New York Fur Industry Caught in Activists’ Crosshairs

Animal rights activists and fur industry supporters face off at a May 15 rally near City Hall.

Story and photos by Tevin Fairclough

One wall of the long and narrow Viktoria Stass Boutique in Manhattan’s Garment District is lined with luxurious fur coats in black, rich browns and some dyed purple or green. The other wall is adorned with fur-trimmed hats, scarves and purses.

Designer Viktoria Stass, 49, who owns the boutique with her husband Chris Tsapouris, surveyed her inventory during a recent interview and expressed concern for the future of her business because the City Council is considering banning all fur sales in New York City.

“I’m worried for my daughter and for ourselves,” said Stass. The family-owned business both sells and manufactures furs.

According to FURNYC, an industry group representing the fur sector, 150 New York City businesses, employing a total of 1,100 workers, make the majority of their revenue from fur. The organization estimates that fur-related businesses generate $850 million in revenue annually.

“The ban will not stop the purchase of fur but will send revenues out of New York City and shutter small, family-run businesses,” according to a statement on the FURNYC website.

The proposed ban, which was introduced by Council Speaker Corey Johnson on March 28, has created a clear battle line between the city’s fur industry opposing it and animal rights activists, who are strong advocates.

“For me this is really an argument about how we treat animals and how we act as a humane society,” Johnson said during a recent interview with NY1, “I think it’s unnecessary to kill animals just to wear them.”

The fact that Johnson’s District 3 includes the Garment District and Chelsea, where many fur businesses are located, has left many people in the industry feeling betrayed.

“Corey Johnson is supposed to represent the Garment District but he’s only representing himself,” said Stuart Greenberg of Corniche Furs, a Garment District boutique.

The proposed ban also has sparked opposition among black pastors and Hasidic Jewish leaders who argue that it would undermine religious and cultural traditions in the black and Jewish communities.  

If the bill is made law, stores could be fined from $500 to $1,500 for each violation. A City Council vote on the bill has not yet been scheduled.

For animal rights activists, a fur-sale ban in New York City would be a huge victory in an ongoing, national campaign. Similar bans have been adopted in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

“New York is one of the big fashion capitals of the world and it can be role model for the rest of the world that there’s no need to have cruelty when you want to have high fashion,” said Fran Silverman, a spokesperson for Friends of Animals.

“I think it’s unnecessary to kill animals just to wear them,” said Speaker of New York City Council Corey Johnson.

Beyond concerns over the potential loss of their livelihood, furriers also said they were worried the ban would blur the lines between citizens’ freedom and the government telling them what they can or cannot wear, sell, eat and use.

“I don’t want to be told what to do, we’re supposed to be free to choose what we want to choose,” Greenberg said.

Stass agreed. “Dictating is not what this country is about,” she said.

“These animal rights activists don’t believe in the use of animals in the production of leather, wool, silk and shearling,” Stass said. “They don’t want animals in the zoo, they don’t want horses in Central Park, and they don’t even want us to eat meat.”

Animal rights activists dismissed the argument that the ban would be government overreach.

“They’re deflecting from the animal cruelty argument,” said Nicole Rivard, another spokesperson for Friends of Animals. “They can never defend the industry as being animal friendly or compassionate towards animals.”

Furriers also said they are uncertain about how they would rid themselves of their existing inventory, worth millions of dollars, if the proposed ban is made law in New York City.

“This stuff can’t be liquidated,” said Tsapouris of the Viktoria Stass Boutique. “In San Francisco and L.A., there weren’t fur manufacturers, there were only stores so they just returned the items.”