Is That Your Grandma’s Coat?

by Vita Lusty on April 16, 2013

earthdayvita“What, what, what, what…”

“Bada, badada, badada, bada…”

Buffalo Exchange buys, sells, and trades clothes. The store is filled with circular clothing racks and loaded with vintage fashion. On the top of each rack, converse, boots, and heels lean against each other in pairs. As I spun through hanger after hanger, sifting through cute tops with 80’s stars, sun dresses, and designs invented for and forgotten from the 70s, I felt that special tingle a girl can get. “I feel the change happening,” I said. “The change?” Jeph asked. “The change where I think I have enough money to spend on pretty dresses,” I replied.

“I’m gonna pop some tags
Only got twenty dollars in my pocket
I – I – I’m hunting, looking for a come-up
This is awesome”

Grandmas Coat Lusty 11I made my way to the back stand of coats and saw a few furs hanging. They were very cool — large, vintage, and unusual — the kind of coats you only ever see once in your life. “Is that real fur?” I asked Jeph. “I think it is,” he said. I touched the sleeve of a coat and felt the flocculent warmth of real animal fur, the tender, gentle tickle man is still unable to replicate.

“What you know about rockin’ a wolf on your noggin?
What you knowin’ about wearin’ a fur fox skin?
I’m digging, I’m digging, I’m searching right through that luggage
One man’s trash, that’s another man’s come-up…”

“Is that real fur?” I asked Jeph.

“I think it is,” he said. I touched the sleeve of a coat and felt the flocculent warmth of real animal fur. The tender, gentle tickle man is still unable to replicate. Fur. I’ve never worn it before.

Grandmas Coat  Lusty (5)I remember my Grandmother’s furs but never really wore them. So, on this sticky, salty Sunday afternoon by the ocean, I decided to try on a few furs and take pictures of myself in the changing room. They were heavy and hot. It is difficult trying to understand how anyone in Southern California could justify wearing a fur when the heat alone makes it unbearable. And I am one of those temperature sensitive girls, too. If it is 72 degrees outside, I must be standing in direct sunlight to feel warm. If I am in shorts and in the shade, no bueno. If I am going to a movie theater, or working in an office with an a/c, I usually bring an under coat and an outer coat to keep warm. Once, while working a temp job, I brought gloves and a scarf to endure the summer’s air conditioning vent.

I wear your granddad’s clothes
I look incredible…

The coats put a few extra pounds on my shoulders and the air felt thick. Now, of course the furs looked stunning, gorgeous … but they didn’t feel comfortable. I was inside someone else’s body, someone who slept outdoors in cold weather. I slipped the furs off and felt the ocean air again. If it was too hot to wear a few blocks from the ocean, I imagine it would be far too hot to wear inland.

I’m in this big coat
From that thrift shop down the road

I met with Alison Vasiloff, the store manager of Buffalo Exchange in Santa Monica, who said Buffalo Exchange (all 47 locations) facilitate a charitable drive called “Coats for Cubs”. In the last 7 years, they have collected used fur coats and donated them for wildlife rehabilitation across the country. The coats are then used as bedding for orphaned animals in the wild. “I feel a strong sense of commitment to doing this for the wildlife, because so often the reason they are orphaned or injured is because of human fault – their mothers are exterminated from attics or hit by cars or poisoned with lawn chemicals. We throw the whole balance of nature out of whack,” wrote Lorna Steele of Healing Paws in Barrington, Rhode Island.

“The coats are covered and kept in a temperature controlled room until they are used. When it’s time to use the fur it is cut up into pieces. The sleeves are kept intact so that baby bunnies, opossums, and squirrels have a nice little ‘pouch’ to cozy up in. The larger pieces of fur are used to line the incubators — there is always a heating pad underneath the incubator to regulate the temperature,” wrote Keirstie Carducci of the Out-Back Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Ottawa Lake, Michigan. “Sometimes a piece of fur can be used several times before it falls apart. Sometimes the fur literally disintegrates after the first use. The fur is NEVER wasted — every inch of the coat or cape or hat or fur collar is used until it cannot be used again.”

Grandmas Coat Lusty Keirstie 1


“I believe that offering the fur to them stimulates a hardwire reaction to suckle,” wrote Kim Keener-Howell of Babe’s Wildlife Haven in Glendale, Oregon. “And raccoon babies must suckle to get their digestive process functioning properly.”Most rehabilitators I spoke with will use both faux and real fur. Caryl Widdowson of Safe & Sound Wildlife Rehabilitation in Gray, Maine, however will bury a fur if the head is still attached. “I have used the coats in outdoor squirrel cages and it’s funny when I go to check on them in the morning, and see these squirrels crawling out of the coat sleeves! The little ones like squirrels and/or bunnies like to snuggle in the fur and I think it calms them down,” wrote Vikki Henry of the Wildlife Rescue Team in Omaha, Nebraska. In fact, injured and orphaned animals are heard audibly sighing when settling into a bed of fur.

Since Coats for Cubs was taken over by Buffalo Exchange in 2006, they have collected 7,572 furs total from all 47 stores across the country. When asked where most fur coats are collected, Alison surprised me with her answer. “Oregon,” she said. “Oregon and the Seattle store.”

“I’ma take your grandpa’s style, I’ma take your grandpa’s style,
No for real – ask your grandpa – can I have his hand-me-downs?”

Grandmas Coat Lorna 1 Lusty (1)Once the animals are set-up with fur bedding, I wondered how they coped with real life. Could they cope with real life? “It doesn’t matter at all what type of fur the babies are raised on. By the time they are released they don’t even remember the fur. After they leave the incubator they are kept in cages in the rehab center until they are moved out to the release cages where they learn their hunting skills and how to cope with all weather conditions,” Keirstie wrote. The success rate with most rescues I spoke to is between 50-75%. “I wonder sometimes with birds, if they come back to my yard. I know there are squirrels living around my yard that are ‘mine’,” wrote Vikki.

Buffalo Exchange will accept fur coat donations for Coats for Cubs until Earth Day, April 22nd. If you have something you are hiding from your friends and PETA protestors, bring it on out to your local Buffalo Exchange store. “Many people don’t realize that wildlife rehabbers are not funded by any state or federal organization, and we function solely on donations and out of our own pockets,” Lorna wrote. “They are always dehydrated, hypothermic, covered in fleas and/or maggots, or injured. I clean them up, usually give them sub-q fluids, sometimes they require antibiotics or a shot of B-Complex, get them warm, and then start feeding them. There’s nothing better in the entire world than seeing these animals not only respond to heat & food but thrive! The fur really helps to make the babies feel like their mama is there,” wrote Keirstie.

Grandmas Coat LustyVikki 2Buffalo Exchange will also be holding an Earth Day sale on April 20th. Selected and sidewalk garments and merchandise will be sold $1 apiece. All proceeds will go towards the Be Cruelty Free campaign in an effort to end frivolous cosmetic testing on animals. And remember, Santa Monica is now a plastic bag free city. Not that the city wide ban really matters, all Buffalo Exchanges across the country are “bag-less”. “How do customers carry out merchandise?” I asked.

“They just walk out with it,” Alison said. It is easier than it sounds. I just did it with my clean laundry. You can also buy tote bags for $2 a piece at the register.

Buffalo Exchange… poppin’ tags… yeah!

Vita Lusty

Vita Lusty studied at Evergreen State College and later received her Master’s in Film Production at Chapman University. Currently, she is working on her second Master’s degree in Creative Writing at Antioch University Los Angeles. She is an actress, a dog-walker and rescues pit bulls. She loves classic rock, France, Hunter S. Thompson, and vegan food that looks and tastes like junk food. She lives in Los Angeles with her three dogs and very patient boyfriend.


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