Photo by Alessandro Musicorio

Why waste it when you can wear it? For Michael Massimi, the invasive-species coordinator at the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Progream (BTNEP), morphing nutria fur into a fashion “must-have” was a natural response to the invading critters. A semi-aquatic rodent indigenous to South America, nutria (Myocastor coypus) was imported to Louisiana in the 1930s for the fur-farming industry. After being released—whether intentionally or accidentally—into the wild, they’ve damaged coastal wetlands with their voracious appetites. Massimi’s role under the BTNEP, one of 28 programs established by Congress through the Clean Water Act, is to preserve Louisiana’s coastal vegetation and ecosystem. His No. 1 priority? Culling the nutria.

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nutria, animal cruelty, fur, National Resources Defense Council, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style

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Deemed a swamp rat, the rodents have become so pervasive that they are being killed under government programs to reduce their numbers. Massimi recognized the unsustainable realities of this system, so he suggested that New Orleans fashion designer and environmentalist Cree McCree use nutria as an ethical way of curbing their overpopulation. With a $4,500 grant from his organization, Massimi helped McCree jumpstart her new fashion venture: Righteous Fur.

Fashion designer and environmentalist Cree McCree promotes nutria as the “guilt-free and eco-friendly” alternative to mainstream fur.

Nutria made its mark on the runway in November at a Brooklyn fashion show put on by Righteous Fur. Promoting nutria as the “guilt-free and eco-friendly” alternative to mainstream fur, McCree has established a unique position within the green and animal-rights movements, forcing fellow “sustainable fashionistas” to question their ethics.

Mainstream designers have even jumped onboard the trend lately, with Oscar de la RentaBilly Reid, and Michael Kors all integrating nutria furs into their collections. As Greta Garbo’s former fur of choice, the direction this trend could take gives us pause. Largely, if the “nutria look” takes the fashion world by storm, the animals will eventually have to be bred to keep up with the demand. Then, where are the morals of this supposed solution?

Says Massimi in the Spring 2011 issue of OnEarth: “Frankly, that’s a problem I would love to have.”

+ OnEarth