Kym Canter’s career has been as colorful as the vibrant and luxurious faux furs she creates. Over the course of two decades working in fashion, Canter’s been a stylist and fashion editor at Washington Post and Elle, transitioned to the ad and brand side for national makeup brands, and was creative director at J. Mendel, where Canter worked specifically with the luxury brand’s world-famous furs.
Then, one winter’s day, Canter had an epiphany: Dead animal carcasses ain’t chic.
Ready to ditch the cruelty and make a positive change, Canter founded House of Fluff, a faux fur brand that aims to save animals and the planet, too. To that end, House of Fluff uses recycled plastic and other post-consumer materials to create couture-like products at an approachable price.
And House of Fluff’s eco-consciousness extends beyond their responsible products: they host zero-waste pop up stores featuring racks made from auto parts, they turn all of their scraps into plush collectibles called Scrappys, and they gladly recycle consumers’ coats into pillows, capes, or anything else they desire.
“If you're going to be ethical on an animal welfare issue, why not be ethical on the earth issue?” Canter said in an interview at her atelier in New York, where she and former J. Mendel designer Alex Dymek apply the same craftsmanship to faux fur as they did to the real thing.
Though it’s only been 18 months, House of Fluff’s already created costumes for an Oscar-winning movie, designed a Burning Man capsule collection, and their stoles, coats, capes, and seasonless wares have garnered a cult following among Hollywood’s A-listers, including Jessica Chastain, Bella and Gigi Hadid, and Alicia Vikander.
In this interview with FAROUT, Canter discusses:
Why faux fur needs a rebranding.
How journalism helped her create a strong brand.
How we can all redefine luxury.
And why brands really are the fifth estate, and maybe even a religion.
FAROUT: I’d like to start at - where else? - the beginning: How and why did you start House of Fluff?
Kym Canter: I was a creative director at J. Mendel, which is a small luxury brand known for making the finest furs and had amassed this unbelievable collection of fur coats. But then, about three years ago, I had a crisis of conscience: I was about to put on this incredible vintage monkey coat and go to a party, and all of a sudden, I realized, "Oh my God, what am I doing? This is not cool. This is not chic."
What you wear is such a big part of your personal expression and your clothes and your ethics kind of have to line up and it was a huge moment for me: I decided I was going to move away from furs. But all the faux was cheap and it didn't feel luxurious and it wasn't cool and was really teenager-y. I didn't know what to do, and so I actually called Alex, and I said, "I want to make myself a faux fur coat. I can't find anything. I'm not going to wear my furs anymore." And he agreed to do it with me.
So, I took 26 of the fur coats and sold them to get the seed money to start the brand.
FO: That’s beautiful. Those animals killed for the fur coats - their lives were not in vain because they can save so many others.
Kym: Yes, exactly.
FO: I love that.
Kym: Right away, our brand pillars were about being innovative and being ethical. But if you're going to be ethical on an animal welfare issue, why not be ethical on the earth issue? So, we were like: “Let's try to find the most earth-friendly faux fur.” That led toward our own innovation for materials.
FO:What was the process of finding people to create the fabric for you?
Kym: It was a lot of asking around, because this was still 2017 and the sustainability conversation wasn't as full blown as it is now. I mean, I just today got invited to three conferences on sustainability, you know what I mean? Now everyone's talking about it.
So, we went to all the different mills, but there didn't seem to be anything that was really exactly what we wanted. So, we started talking to these scientist - they're actual chemists at Cradle-to-Cradle, and we said, "We want to make a bio-based faux fur that doesn't have polyester in it and that will actually decompose and not hurt the earth after people wear it." And they were game. And we also work with this mill in France, Ecopel, that we work with.
FO: So when they're creating the fabric - they're mixing it in a beaker first to start with? How does that work?
Kym: So there's different ways of making the fabric. So when they make the fabric from the bottles or from plastic, they basically deconstruct the bottle. They clean and get it wiped. Deconstruct it and the end result is they make it into a thread.
FO: Like polymer.
Kym: A long polymer thread, yes. And then they just take that and start to re-weave it. Then we work directly to supply unique prints. So we'll work directly with the mill sending them standards and having them printed to exactly what we want and that's unique to us. And all of our colors are always custom.
And we actually talk about this all the time that now, and we certainly have so many actresses that wear our product, that people don't want there to be any confusion whether it's faux or real - so we've started to do is really investigate color, because that's such a quick signal: this is faux.
FO: Remind me: how long have you been in business?
Kym: We’ve been around for 18 months. We launched at the end of 2017. So, it's been, yeah, it's been quick. And we just did all the furs for Rocketman. Did you know that?
FO: How did that come about? Did they approach you?
Kym: They just phoned us and asked if we wanted to do it! We of course said yes — I am such a big Elton fan! So, Julian Day, the costume designer, sent sketches and we made muslins based on Taron Egerton's measurements - sent them to London for a fitting, made any minor adjustments, and created the pieces by hand on our atelier in NYC. Basically, they were made like couture!
FO: House of Fluff is such a strong brand: it’s fun and a little quirky – it’s very distinct, but it’s also so young. How did your media background help you in brand building?
Kym: Being able to tell a story is such a huge part of launching a brand. Being a good communicator is such a huge part of getting through to the world in an easier and better way, and those are skills definitely learned on the journalist side. My understanding of what would make a good story or what would interest people is -
FO: It's inherent.
Kym: It's very inherent.
FO: I want to also talk about the idea of luxury —
Kym: Okay, here's the thing. Our goal is to make the word “luxury” mean “innovation and sustainability.” That's what we're after. Redefining that word is such a big part of this experience.
FO: You got right to the heart of what I was saying.
Kym: And we consider our product a luxury product for a bunch of different reasons. One, we don't follow trends; we make a product that's forever. You can look at all of these coats and you're going to wear them next season; you're going to wear them 10 years from now. They're super well-made. Luxury is about making something that's forever - a lot of faux fur out there is high-street, fast fashion: faux fur that's meant to be consumed and then tossed in a season. That certainly is not our goal.
Also, Alex and I both came out of luxury, so this was a natural place for us. We don't even know how to do the other thing. So that’s the second part of our luxury: we come from a place of understanding how to make clothes. And we didn't want the prices to be so high that they aren’t accessible to people – and that’s something we are continually trying to figure out.
FO: I love the idea of redefining luxury as not a price point, but as slow fashion: appreciating having one nice thing that's going to last forever, rather than 10 pieces of shit that you are going to just throwaway.
Kym: Yeah, totally.
FO: And it’s also about educating people on both animal welfare and fabric waste: I read that a garbage truck full of fabric is burned every minute.
Kym: Oh my God. Next to the petroleum and gas industry, the fashion industry is the most harmful to the planet. There's just tons and tons of excess clothing. It’s really terrible. But it's great that everyone's talking about this stuff.
However, I feel like in the animal welfare space, the food thing has really taken off. There seems to be a lot of support in the food space - much more than in the fashion space. We've been raising money, and people are constantly saying, "Well, we're all about animal welfare, but we only invest in food."
FO: That's so strange.
Kym: Now I'm always in the position of saying, “But things are changing. Now is the time to invest in fashion!” Right? There is major innovation - you have major brands dropping fur; you have retailers who won't sell fur; you have cities that won't sell fur — it's a big moment, but it’s still a newer conversation. But I think as time marches on, people will develop a greater understanding that we don't need to kill animals to have an idea of status, right? Or wealth. Or even warmth
FO: I do think that we're going to hit a tipping point really soon about animal welfare, fashion waste, all of that. And I hope they'll go mainstream.
Kym: For sure. 100 percent, but I definitely think there are big things happening there. I think they'll happen first in food. I know even for me, my awareness of the disappearing straw.
FO: Yes. Going so fast, which is great.
Kym: But, listen, do you think any of those big brands would have gone straw-free, or any of those retailers would have dropped fur, if they didn't see that they could monetize the message? At the end of the day, that's what really moves the needle.
FO: I recently wrote a piece called “Are Brands the Fifth Estate?” Like the clergy, the-
Kym: Right. Right. That's a really good title.
FO: It’s about distinguishing brands and corporations, and brands pushing the needle.
Kym: There's a lot of truth to that. I think that people subscribe to the House of Kanye. I mean, I have a godson who's like a HYPEBEAST guy and he's buying stuff and selling stuff -
FO: You’re right around the corner from Kith.
Kym: Yeah. The devotion that makes you spend money just because someone wore something is super close to religion. It's really interesting. People are so in tune with everything influencers do today. That's their religion.
FO: And “kids these days,” – they are so much more aware of what they're eating, what they're wearing. Everything.
Kym: Completely. The whole value system has completely changed, and I think you'll see with the furs something similar happening with diamonds. And many other luxury goods will go the same way. That's all a good thing, because it's going to force everybody to be on their game. There's no weak link here anymore. And, again, when a huge company realizes we can monetize sustainability, thatthey can make more money and connect with the customer of tomorrow, they're going to do it. That's going to really bring about the most change.
But we’re at a good moment and things have - there seem to be a lot of people who really appreciate the product, and who really want to wear it, even if they're still a fur wearer.
FO: Are you doing any licensing with House of Fluff?
Kym: Not yet but we are up for it! Anyone out there with interest - call us!