And raise animal rights issues
// Katherine Alpen

Vancouver has been taken over by poultry, and no; it is not a Thankskilling sequel. Earrings and hairpieces made out of roosters’ feathers have birds everywhere calling fowl play against North America’s obsession with the accessories. They thought that turkeys had it rough? Thanksgiving only comes once a year; fashion is year-round, baby.

Because the fashion world runs on influence and re-manufactured ideas, it is nearly impossible to trace back to the originator of this trend, but we know that about eight months ago the craze started with the introduction of feather earrings. A thrifty DIY revolution took place almost overnight, and entrepreneurial young ladies and gents have since made it their business to fix up their own earrings and hairpieces by buying out angling stores’ entire supplies of dyed feathers; many have gone so far as to post how-to videos on YouTube.

One such artist working on the earrings was Kristy Smithe. “I started making feather earrings after leaving Nelson; it was a big trend out there,” she recalls. “I found some feathers in Vancouver at the fishing-tackle shop, and kind of spent my time meditating and making earrings based on whatever mood I was in. I just get really inspired by the colours of the feathers.”

However, Smithe has since ended her foray into jewelry, as she explains, “I basically stopped just because everybody was making them and I didn’t really feel inspired to do it anymore. So it wasn’t really fun for me, [and] it became more like a burden to sit and make them…I didn’t want to make them in that state of mind. I enjoyed making every single pair really unique, like all my earrings, different and unique, and very like my style.”

Tackle & Bait Shops Baffled

All style aside, trends are not only detrimental to unique expression, but can have serious repercussion for retailers and suppliers alike. A possible negative affect that this kind of craze can have on retailers is a supply and demand nightmare, where huge orders can quickly become obsolete the second the trend dies.

Uniquely, though, this fashion tsunami could not have such a catastrophic climax apart from suppliers missing out on huge demand. Matt Suzuki, who runs a fishing store called Highwater Tackle on Lonsdale, filled me in on the economics of the craze.

“Normally it’s $40 for a cap of a couple hundred feathers; now it’s $25 for individual feathers on eBay,” explains Suzuki. “My suppliers have none. When I went to Japan, I brought 20 or 30 caps; that was all I could get. Then one girl bought them all.”

Let’s do the math: a customer intent on resale buys 25 caps for $40 per piece, each with 150 feathers, and subsequently sells them for $10 per feather. This person could hypothetically make upward of $24,000 on resale. This seems like a staggering figure, especially considering the average price only a year ago.

Some retailers have been refusing to sell the plumage to younger crowds to avoid offending their faithful regulars, who are unable to buy their necessary fishing supplies. It seems that the fly fishermen also get better value for their money: “A single feather, in the hands of a fly fisherman, can produce 3-4 flies,” explained Suzuki.

When asked how the fishermen were reacting to the shortage, he hadn’t so far had many problems. Fishermen themselves are responding variably, explains Suzuki, saying that “some are frustrated, some not.”

Fishing acquires a much more patient and serene following than fashion does, and trendsetters and followers can’t seem to get enough of the things. Business is still booming for the feathers, though actually coming by them is getting more and more challenging.

The Ethics of Feather Accessories

The roosters take about a year to grow to harvesting age, and are then killed for their skins, or “caps”. Never eaten, except sometimes for cat food, these birds are solely raised for their feathers. They are even sometime genetically manufactured to produce longer and more luxurious “saddle” feathers, which are the ones that protrude from the tail of the bird. These feathers sometimes take years to grow.

The darker side of the accessories lies in the raising and captivity of the roosters themselves. Ryan Huling, manager of College Campaigns from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, also known as PETA, explains that “roosters are typically confined for 30 weeks—the majority of their short lives—in tiny, stacked cages inside deafeningly loud barns before they are killed and skinned.”

In a recent web article, PETA exposed Whiting Farm in Delta Colorado, one of the largest manufacturers of the plumage for its mistreatment of the animals. A quote from the owner of this farm reveals,“[We’re] sentencing [each rooster] to a solitary cage for the last 6 months, with nothing to look at or listen to other than lots of other confined roosters ... [your] sentiments can quickly shift from wanting to evaluate their necks, to wringing [them]. Some of my most sheepish moments in life have been after hurling an especially bad rooster across the barn in utter frustration.”

This violence goes often unquestioned, and the ignorance surrounding this supposed “natural resource” can help fuel the cruelty towards the birds. Huling explains, “The clientele that support this craze may see bird feathers on the street and mistakenly assume that the ones that they’re wearing somehow fell off naturally, but like rabbit-foot key chains and other accessories, these [feathers] are a direct result of animal abuse, and no conscientious consumer would be caught dead wearing them.”

Though PETA currently has no campaign against the rooster feathers, they have just undertaken a court case against a Whiting Farm associate for claiming its feathers to be “cage free” and “treated ethically.”

“PETA hopes to raise awareness about the cruelty [that] animals face when raised and killed in the fashion industry. So, while the feather trade is just one small piece of that, consumers deserve to know the torture roosters face behind the scenes, so that they can make informed fashion choices…Just like minks who are killed for coats, and snakes who are skinned for shoes, roosters suffer when they are exploited for human vanity and profit.”

For those wishing to dress consciously, there are other options available: accessory websites have begun offering cruelty-free options, and synthetic feathers are popping up everywhere to substitute for the real thing. On one such site, called Hair Royalty, fake feather packs containing 10 long feathers are sold for $11.99.

This crafty hobby of making your own jewelry is currently very appealing, as the ideas of reducing, reusing, and recycling are more prominent in our society than ever before. However, just because something is hand-made does not justify it as ethical.

When asked about the feather earrings' ethical side, crafting artist Smithe expresses her awareness. “Well, I didn’t really hear about that, or consider it, until a couple weeks before I stopped, and that was definitely one of those things that I wasn’t too happy about, but it wasn’t the deciding factor.”

As inspiring as it may be to see a generation reaching back to hand-made apparel, hindsight shows that it requires more care and patience than most expect. This is true when considered from a consumer’s point of view, and even more so from the stance of the craftsperson, no matter what level of skill and ingenuity is involved.

// Katherine Alpen

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