Daniel Wachtenheim sifts through a rack of vibrantly-colored fur coats at his shop in downtown Los Angeles, listing off the animals they came from: "This is sable. This is golden mink."
He and his family have been in the business for decades. His father moved to the United States after surviving the Nazi concentration camps in World War II, and picked up the trade while working for one of his brothers. He then passed that knowledge to his son.
“He taught me how to sew. He taught me how to make patterns. He taught me everything... I needed to know,” Wachtenheim says.
The fur business is integral to Wachtenheim’s identity, but the profitability of his shop is now at risk. The California legislature is considering a ban on the manufacture and sale of new fur products.
The bill’s author, Democratic Assemblymember Laura Friedman of Glendale, says the idea reflects the morality of state voters. “With the more traditional fur animals, like mink, fox and coyote, those animals are not being used for anything except for their fur. It is the only reason that they're being taken out of the wild and slaughtered, and that is not a sustainable practice," she says.
The treatment of the animals used for the fur industry is also a chief concern for animal rights activists.“A few years ago, I went undercover to different countries: Finland, Canada, China, and even in the U.S.” says Marc Ching, founder of the Animal Hope & Wellness Foundation. These animals literally live their whole lives in a cage, and then are brutally killed.”
Ching was integral in the efforts to pass the ban on new fur sales in Los Angeles earlier this year, and hopes that momentum will fuel a statewide ban.
But for employers like Wachtenheim, a statewide ban could have a major impact on his economic stability and that of his workers.
“They are working here because their families depend on them to bring home a paycheck,” he says. “Many of them are also older. I have a woman working for me in her 80s. They know nothing other than working in the fur industry.”
The bill, AB 44, is set to be considered in the California State Senate sometime next week.
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