Econundrum: Eco-Friendly Fur?

Antique lace and nutria top by Bayou Salvage. Photo by Jonathan Traviesa.

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


Much as I’d love to settle the fur debate once and for all, I know far better than to pretend I have the answer: PETA won’t catch me telling all you Econundrum readers to run out and buy a mink coat. Truth is, I can see both sides: Fur has the eco-advantage of being biodegradable, a quality that, as I wrote in a previous Econundrum column, is hard to find in synthetic fabrics. On the other hand, there’s the ethical issue: Most fur these days comes not from wild animals but from factory farms (like those from whence our fast-food burgers hail). In Canada, for example, the 2005 market for ranch-raised fur was three times the size of the wild fur market, according to the CBC. So, like I said, no grand fur proclamations here. But I think I’ve found one fur idea I like. There’s a bit of backstory here, so bear with me.

Our story concerns the nutria, a semiaquatic mammal that is not exactly charismatic: It looks roughly like a cross between a beaver and a rat. But in the early part of the last century, nutrias’ silky coats fetched a good price, so French trappers imported them from their native South America to the the southeastern US. The critters bred like crazy, and trappers made a good living off their pelts—until animal rights campaigns of the ’60s and ’70s made fur uncool. Demand for pelts took a nosedive, and trappers could no longer keep up with the ballooning nutria population. Today, the voracious little beasts, who prefer to dine on the roots of marsh plants, have destroyed large swaths of bayou. They’ve also been implicated in the destabilization of levees, which, as we all know, is not good news for bayou ecosystems or their surrounding towns.

Fast forward to 2000, when, in an effort to incentivize trappers to once again catch and kill the nutria, Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries began offering bounties—turn in a nutria tail, and the government gives you $5. It’s working: Trappers are once again able to make a living off the land, and the nutria population has declined. But the program is expensive, and the market for nutria fur is still tiny. Michael Massimi, the invasive species coordinator at the Barataria Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP) told me that more than 95 percent of carcasses caught for bounty currently go to waste. “The problem is that for most trappers, getting a buyer for the meat and fur is not worth the effort,” says Massimi.

Enter Cree McCree, a writer and fashion designer based in New Orleans. Last year, with the help of a $4,500 grant from BTNEP, McCree founded a group called Righteous Fur to promote nutria fur to fashion designers. McCree mobilized a few local designers, and the group has already staged two fashion shows this year. Recalls McCree, “We had everything from very elegant stoles and fur collar pieces to a tribute to Alexander McQueen.” McCree’s own contribution? A line of nutria-tooth jewelry. 

McCree’s project seems to be taking off. Designer Oscar de la Renta featured a nutria piece in a recent collection, and this fall, McCree will take the nutria show to New York City’s fashion week. The pieces aren’t commercially available yet, but that’s on McCree’s agenda. “Next I want to do mass market urban streetwear,” she says.

So there you have it: Fur fashion that also helps solve the problem of a destructive invasive species. Not saying McCree’s bright idea means you should run right out and buy yourself a new stole. Just something to think about.

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate