Jul 28, 2014
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Furor May Be Brewing Over Feather Fashion

Businesses are having a hard time keeping up with the hair industry's demand for fly-fishing feathers.

Furor May Be Brewing Over Feather Fashion

From farm to fashion, a new style fad is challenging businesses, sweeping popular culture and inviting consideration of animal welfare.

Through word of mouth and exposure from celebrities such as singer Steven Tyler, using rooster feathers as hair accessories has become a craze in the beauty industry.

“I went to a concert, and they were actually doing them in the parking lot,” said Amanda Giglio, account manager at Pure Extensions, a Santa Monica company carrying the feathers. “So I thought, 'Wow, those are totally rad, I want them.' I bought two and put them in my hair, and bought some for my friends. I love them.”

Giglio said every salon and stylist who has worked with Pure also loves them and wants to order more.

“The feathers have definitely brought in a new sense of clientele from the younger [set] to the older [set],” said Sarah Anguiano, stylist at Santa Monica's Salon 1452. “I think it introduces something new, something that isn’t too far off the charts and something that’s not too edgy. It can be soft, yet a little bit more dramatic.”

Originally used for fly-fishing tackle, the feathers are in such high demand that fly shops are having a hard time keeping up.                                    

Blake Leathers, owner of Far West Fly Shop in Costa Mesa, said the beauty and fashion industries have been beneficial in supplementing the fly-tying industry.

“More business is good business, it always is, and more customers is a positive thing,” he said. “It is helping out the economy and it is helping out some of the fly fishermen such as myself."

Tom Whiting, owner of Whiting Farms Inc. in Delta, CO, said he believes the fad may be driving the economy on a tiny scale but may actually be hurting it in other ways.

“My fly-fishing feather business was about 75 percent export, which is very good,” he said. “Now this phenomenon so far has been largely in the United States, so I’ve pulled back from my exports to satisfy this. From a macroeconomic point of view, it’s sort of taking away from our balance of trade on a very tiny incremental amount.”

Whiting said the trend has had a profound effect on his business, and he’s sure it hasn’t even played out to the fullest extent yet. By November, individual shops were already putting in orders exceeding what he could produce in a year, which he said was impossible to deal with.

“Frankly, it was getting fairly ugly. They said if they submitted an order I had to produce it and supply it at that price, and I said, 'Well if I don’t have the product, I can’t very well do that, so I’m sorry.' ”

The roosters are bred and processed, or killed, for their feathers, an issue that could attract concern from some people and animal-rights groups given the mainstream popularity the feathers have gained.                                   

“I haven’t seen too much roar, I should say, about the amount of birds that they’re consuming for that, but I’m sure that that’s imminent; it will happen,” said Leathers.

Amelia Jensen, college campaigns assistant at PETA, said the organization’s cruelty investigators could not recall receiving any complaints about the industry and were not very familiar with the process.

“Of course we are still opposed to the use of animal products as part of a business model, be it for fishing or beauty, because supply and demand will require that animals then be killed in order to fill orders,” she said. “Plus, as soon as animals are turned into mere commodities, they cease being thought of as living, feeling animals. Any corners that can be cut to save a dime are [cut], even if that means increased pain and suffering for the animal.”

Whiting said the roosters at his farm are kept in individual spaces within environmentally controlled sheds, where they can see and communicate with other roosters without the possibility of harming each other.

“They live very, very, pampered lives, probably the most pampered lives of any commercial chicken in the world,” he said. “They’re not packed in the house like the egg layer or a meat chicken that’s on the floor. I know about those other industries but I didn’t really want to do them; this appeals to me a lot more.”

He said while his production capacity is the largest in the world, it still has a limit and is always completely full to spread the cost of production. In order to meet the demands of the beauty industry, he has shifted his balance of product lines to favor the Eurohackle, the genetic line containing the right combination of traits desired by beauty consumers.

Although some fly fishermen are unhappy about having less access to the feathers, Whiting said they don’t pay the prices that beauty professionals are offering.

“It’s been very interesting and a bit bizarre,” he said. “I never thought I’d be in any kind of fashion activity; I’m a chicken farmer, you know. It’s brought a lot of attention, and I guess everyone likes attention.”

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