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Everybody loves a wookie.

Everybody loves a wookie

THE NON-RESIDENT PERCEPTION OF the average Alaskan is a hairy fellow in a wolf-trimmed parka, seal-skin boots, fleece-lined long johns and mink earmuffs. Kind of a bear with a haircut. I hate to be the one to say it, but the image has got to change. Fur is under fire.

Honest. I got it straight from a reliable source - USA Today. (Everyone knows that's an in-depth newspaper.) There it was in black, blue and orange, complete with a little graph. Item: Sometime this month, no trendier city than Aspen, Colo., will vote on whether to turn itself into a "fur free" zone, with nothing but ecologically sound fibers for sale within town limits.

Don't think the Rocky Mountain rich thought this up on their own, though. If the truth be known, animal protesters have been pounding the shoe leather for years now in an annual outing known as Fur Free Friday. When the event was held last November, 3,500 of them stomped down New York's Fifth Avenue threatening to skin any pelt peddler in the Big Apple alive. (It was enough to raise my hackles, I'll tell you!)

Fortunately, furriers are not going to fold without a fight. Their latest PR position is that animal rights activists care more for rats than AIDS victims and are spiking the chances for world peace by demonstrating against Russian exports. They also have started their own envelope-stuffing campaign of sorts. With every mink coat purchased in 1990, customers will not only be receiving a monogrammed lining, but also a little, tastefully bound, leather book entitled It's No Skin Off Your Back!

"It's basically a pro-choice thing," says an industry spokesperson. "Fur-owning females shouldn't be easy prey for every militant vegetarian in nauga-hyde. Flaunt a fur and you really feel on top of the food chain!"

Basically, I have to agree. What is a sable anyway, but a well-dressed rodent? Besides, this industry employs a lot of people. According to federal statistics, more than 21,000 people worked in the fur goods industry in 1987 (also known as SIC 2371, for all you statistics buffs).

Despite protests, national fur sales for 1989 ran approximately $1.8 billion. Nor is there any apparent shortage of the most popular little critter that goes gently into the great beyond for the benefit of later hanging in the front hall closet. In fact, there's a surplus of them.

In 1987, a dead mink cost about $43. By 1989, the price of a pelt had dropped to about $26, mainly due to oversupply. These things must breed like rabbits! Figure it out: At 26 bucks a shot, even if only a third of the industry caters to the upscale market, we consumed more than 23 million minks last year alone. It's enough to make a mistress giggle. Even at that we couldn't keep the price from falling.

While the hairy little carnivores used in high-class coats aren't on the endangered species list, I do have some sympathy for those who rebel against such conspicuous consumption. There should be a middle ground between pure glitz and complete ersatz - something affordable, yet with understated elegance.

My own choice is golden retriever. They are durable, warm, and cheap, and look particularly good against a snowy backdrop. So let the fur fly in Aspen. I'll be comfortable in my dog-eared parka.

Andrew Safir is president of Recon Research Corp., a Los Angeles-based economic consulting and advisory firm with clients in Alaska.
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Title Annotation:The Economy According to Safir
Author:Sair, Andrew
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Article Type:column
Date:Feb 1, 1990
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