- - Monday, May 3, 2021

The retail fashion industry has been suffering financially while the pandemic piled on the pressure. Household names including Lord and Taylor and Brooks Brothers hit a wall and filed for bankruptcy. Survival instincts ought to be kicking in. Yet, in a surprising move, Saks Fifth Avenue has volunteered to drink the hemlock.

Saks recently announced its plan to stop selling natural fur products. While it’s not the first company to succumb to a few loony left-wing demonstrators, it’s the first high end retailer to adopt the agenda of people who never set foot in their stores. It’s also odd behavior for a struggling retailer to stop selling a product people want when it has trouble paying rent to their landlord. Saks is feeding the crocodile, hoping it will go away. But the company invites more trouble just beyond the horizon.

History teaches negotiating with terrorists encourages more demands. The clothing retailer Forever 21 relented to pressure and stopped selling fur products. That triggered protests for selling wool. And if the company stops selling wool, it’ll be protested for something else.

Animal liberationists — led by PETA — are the kind of vegan activists that yell at people in restaurants while enjoying a chicken dinner. PETA is the group that gave $70,000 to the legal defense of a convicted arsonist. They oppose all research using rats in search of medical cures for cancers. These people are visibly energized when a target company allows their menu or retail selections to be curated by Internet rants.

Once a retailer indicates their buyers can be successfully pressured on furs, the predators will demand concessions on other products derived from an animal. You don’t have to guess at their agenda. It’s all available on their websites. A simple Google search reveals PETA claims that, “[a]nyone who buys wool supports a cruel and bloody industry.” Of leather, PETA claims, “[w]ith every pair of leather shoes that you buy, you sentence an animal to a lifetime of suffering.”

This is clearly not a group that can be reasoned with or one that represents many consumers. And they are strategic. They don’t seek total victory all at once, but incremental surrender. These activist leaders have full employment jobs in the grievance industry. They have patience and pension plans.

Recent polling finds 70 percent of people think corporations should continue to offer consumers a choice of products even if some find those products objectionable. Consumer choice is simply better for business. According to Gallup, 54 percent of Americans think wearing fur is morally acceptable. Couple that thought to a recent roundtable of retailers and mall owners who  estimate 50 percent of mall-based department stores will close by 2022.

Query: why take a position on an issue that doesn’t represent your consumer’s priority but will further degrade survivability in this challenging time? Saks rode into a box canyon by agreeing that selling fur is morally unethical. How will they justify selling animal leather or wool when the protesters come back for more? 

And then there is the irony of trying to satisfy the insatiable left. Saks has yet to hear the views of ocean environmentalists. Material that replaces fur in clothing typically uses fake fur derived from plastic. When consumers clean their synthetic fur trim on garments they leach micro-particles into our waste water. How bad can that be? Very.

A 2017 report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that about 35 percent of all micro-plastics that enter the world’s oceans comes from synthetic fibers. That equals about one billion pounds of micro-plastic pollution every year. And unlike plastic containers that can be picked up and recycled, these tiny fibers are eaten by fish. Some eventually end up on our dinner plates. There is a growing body of science that shows how these tiny particles and clothing fibers are entering our bloodstream and are trapped in organs.  

There have been earlier examples of business executives taken hostage in cases of Stockholm Syndrome. Some were clearly uninformed. Others lacked the spine to defend stakeholder interests. Regardless of the cause, Saks’ recent decision to travel the PETA dictated path to a fur-free company will surely trigger costly consequences.

• Rick Berman is the executive director of the Center for Consumer Freedom.

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