Harvey woman turns old fur coats into fashionable new accessories

Jessie McFadyen keeps a collection of old fur coats hanging inside a small wooden shop beside her home in southwestern New Brunswick.

The 55-year-old buys them from Kijiji and Value Village. If she's lucky, some people donate their old coats made from coyote, raccoon and fox fur. 

"Just fur everywhere," she said.

Jessie McFadyen/Submitted

McFadyen refashions the thousands of coats she's kept over the years into headbands, earmuffs, scarves, purses, mittens and hats.

"I'm using something that a woman years ago … wore to make herself feel good," the seamstress said. "And now I make things from your mother's coat or your grandmother's coat. It's a cherished keepsake."

Fur coats have become unpopular in recent years, but sometimes the old coats just don't fit anymore. 

John McFadyen/Submitted

"We have these things called shrinking closets," McFadyen said with a laugh at her home in Harvey, a village about 42 kilometres southwest of Fredericton. 

The New Brunswick crafter came up with the idea after her husband, John, came home with a muskrat coat he bought at a yard sale for $10 about 30 years ago.

"I said quote — unquote, 'What the hell are you going to do with that?'" 

From old to new

McFadyen has been sewing since she was a little girl, making doll outfits, aprons and pairs of shorts.

"I've always sewn, whether it was hemming a pair of pants or shortening a pair of sleeves."

But she'd never worked with fur. 

"I didn't know what he was going to do with it."  

Jessie McFadyen/Submitted

The muskrat coat sat inside her closet for a few years until John made her a pair of slippers to keep her feet warm in winter.

From there, the duo kept going. 

"We made slipper after slipper after slipper," said McFadyen, who is also the owner of Fur 'N' Things.

Then the couple moved on to making different winter accessories from muskrat, beaver and raccoon. 

The accessories are so warm, people use them for skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and dog sledding. 

Good for the environment 

McFadyen learned to sew the fur products from video, books — and with a lot of support from her husband.

"The rest is all self-taught and trial and error,"

McFadyen, who graduated top of her class in Grade 12 home economics, started sewing products together with her metal Singer sewing machine and a leather needle.

Over the years, she upgraded to an industrial sewing machine and from there, she to a fur machine.

"Fur is slippery to work with."

Jessie McFadyen/Submitted

Although she's been sewing for more than 30 years, McFadyen was forced to slow down after doctors removed a benign tumour from her brain a few years ago.

But she's still a perfectionist. 

"If I don't like the look of something, it could be one stitch or a whole item, if I don't like the look of it I take it apart and redo it.

McFadyen said repurposing old fur is important for the environment because the old coats can be turned into something new, rather than being sent to the landfill. 

"It's environmentally friendly," she said. "I'm recycling, that's a good thing." 

Fur 'makes environmental sense'

Alan Herscovici, former director of the Fur Council of Canada, said fur clothing is an example of durable and long-lasting material.

"We've got to get away from this fast-fashion throwaway culture, where things look nice, but they don't last too long," he said. "They're not too expensive, so you buy new things all the time. Throw the rest away and don't think of the mountains of garbage that build up.

Rather than synthetic clothing that come from petrochemicals that aren't biodegradable, he said, people should consider buying clothing made of natural materials that are better quality and can be reused.

"Fur coats are one of the few clothing articles that can be taken apart, totally remodelled and restyled," he said.

"That makes environmental sense."

Then if people don't want to wear these items, the fur can be taken to the back garden compost ,where it can biodegrade and return to the soil. 

"It's a long-lasting recyclable, natural clothing material that's produced sustainably," he said.