Fur ban sparks fury for Brooklyn businesses
One safety pin hangs out of Mitch Cohen’s mouth as he stabs another into a mahogany cuff of mink fur, labeling the fur coat with a sticky note for storage until next winter.
The 63-year-old Brooklynite has been working in the fur business for over 30 years. Now, he says, a proposed bill in the City Council puts his livelihood at risk.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, alongside Brooklyn Councilmembers Justin Brannan, Brad Lander, Antonio Reynoso and other representatives around the city, introduced legislation last month to ban the sale of new fur in the city in an effort to combat animal cruelty.
If the legislation passes, Cohen — an independent furrier — said he’s likely to be out of work.
“If I’m not out of work, probably I’ll be in the service business — but I don’t even want to think about it,” he said.
Cohen got his first job in the fur business in a third-generation family-run shop in Manhattan, a common setup in the industry, he said. “It’s not big corporate industries. This a family business that people have been running,” Cohen said.
In Brooklyn, that rings true. Hyman Kersner & Son on 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst has been in the same family for 92 years. In Midwood, Thomas Lax picked up the mantle from his father and has kept De Lax Furs in the family since, working alongside his wife and son now.
“I’ve been in this business for 50 years,” Lax said, mentioning he could retire if the ban goes through.
“It’s scary, but I’m at an age that for me it doesn’t affect me so much, but there are … a lot of young people in this industry who would lose their livelihood. I would lose my livelihood also. It’s not a joking matter.”
The proposed legislation would impose fines between $500 and $1,500 on any business selling new fur, depending on the number of violations. It would not apply to used or repurposed fur products.
Lax, 70, fanned out a pile of petitions that have been distributed by the fur industry this week to local furriers. The petition, addressed to the City Council, stands behind freedom of choice for customers. Lax has collected over 100 signatures this week.
“We oppose the enactment of this legislation. Instead, we ask that you, our legislators, protect consumer freedom, and continue to allow independent personal choice and fashion style,” the petition reads. “We ask that you respect and uphold the American dream, and in doing so, protect our jobs and generate income for our families.”
There are more than 130 strictly-fur businesses operating in New York, employing up to 1,100 people, according to the petition. The majority of those businesses are in Speaker Corey Johnson’s council district.
“I am an animal lover, and truly believe it is cruel to kill an animal just for the purpose of people wearing a fur coat,” Johnson told the Brooklyn Eagle. “The proposal reflects an ever-growing consensus in the fashion industry that the use of fur is not ethical, and it encourages innovation in the industry.”
Johnson cited “groundbreaking designers” that have been exploring environmentally-friendly alternatives for fur.
Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal also proposed a bill on the state level proposing prohibitions on fur products. Several other cities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, have passed similar bans.
Back in Brooklyn, Barbara Mangone stores her three fur coats every year at Hyman Kersner & Son before picking them up for the next holiday season.
“If someone don’t want to wear fur, they don’t have to … but don’t tell me what I can have and not have or what I can wear and not wear,” Mangone said. “I’ve been buying fur for a long time and I’m not stopping for no one.”
Paul Frangipane is a proud Brooklyn College alumnus and New Jersey native. His passion is documenting daily life and connecting cultures through photography and videography. You can follow more of his work on Twitter and Instagram.
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