Wearing Seal Fur
It’s official: winter is here. Even Vancouver has been seeing some snow, proving the festive season is upon us and that means putting on warm cozy clothes to snuggle into. We know comfort doesn’t always equate to cute and chic outfits, but there is a way to stay on trend while braving the negative degree weather. And our recommendation to doing that, of course, is with fur.
Many Indigenous designers utilize seal skin and other furs and leather to create beautiful crafted mitts, hats, parkas and more. But why should you choose Indigenous craftsmanship over other commercial stores?
- Buying local beats box stores—Products made from local entrepreneurs usually means they know the exact source of all their materials. Artists often take great pride in their work and choose ethically sourced goods—more so than most box stores that have already made their millions by sourcing cheap material. Items by local designers are generally hand-made with care, proving they won’t fall apart by the next season.
- Support local—It’s a way to give back to your community. By buying local, your money is going straight to an individual who is trying to make a living through their art. By posting your new find through social media, it draws more attention toward the artist and helps them grow their business and can eventually help create more jobs.
- Allows cultures to thrive—Many Indigenous artists have been taught their skills from generations before. It helps connect them to their families and cultures, which is especially important as colonialism has spent centuries trying to stomp out those traditions. By buying these products, you’re supporting a traditional way of life and are helping it thrive.
- Spark social change—Wearing Indigenous-made products can be a conversation starter. It sparks discussions about where the piece comes from and what it means. It’s your opportunity to bring awareness to others. After all, education is the key to fighting ignorance.
Benefits of Seal Fur and Leather
Okay, so by now, you may be all in to supporting local, but you may be questioning whether it’s worth it wear seal fur or leather. The short answer is yes.
From a practicality point of view, there are so many benefits to seal fur and leather. It’s warm enough to brave up to -40 C temperatures, not to mention it is wind and water resistant. And in a place where the wind can make it feel 10 or more degrees colder than it is, that’s important. Unlike some massive down-filled parkas, seal skin fur and leather is actually pretty lightweight, yet just as warm. Plus, it’s durable. Unlike faux fur, seal skin will last generations without wearing down in quality. Once its time does come, way down the road, it’ll be biodegradable. In other words, it won’t fill up the landfills or end up as microplastics in the ocean, as synthetic fabrics do.
But what about from an ethical point of view?
Seal hunting has been an integral part of Inuit culture for thousands of years. For sustenance, the seal meat is boiled, broiled, steamed, roasted, smoked, dried, aged or eaten raw. This is a big food source for many in the North, where food insecurity is a constant worry. Plus, hunting is more ethical than the meat one gets from factory farms.
Seal oil is used to fuel lamps (called qulliq) for light, heat and cooking. The oil can also be used as a skin cream and a natural source of vitamins C and D–which are highly needed in the North where sunlight is limited in winter. It is also a high source of omega 3 fatty acids.
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Meanwhile, the bones can be used to make tools or game pieces, and pelts are used for clothing and shelter. To sum it up, seals have many, many uses for northerners. It is still being used for those reasons today, while also helping to carry on ancestral traditions. The practice of hunting creates respect and a connection to the land while also inspiring a drive to conserve the land.
Contrary to some beliefs, the seal hunt is highly moderated. There is an allowable catch per season. In 2020, that max was at 400,000 for a populated of 7.6 million harp seals. Statistics show a growing population of seals, which is making an impact on fish—given they eat about 30 million tonnes of fish a year. So, it’s not like seals are anywhere close to extinction.
Making seal skin products
The process of making seal skin products is not easy. After harvesting the fur, it requires washing away excess blood and salt water and then scraping it clean of any fat or blubber. It’s then stretched on a frame and left to dry naturally so it remains soft and flexible even in incredibly low temperatures. That’s before beginning the process of cutting out a pattern and actually making the item, which often takes several dozen hours to create a piece that’s fitted, stylish and of course, warm.
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The outcome is always worth it, as you can see from Bambi’s Traditional Arts seal skin mitts with fox fur trim. It has a gathering at the fingers that cause the mitts to take a natural curve with the hand, making them more comfortable and even warmer. The NWT designer hand makes her products, using seal fur that is ethically sourced from Canadian harvesters.
Parkas, too, are a work of art, while protecting you from Arctic winds. It’s just a matter of what designer to go with, as there are so many to choose form. Plenty of designers also create custom-made pieces for the wearer. Whatever you choose, there’s no doubt you’ll be impressed.