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Responding to a flurry of public shaming on its Facebook page, the company issued the following statement:
“We are aware of the conversations surrounding our Berkeley Toque. We take these accusations very seriously and appropriate departments within our business are conducting a detailed investigation. Upon completion of this investigation, additional information will be available through helpme [at] kitandace.com.”
The luxury fashion retailer further stated that it is in "complete compliance" with Canadian textile labelling laws.
A National Observer investigation found that the company claimed the fur pompom on one of its winter hats was composed entirely of "raccoon fur." It was, in fact, found to be fur from "raccoon dog," which is a member of the canine family, despite its misleading name.
National Observer also exposed a leaked Kit and Ace email that appears to try and silence staff concerns about the use of raccoon dog fur, and keep customers in the dark about the animal's relation to dogs.
Kit and Ace has yet to answer media requests from National Observer, but after reading the publication's investigation, a former staff member reached out to comment about the Berkeley toque.
"People at the corporate head office knew about this for over a year," the former employee told National Observer on the condition her name not be published.
“Quite a few of us employees were surprised that this product was being sold and that it was going to market, considering what the product was.”
The whistleblower also said that while Kit and Ace claims "integrity" as a foundation of its company, and that its clothing is sourced and produced to the highest standards, she has never seen a code of ethics or standards on paper that substantiate these corporate assertions.
“In my time at the company, there was never a specific group or set of standard that they mentioned,” she said over the phone. “They referenced ethics, but they were never specific about what that was. They never mentioned what those were, what the benchmark was.”
Kit and Ace's use of raccoon dog fur, which has now been covered by the Vancouver Sun, CBC, Metro Vancouver and CTV, has caused some upset among its clientele.
In addition, a third whistleblower — also a former employee — sent National Observer an email to confirm that the Berkeley toque is not the only Kit and Ace product that contains raccoon dog; its Donahue cap also has an "Asiatic raccoon" pompom.
The fashion retailer, which started in 2014 in Vancouver, B.C., was criticized on social media. "I will support a #Boycott until your fashions are animal fur free," wrote Facebook user Sandra Harris. "The activist community will also spread the word far and wide. Please do the right thing."
"Whether or not the racoon dog is a racoon (which it is not) or a canine (which it is) is besides the point [sic]," wrote Amy Van Veen on Facebook. "A quick google search will show videos of these animals being skinned alive in China. I don't believe for a second you ethically source your products."
The tip of the iceberg
During an interview with National Observer, Ethical Profiling CEO Kemp Edwards said these companies are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to claiming industry integrity, without appropriate transparency to back it up.
This occurs particularly frequently within the world of fashion, where fur imported from China is a highly contentious issue.
"I hate to say it, but it’s the rule rather than the exception," he said. "People recognize that the ethical consumer is growing and has purchasing power, so people are marketing specifically to them. They market based on where their wins are in complete ignorance of where their losses are.”
Keep checking National Observer for more coverage of Canada's fur industry.