Doris Randall hadn't worn her brown bomber mink coat in ages. Her full-length shearling coat got even less use — she wore it about twice in the 15 years since her husband gave it to her.
She considered giving the garments to charity before discovering Seleh's De Federal Hill, a tailor and furrier specializing in remodeling leathers and furs. A few months later, Randall had a new three-quarter-length coat for herself and a contemporary-looking mink vest with black sweater sleeves that she gave to her daughter.
"It was a Iot like putting together a puzzle," the Pikesville resident said. "They made it work, and made something that we are both enjoying. I've been able to get a lot of wear throughout the winter. I saw the vest on my daughter the other day."
The days of bulky furs are over. Cost-conscious consumers, environmental concerns and changing fashion trends have made recycling and refashioning furs a popular option in recent years. As a result, a growing number of furriers, designers and boutique owners are cashing in on the trend and are catering to a new crop of customers.
Furs are prime candidates for refashioning; people typically don't throw them away because of their costs and sentimental feelings associated with the garment, according to Karen Groner, an adjunct professor specializing in leather design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Groner, who has 30 years of experience in the business, also owns Grownbeans, a small Manhattan studio that specializes in suede, leather and fur.
"We associate wearing [fur] coats with it being a special occasion," Groner said. "There's a real attraction. They are associated with happy times. … People want to hold on to that memory. But they also want to keep up with the style. Fashion changes. A coat doesn't look good with those '80s shoulder pads."
Seleh Rahman, owner of Seleh's De Federal Hill, said remodeled fur projects are up 75 percent at his shop.
"The last three seasons, it has been a big-ticket item," Rahman said from his South Charles Street workroom, where he was in the process of lengthening a mink coat. His assistant was putting the finishing touches on the fur-trim collar accents of a cashmere coat.
Rahman takes older, heavier furs and turns them into thinner, more contemporary-looking jackets and vests. He's also known for his ability to create virtually any garment from fur pieces, including handbags, decorative trim for jean jackets and bow ties.
"It's a complicated process," said Rahman, who has operated the business for the past 36 years. "You have to be really skilled, so that the furs can match and look correct. Really, you only get one shot."
The labor and skill required to complete a fur redesign doesn't come cheap, and projects can cost several thousand dollars.
"It takes a lot of work to rework a coat," Groner said. "You have to completely take it apart and completely put it back together. And then you pray that it holds up."
A complete fur redesign project usually takes about four to six weeks. During this time, pelts are restored, oiled, and refashioned. Customers typically meet with the designer several times for fittings and to discuss pattern options.
Mano Swartz, the Green Spring Station furrier, offers a "Mano-makeover," in which the company promises to repurpose outdated furs into contemporary lightweight pieces in four to six weeks. Prices range from $450 for a pull-string caplet to $2,750 for a reversible coat.
"It's much less expensive to redo something than to buy something new," said Debbie Swartz, the designer and buyer at Mano Swartz. She noticed a significant spike in refashioned and repaired furs three years ago. "It's really nice to be able to show them the options that they didn't know existed."
The downturn in the economy has also increased business for shops that can restore coats, saving owners the cost of replacing them.
Erin Hopkins has had her eight-year-old black mink coat repaired by Rahman a couple of times in the past few years, including having the pockets repaired and the sleeves redone.
Why hasn't she given the coat away?
"I worked hard for that coat," the Federal Hill resident said with a laugh. Hopkins' husband gave it to her as a reward for attending 15 University of Texas football games with him. "It took me 19 years to get that coat."
Fur has also remained a staple in fashion, especially in the colder months, and designers have shown it some love recently. Gucci's 1970s-inspired fall and winter lines for 2011 and 2012 seem to have jump-started the latest fur resurgence, according to fashion experts. As a result, many designers scrambled to find fur to accent garments.
Swartz points to Gucci's collection when helping customers choose new ways to refashion older garments. "I try and show our customers what is going on in fashion now," she said. "Some customers really get it and love it."
Karen Garalde, a Baltimore-based designer who specializes in using eco-friendly materials, has also been following the trends and is in the process of designing several pieces using recycled fur.
"This season I knew that I wanted to play with more texture," Garalde said. "I love vintage fur. I thought it would be fun and interesting. I noticed that there has been a huge trend for fur this season."
Garalde, who has made garments from items such as coffee filters and salvaged fabrics, said she has few reservations about using vintage furs.
"Since it's not new, I feel better about it," Garalde said." I know that it is sustainable. That's what makes me more intrigued to use it."
Environmental implications played a large factor when Hampden boutique owner Linda Pfleiderer decided to carry Harricana, a Canadian-based line of recycled fur products.
"We loved the concept of recycling and giving new life to things that would be thrown away," said Pfleiderer, who co-owns In The Details, a men's and women's boutique that has been open less than a year. "We thought it was a really cool line."
Customers have responded favorably, purchasing handbags, fur accented hats, scarves, and cross-body bags. Pieces range from $26 up to $514.
Her customers "are really into the fur, and they are into the recycled aspect. It's really good for the environment," Pfleiderer said. "And they are getting really cool-looking pieces."
Above all, customers like the look of recycled fur pieces, according to merchants.
"I love when customers come in and say they never wore it, and now it is their everyday coat," Swartz said. "That makes me so happy. We can always craft a coat. There is always something we can do."
Randall, the Pikesville resident who had two of her furs redesigned, is pleased with her new garments.
"I consider him an extremely lucky find," she said of Rahman. "I was going in blind. I was extremely pleased. My friends have beaten a path to his door."