Elizabeth Neville, Global Animal
Feather “hair extensions,” are roosting upon manes across the nation. A trend popularized by celebrities such as Miley Cyrus, adding plumage to one’s coiffure is now such a coveted fashion statement that one internet company even sells feather extensions for dogs. But, where do these lovely feathers come from? Before feathering your own locks (or your dog’s!), please consider the thousands of innocent lives which are taken to produce these plumes.
If you know fly fishing paraphernalia, and thought that these silky bits in people’s’ hair seemed strangely familiar… well, you’re onto something. The feathers used for hair extensions, are the same ones used by fly fisherman as lures, and feather-craving fashionistas everywhere are now snatching them up at hundreds of dollars above the market price.
According to an article on Bloomberg Businessweek, “A package of the most popular fly tying hackle for hair extensions, a black and white striped feather called grizzly saddle, would normally retail anywhere from $40 to $60. It sold for $480 on eBay last month after 31 bids.” At the most, these feather hair extensions can be worn for three months.
So, why pay so much for these feathers? Well, the roosters in question have been specifically bred to produce unnaturally long and strikingly beautiful saddle feathers (the ones on the bird’s backside), which are considered more desirable for fly fishing — and now, for fashion.
Naturally, this price inflation has become a major annoyance to fly fishermen, but whether for bait or coiffure accessorizing, to take the lives of sentient beings for such fleeting and trivial purposes is troubling in itself.
Whiting Farms in western Colorado is the world’s largest producer of fly tying feathers. There, the roosters are given only a year to live while their saddle feathers grow as long as possible. (Research varies, but when they aren’t killed for their plumage, roosters can naturally live to be 10-15 years old.)
Once the feathers are deemed satisfactory, the rooster is slaughtered, and his feathers plucked. His lifeless body is then thrown out for compost; Thomas Whiting, the company founder (via the Orange County Register), claims that, “They aren’t good for anything else.” The Whiting Farms website boasts that “over 125,000 total birds (were) harvested in 2000.”
According to the Orange County Register article, Whiting Farms now ships out 65,000 bird hides per week as it tries to meet the aggressive demands of salon owners and stylists, as well as its classic fly fishing clientele. Needless to say, that is quite a haunting increase in rooster death… all for a faddish, temporary hair accessory, produced in a manner that screams disconnect.
As “supply” (here, meaning animal slaughter) levels respond to demand, it is within our collective power as consumers to dictate what is worth buying. Do you want to feed your money and image into this bloody phenomenon? Fashion trends come and go, but compassion is always cool.