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Still, when Laura Coffey, a wholesale fur buyer, started work in the mid-1990s at the San Antonio location of the high-end Texas department store Julian Gold, she remembers that mink jackets, strollers (knee-length coats) and full-length coats made up at least 90 percent of the fur salon’s wares. Farmed mink, durable and abundant, with a range of natural colors from silvery white to brown-black, was seen as an investment piece and a wardrobe staple for those with the means.
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“When China got into the market, that changed everything,” Ms. Coffey said. Chinese mink, an industry that grew rapidly in the ’90s, according to reports by the United States Department of Agriculture and ACTAsia, an international animal-rights organization, was lower quality but more affordable.
Rex rabbit fur, which beat mink fur in price and softness, came into vogue. Women started going for shaped coats that showed off their figure, and lightweight knit fur jackets. Furriers chased trends, with colorful dyes, vests and trimmed cardigans and leather jackets.
“Those big swing coats that were glamorous and gorgeous went away,” Ms. Coffey said wistfully. “Things started becoming smaller, more of an accessory than a moment. If you told me you wanted a full-length mink coat, I would have to scramble to find one.” Recently Julian Gold’s seasonal fur salon hosted a popular shopping event for furry mink Birkenstocks.
And 2020 has brought a new set of challenges for the mink coat, both environmental and cultural.
Unlike rabbit or leather, mink fur is not a byproduct of food production, nor does it support an indigenous economy. Minks are also carnivores, so their feed carries a heavy environmental footprint, according to a life cycle analysis commissioned by two European animal rights groups.
At the same time, according to a life cycle analysis commissioned by the International Fur Trade Federation, a natural mink fur coat has a lower impact than a faux fur coat measured over time, assuming a mink fur coat will be used and worn for 30 years and is often recycled into new fashion, while a faux fur coat’s life is more like six years before it is thrown into the landfill.