First Retail Fur Ban in Nation Goes Into Effect in West Hollywood

The Southern California city is the first in the nation to outlaw the sale of fur apparel; area retailers find ways to comply.

On Sept. 21, West Hollywood, Calif., will become the only city in America where selling clothing made with fur is a crime.

High-profile stores such as Kitson, Maxfield and Balenciaga will be barred from selling popular items such as shearling boots and sweaters with fur trim.

If West Hollywood’s Code Compliance Department catches the retailer selling fur, the department’s officers can give the retailer a citation. If the retailer builds a record of three tickets in a calendar year, the shopkeeper could be charged with a misdemeanor.

The city will roll out the new law slowly. There will be a 60-to-90-day period in which West Hollywood’s Code Enforcement will issue warnings to bring businesses into compliance, said Michelle Rex, a council deputy for John D’Amico, the city’s mayor pro tempore.

West Hollywood retailers that sell fur are changing their business plans to balance how they can respect the law and serve a clientele that often demands fur items.

The West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce is currently distributing information to members on how to follow the law and what happens next in the chamber’s campaign to change the law.

“Retailers are upset,” said Genevieve Morrill, president/chief executive officer of West Hollywood’s Chamber of Commerce. “It was an arbitrary ban meant to make a statement. … We still would like to work with the city in a kinder, gentler, business-friendly way on this issue.”

The chamber is lobbying to lift some aspects of the ban. It would eventually like to end the ban entirely—but if the city’s objective of being fur free continues, perhaps an educational program on animal cruelty could be developed as a compromise, Morrill said.

The Fur Information Council of America, a trade group headquartered in West Hollywood, has been lobbying to change the ban. FICA Executive Director Keith Kaplan said that a lawsuit against the city of West Hollywood is an option.

Enforcement of the fur ban is the last step in a legislative journey that gained momentum in November 2011, when West Hollywood’s City Council passed the unique initiative with three councilmembers supporting it, one voting against it and one absent. The City Council took a year to produce a study on how the ban would affect the town, with the promise that the law would be changed if the study proved that the city would be hurt economically by the ban.

However, the council’s survey found that the ban would have little effect on the city’s economy, said D’Amico, who campaigned on animal rights before he was elected to the City Council in May 2011. The rebound of the region’s and nation’s economies also gave West Hollywood the confidence to move forward with the ban.

“It’s clear to me that sales at city fashion boutiques will continue to increase,” he said. “I have found that people from Melrose Avenue to Fifth Avenue continue to talk about the [West Hollywood] ban on the sale of wearable fur products. And except for a select group, most believe that the fur ban is an ethical and realistic action, one that continues to elevate the discourse about how we live in the world. Almost from its founding, WeHo has been a city dedicated to actionable humane policies, and this is another step in that direction.”

As fashion boutiques learn more on the ban, they are developing ways to deal with it.

Fraser Ross, founder of the Kitson boutique chain, runs three boutiques in the area. The Kitson Men and Kitson Studio boutiques are in West Hollywood; the Kitson flagship store, located a block or so south, lies within the city of Los Angeles.

West Hollywood’s city attorney has advised that displaying fur clothing does not break the law, so Kitson’s West Hollywood boutiques will display fur clothing on mannequins. But if a shopper wants to make a purchase, the sale will be processed in the Los Angeles store and can be picked up from the Los Angeles store or be delivered from that store.

“The tax revenue for fur purchases will not go to West Hollywood,” Ross said about the new arrangement.

At Kin, located at 8555 W. Sunset Blvd., owner Darrel Adams plans to move fur items from labels such as Barbara Bui and Derek Lam to his other Kin store, which is located in the West Los Angeles area.

Kin does not sell much fur, and, at most, it is 1 percent of the store’s inventory. But fur’s high price points can push the store’s finances from red to black. “If you sell $10,000 in one day, a $5,000 fur jacket could be half of your day’s sales,” Adams said.

While West Hollywood’s sunny weather typically requires nothing more than shorts and T-shirts, the tourists and local fashion shoppers patronizing the boutiques often look for cold-weather clothes.

“People in West Hollywood are jet setters. They are constantly going to New York City, where furs are really trendy,” Adams said. Tourists from New York, Japan, France and Germany also shop for cold-weather clothes at his stores.

West Hollywood’s fur ban specifically bars retailers from selling clothing made with fur, such as boots, gloves, hats and scarves. The ban does not cover leather clothing, furniture and accessories such as handbags. Nonprofit organizations selling fur clothing at a fundraiser are exempt, as are vintage fur items sold at vintage boutiques, second-hand shops and pawn shops. Taxidermied fur items also are exempt.

Businesses with West Hollywood addresses are barred from selling and shipping fur clothing items online. Importing new fur items with the intent of selling them also will be against the law in West Hollywood.

A citation for selling fur could be as pricey as a speeding ticket. A ticket for a first offense will cost $200 with a $50 administrative fee. A second offense would cost $400 with the $50 administrative fee. A third offense would set a retailer back $800.

The fur ban might be taken to other cities, said Ellen Lavinthal, co-organizer of Fur Free West Hollywood, which was the premier group that campaigned for the ban.

Since the ban was a success in West Hollywood, leaders of Fur Free West Hollywood have been discussing campaigning for the ban in other cities. The group will produce a rally supporting the ban from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sept. 21 in front of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department West Hollywood station on the 700 block of North San Vicente Boulevard.

“It’s to bring the world’s attention that this city passed a retail fur ban and other cities can do that, too,” Lavinthal said.