March 24, 2010

Skin Trade: How Much is Your Skin Worth?

Ten Elephant Journal readers will win copies of “Skin Trade” by visiting skintradethemovie.com and leaving your info. To be eligible to win, first email invite 100 of your friends to join the Elephant Journal newsletter: elephantjournal.com/join-the-cause

The documentary film “Skin Trade”, an exposé of the fur industry, recently premiered in Los Angeles. It seems absurd that in 2010, there is a need for a documentary film about fur. Fur is one of the most obvious cruelties perpetuated against animals. It’s shocking that people still wear fur, but unfortunately they do.

“Skin Trade” covers the fur industry like no other film has ever done – from the history of the fur trade to consumer fraud to the environmental toll of tanneries to truth-in-labeling legislation – and features several activists and celebrities who explain why fur sucks, such as Rory Freedman, John Feldmann, Alexandra Paul, James Cromwell, Jorja Fox, Peter Young, Matt Rossell, Ingrid Newkirk and Dennis Kucinich. An extremely well made film, “Skin Trade” is comprehensive, thought provoking, entertaining and enraging.

Producer Shannon Keith, an animal rights attorney who defends activists and pursues justice for abused animals, spoke with me about the concept behind “Skin Trade,” her second documentary (her first, “Behind the Mask, covered the animal liberation movement in the U.S. and U.K).

“I wanted to make a film about an issue that is winnable for us. If we can end the fur trade, it will be one big step towards ending animal cruelty. No one can argue there’s any good reason for fur.”

“Skin Trade” systematically debunks the most common myths around fur, such as warmth, fashion, and the Canadian Fur Council’s laughable “Fur is Green” campaign. The film features designer Donna Salyers, whose luxurious faux furs have the same heat retention value as animal furs. Lab tests compare the “R value” of different pile lengths, and show that animal fur and faux fur retain heat at same value.

Other interviews with designer Todd Oldham, former fashion journalist Julia Szabo, and Patrick Byrne, CEO of Overstock.com, reveal the economic pressures placed on designers and retailers by the fashion industry’s lust for animal fur. Oldham in particular speaks frankly about the financial consequences and the fashion magazine “media blackout” he endured when he opted to forgo fur. Another fashion scandal, well detailed in the film, erupted when clothing made in China and labeled “faux” was proven to be cat, dog, raccoon or wolf fur. Fortunately ethical style maven Joshua Katcher is on hand to provide hilarious ‘person on the street’ interviews with New Yorkers on why they wear, or don’t wear, animal fur.

The claim that fur is “green” is one of the latest marketing tricks perpetuated by the fur industry. In truth processing fur uses vast amounts of water, chemicals, metals, dyes, solvents and acids. Jan Schlichtmann, an attorney whose high-profile case against corporate polluters was dramatized in the feature film “A Civil Action”, explains that leather and fur tanneries use hundreds of toxic chemicals that end up in the soil and water. Chemicals are necessary so the skin and hair does not smell, rot and decompose. (After all, it is the skin of a dead animal.) Also debunked by several experts is the fur industry’s marketing claim that they support the preservation of Native American culture and provide aid to North American tribes.

Aside from rock-solid evidence from these and other authoritative sources, “Skin Trade” includes archival and new undercover footage exposing the cruelty, fraud and deceptions of fur farmers, trappers, and retailers. The film took close to three years to complete, in part because the producers insisted on presenting the most accurate and updated information on the practices used in obtaining and raising animals for fur. No film on the subject would be complete without some heartbreaking scenes of the cruel and unhealthy conditions that animals endure, and the brutal ways they are killed. Perhaps the most enraging scenes in the film are hidden-camera footage from fur salons, where people posing as customers are repeatedly told by salespeople that the animals are well cared for and that they are humanely euthanized just like a dog or cat at a veterinarian’s office. Sadly, that is nowhere near how the animals are actually killed.

As difficult as it can be to watch some scenes, for Shannon Keith, making the film was itself an ordeal. “I definitely had my ups and downs. Some of the footage really got to me. We had undercover footage, shot in China, of a worker killing a dog for fur. I couldn’t function for a little while. But no matter how hard it is to watch, I owe it to each and every one of these animals that are no longer with us. I have to tell their story. I had to do it. I had no other choice. I just had to keep on going.”

The most powerful documentaries alI inspire the viewer to challenge their beliefs and take action. I asked Shannon if she had any advice for people who have seen “Skin Trade.”

“In the film I interviewed Representative Jim Moran, who is sponsoring a bill called The Truth in Fur Labeling Act, H.R. 2480. Currently items of clothing that cost under $150 do not have to be labeled if they are animal fur, which is how real fur was sold to consumers who thought it was faux. This bill will require every product to be accurately labeled. I suggest that people hop on this legislation right now and get on your reps to cosponsor it.”

“Also, there is an anti-fur protest in practically every city all over the country every weekend. If you see someone wearing a fur coat, don’t just walk by. Ask them if they know how their fur was killed. Get the message out. There are people who just don’t know. They don’t. If they knew, they’d probably stop supporting the industry. Fur is ridiculous, cruel, not fashionable, and if you buy it, you’re being defrauded.”


Ten lucky Elephant Journal readers will win copies of “Skin Trade” by visiting Skin Trade website and leaving your name, email address and mailing address. To be eligible to win, we ask that you invite 100 of your friends to join the Elephant Journal website.

Gary Smith is co-founder of Evolotus, a PR agency working for a better world. Evolotus specializes in health and wellness, spirituality, animal protection, natural foods, documentary films, non-profits and socially beneficial companies. Gary and his wife adhere to a vegan lifestyle and live with their cat Chloe, in Sherman Oaks, CA.

Skin Trade Trailer:

Skin Trade Fur Sucks:


Pledge to go fur-free at PETA.org.

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