by Nicole Rivard
Even with U.S. cities like San Francisco banning the sale of fur, and New York City, one of the fashion capitals of the world, determined to do the same, consumers addicted to the idea of real fur as a glamorous status symbol are still able to wear their cruelty-ridden clothing bought elsewhere.
So Kym Canter, driven by animal welfare and environmental concerns, created a faux fur brand—House of Fluff—that is stylish, luxurious and sophisticated enough to make those shoppers choose her coats over the real thing.
She’s giving them a whole new textile, she says, and newness is everything in the fashion world.
“That’s how I’m really going to effect change. When a woman comes to me in a fur, and I can get her to realize there is an alternative, to realize real fur is obsolete, and to see that House of Fluff looks just as good, I feel so happy,” Canter said.
Canter and House of Fluff design director Alex Dymek have a lot to be happy about. Even though the fashion house is not yet even two years old, two of the biggest fur-centric communities in the world, Aspen, Colorado and Gstaad, Switzerland, have reached out, wanting to sell her luxury products, which range from hoodies and capes to ultra-plush bombers and coats.
“That really shows that women are getting it—all kinds of women. Not just women who want to support animal welfare issues,” Canter said.
“We actually don’t identify first as a vegan brand or an animal-wellness alternative. We are a fashion brand. But we don’t kill animals. And we don’t hurt the planet. Isn’t that the point, not to just service those that know about the animal welfare issue, but to bring the ones that don’t know over?”
House of Fluff products are also sold in Neiman Marcus, online at net-a-porter.com and houseoffluff.com, and Canter said to expect another pop-up shop in NYC this fall.
After meeting Canter, you realize her success thus far is not just beginner’s luck. Ironically, she has an inside scoop on what fur wearers want—she is a confessed former fur addict herself. As the former creative director of J. Mendel, a stronghold in luxury fur, she had built up what she described as “quite a treasure trove of furs.”
She sold all 26 coats to fund the launch of NYC-based House of Fluff. Over coffee at the Bowery Hotel, Canter shared with me the moment she changed teams.
It was wintertime, her favorite season, a little over 2-½-years ago, and she was headed to a party in Tribeca. She reached into her closet and pulled out a vintage 1940s monkey-fur coat, forgoing the ocelot fur.
“As I put it on I had the ‘aha’ moment and I went, ‘Oh my god there is no way I am wearing this’,” she said. “I will be shunned. I don’t want to be the girl that is wearing the dead monkey. That’s disgusting. Or a big cat who is now endangered. They were extreme coats that caused the moment.”
Something that once felt glamorous just did not feel cool anymore, she recalled.
“It did not feel right. The zeitgeist had changed,” she said. “And my own ethics had changed. Around the same time, I was becoming more conscious of what I ate, the beauty products I used and the cleaning products I used in my house. The last thing to go was my closet. It really was the hold out.”
After that, she started searching for something that felt equally chic and glamorous as her fur coats and came up short.
She felt like there was nothing sophisticated enough on the market for her to wear.
“So I thought, I am just going to make something,” Canter said. “I mentioned it to my girlfriends. And because I had come out of J. Mendel and because I was so well identified as a luxury fashion person that knew fur, they said, ‘OMG I want one.’ And I thought, ‘I think there is something bigger going on here.’”
And of course there was something bigger going on. Since the launch of House of Fluff in November 2017, Gucci banned the use of fur starting with its Spring/Summer 2018 collections.
“Do you think using furs today is still modern? I don’t think it’s still modern and that’s the reason why we decided not to do that. It’s a little bit outdated,” Marco Bizzarri, Gucci’s chief executive and president, told major press outlets.
“Creativity can jump in many different directions instead of using furs.”
The day Gucci made the announcement, Canter recalls getting off a plane and her phone went bananas.
“The one thing about a legacy brand like Gucci is it has this really incredible credibility,” Canter said.
“So the fact that they came out and said we don’t think fur is modern, basically they said we don’t think it’s fashionable. ‘We are fashion and we don’t think this is fashionable’ was the perfect way to say it.”
In the last two years, Burberry, Michael Kors, Tom Ford, John Galliano, Maison Margiela, Jimmy Choo and Versace have all committed to going fur free.
FUR INDUSTRY CREATES GREAT FUR DEBATE
With the fashion industry acknowledging animal cruelty is not a good look on anyone, the fur industry, fearful of going extinct, has ramped up its propaganda.
The industry is hell-bent on making faux fur the villain to distract from the violence towards animals and the harm to the environment that is at the core of the fur industry.
For instance, in December 2018 the International Fur Federation took out a billboard in Times Square with the message “Fake fur kills fish,” an effort to sway the public into believing all faux fur is full of toxic petrochemicals that cannot biodegrade and that shed plastic microfibers, which end up in drinking water and oceans.
The fur industry timed it perfectly as people are ditching things like plastic straws and single-use plastics in an effort to save the oceans. But in reality, discarded fishing gear is the most detrimental to oceans, not faux fur.
“The fur industry basically did a smart thing,” Canter said. “Whoever handles their lobbying basically said there is a hotter issue than animal welfare, and we will always lose the animal welfare issue…so let’s just change the equation and start talking about sustainability and start saying that faux fur is much more harmful to the planet; that real fur is the natural choice, and use all this language that people respond to.
“The fact of the matter is that there are enough studies that say the opposite. It’s false advertising.”
Canter is adamant that everyone in fashion needs to be held accountable about earth issues, not just designers who use faux fur.
“I think it’s great that customers are asking me about the sustainability of faux fur, but I think it would be really terrific if they felt that way about everything they put on. They are buying into the fur industry’s propaganda and making us this villain when in fact we are so far from it,” she said.
HOUSE OF FLUFF’S ECOCREDENTIALS
While Canter admits fast fashion, including cheap faux fur, lacks eco-credentials, House of Fluff is making huge efforts to be eco-friendly and to create pieces that will last a lifetime. Her customers are not going to get something that they’ll only want to wear for a season and then throw out so it ends up in a landfill.
For Canter and Dymek, innovation is the new luxury, which is good news for animals and the planet. The company uses recycled polyester fiber to make its coats.
Products are lined in natural fabrics like cotton jersey and combined with French terry so they feel as soft and comfy on the inside as they do on the outside.
No single-use plastics are used anywhere in the company. And all scraps are upcycled into jackets for dogs as well as little plush collectibles called “scrappies.” Scrappies’ playful faces are also put on scarves and hoodies.
House of Fluff is also working with scientists at Cradle to Cradle, which issues certifications to sustainability-committed companies, to make a bio-based faux fur textile Canter hopes to bring to market in 2020. Bio-based products are derived from plants and other renewable agricultural, marine and forestry materials and provide an alternative to conventional petroleum-derived products.
And this month the brand is about to launch a style that looks and feels like fleece but that’s made from Ecopel, a textile made of 100% recycled ocean plastics.
THE FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT
Whether the furriers like it or not, the interest in faux fur in the luxury market continues to grow. Canter believes millennial customers, who don’t think cruelty is in vogue and who believe we all share an increasing responsibility to take care of the planet, are driving its popularity. It’s the complete opposite of what she knew growing up, she said.
“I grew up in the 70s in Connecticut. It was a huge thing when your mom got a mink coat—that was a huge sign of status,” she said.
“I had grown up very much not connecting animal welfare issues, the horrors of fur, to what I was doing. “I lived this double life. I was always in fur but I always loved animals and supported all these animal charities. It was weird that I had that job at J. Mendel for so long. But I kept myself very sheltered—I never went to any fur farms.”
Canter feels hopeful that the luxury faux fur industry as a whole can band together to share the many ways their products are more ethical for animals and the planet than real fur.
“The fur lobby must be drinking the same cool aid as Donald Trump. They both seem to ignore real facts and attempt to create their own fake truths,” she said in an interview with the Faux Fur Institute.
As we hug goodbye and Canter slips on her slinky House of Fluff leopard-print trench, I think about the old adage, if you look good you feel good. In her case, ditching real fur for faux fur not only makes her look good, but she feels so much better.
“I feel great about what I’ve done. But I feel that there is so much more to do. I definitely don’t feel I’m done,” Canter said.