill, offered $100 for people to “fight tyranny” in Sacramento. Aguero is affiliated with the libertarian group Young Americans for Liberty. He could not be reached for comment.Ashley Doyle, a public policy specialist for the Humane Society of the United States, a sponsor of the bill, said the “stunt” showed opponents’ desperation.
“Consumers are increasingly rejecting cruel fur products, but rather than prepare for those changing tastes, opponents would rather pay ordinary Californians to deceive lawmakers as a last-ditch effort to salvage a dying industry,” she said.Keith Kaplan, a spokesman for the Fur Information Council of America, said the group had reimbursed some opponents as much as $60 to travel to Sacramento to testify, but that it wasn’t connected to the $100 offer on Facebook.The group frames the bill as government overreach and a step toward animal rights activists imposing their views on the state.Kaplan said the bill won’t stop the sale of fur because wealthy buyers will simply travel elsewhere or order clothing online. He said the bill will open the door to bans on leather and other animal products.
“People need to wake up and recognize that there is this attack on personal freedoms, driven by one side, by personal morality,” he said.Some furriers say they will take the fight to court if the bill becomes law. David Appel, 67, who owns a fur showroom in Beverly Hills, is among them. He said he plans to retire in the next few years and sell his business, but that the bill could make that impossible.“If you take my business away, you pay for it,” Appel said. “It’s un-American to take somebody’s business away because of the will of a minority.”