Twenty years ago, Donna Salyers had an epiphany while driving to a fur salon to buy her first mink coat. She never did buy that coat. Instead, she founded Fabulous-Furs, which has become the source for luxurious faux-fur coats, jackets, hats, handbags, and accessories for the home. We talked to Donna about how her Cincinnati, Ohio-based company has grown from a product line consisting of a single coat kit (which allowed people to make their own “fur” coats) to a seven-figure faux-fur empire, as well as what makes her furs so darned fabulous.
What inspired you to start Fabulous-Furs?
I decided to treat myself to a full-length mink. Planning to “surprise” my husband, I was on my way to a fur salon when, on my car radio, Paul Harvey described a London toy manufacturer collecting kittens. Instead of “going to good homes” as promised, the kittens were skinned alive and passed off as “mink” teddy bears. Beyond being horrified, it occurred to me that I might walk out of a fur salon wearing a kitty coat.
We had always had cats, and I simply hadn’t thought of fur in that context. So, instead of buying a fur coat, I decided to start a faux-fur coat-kit business.
But I must back up and explain—I was born to a poor family but loved beautiful clothes, as did my grandmother, who taught me how to sew. Our local newspaper ran a syndicated sewing column so pathetic and unimaginative, I wrote to the editor claiming even I could write a better column. When they requested six sample columns, I sent what I was certain would max out my good ideas. Passing that first hurdle, I proceeded to find syndication and did so in seven years—phew!
Along the way, I became an “expert” and picked up a spot on the TV show PM Magazine as well as on local TV noon news. It was the early 80s, when cable TV was in its infancy, and I found myself with a national half-hour TV show called Sewing, Etc. on CBN.
That show ran for two years, and it meant going to New York for production. I had never been to New York and was dismayed that women everywhere were dressed head-to-toe in fur. Vowing not to return to New York until I, too, had the prerequisite full-length mink, I had enough connections to locate really high-quality faux fur. My “fur” was gorgeous, stopping people on the street. When a high-end restaurant refused coat-checking service because “we can’t take responsibility for a coat of that value,” I knew I had sewn quite a coat.
So beginning a faux-fur coat-kit business wasn’t a reach. People who had admired my coat could make one, just as I had. It took about a year, and I launched Fabulous-Furs a year later, offering a single product—a coat kit.
What were some of the challenges you encountered?
Like every entrepreneur, I first had to create an exciting product—then re-invent the product line each year. And like every other entrepreneur, I’ve encountered everything from no money to inventory problems—too much or not enough. But I still have to say, I love it.
Do you personally design all your products?
Nearly all. A fashion design school graduate joined Fabulous-Furs about two years ago. She’s very talented, and it’s been great to have a collaborator. Our customers are also a great source of inspiration. They send e-mails and sketches of what they wish we would offer. Many of those ideas become products.
Obviously, Fabulous-Furs are more humane than real fur, but how do they compare in terms of warmth and durability?
Faux fur has the same R-value as animal fur. Heat retention is measured by R-value and, for both faux and animal, longer, denser pile is, naturally, warmer than short pile. As for durability, faux is far better, usually accepting of moisture and even machine-washable in cold water (line-dried). Animal fur is fragile and requires cold storage. You can’t sit in one or carry a shoulder strap, etc.
Over the years, how has the faux-fur business changed?
Faux furs are so beautiful and animal-like, even furriers are often fooled. Thanks to organizations such as PETA, people are better educated about the horrors of the fur industry. Today’s teens and 20-somethings are very animal-conscious and pro-faux.
Are your fabrics used by other designers or companies?
Our fabrics are made to our specs, and we’re known for the world’s finest faux furs. Our products are sold all over the world, but mostly in the U.S., of course. In Shanghai a few weeks ago, a friend gave me the Hong Kong Cosmo for December and our vest has an entire page of fashion editorial. I’m also awaiting a copy of Rouge, the Paris equivalent of Vogue, where we’re part of a faux-fur fashion spread.
Speaking of fashion magazines, it seems like more and more of them are featuring faux fur. Which U.S. magazines have highlighted your work?
In September, we had a full page in both Marie Claire and Cosmo, and we were recently in Allure—but we’ve been in everything from In Style, Lucky, and O magazine to gossip mags like Us Weekly.
Who are some of your most famous clients?
We sent 40 coats to Gossip Girl last month. We’ve been on 30 Rock, CSI Las Vegas, The Sopranos, and all the soaps. “American Idol” Kellie Pickler is a customer, Wendy Williams recently wore one of our coats on her show, and Aretha Franklin bought quite a few for Christmas gifts.
What’s your hottest seller this year?
A cropped jacket in golden fox—for $129. We can’t sew ‘em fast enough!
Where can people buy Fabulous-Furs?
Visit www.fabulousfurs.com or call 800-848-4650 for a free catalog.
What’s your prediction for the future of fur?
Education is key—I believe most people today cringe at the thought of real fur. We’re hard-wired to love animals and their fur, so faux is the answer! The exciting thing about faux fur is that the cost of faux versus animal is miniscule. Our $599 full-length faux sable is routinely mistaken for the $100,000 animal version. Faux is care-free and often washable versus animal that requires storage, shouldn’t be exposed to rain or snow, shouldn’t be sat on, etc. Best of all, faux fur sidesteps the horrendous fur-farming/trapping/skinning process.