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Furs stripped as chains pledge to lose the pelts

Just a few decades ago, never-ending racks of fur coats lined the walls of major department stores. Fur was all the rage in Australia from the 1930s to the 1970s with department stores often having dedicated fur departments.

This picture from the Fairfax archives depicts Mark Foy's fur department. The caption states ''furs are always in''. Until now. When it comes to department stores, they are definitely out.

In a world first, all major Australian department stores, including David Jones, Myer, Target, Big W and Kmart, have opted to be fur free, effective immediately.

The retailers have all signed the Fur Free Pledge, part of the Humane Society International (HSI) Fur Free Retail campaign.

The HSI director Verna Simpson said: ''We are thrilled to have all the department stores, as well as significant chains, including Oxford, Benetton and Peter Alexander, come on board. The list will certainly help the concerned public and our 50,000 Australian supporters choose ethical fashion. We hope it will also encourage other retailers to ban fur products from their stores.''

Jo Lynch, from Myer, said the store made the decision after feedback from customers and activist groups. ''Essentially we are committed to building a socially responsible business,'' she said. ''We found that the community views had changed regardless of the source of fur.''

Since 1896, a Brisbane fur company, Jackson Furs, has been a dedicated fur atelier, stocking mink, rabbit and fox pieces. These days its business consists mainly of second-hand furs. ''Our staple is the repair and alteration of vintage fur, especially bequeathed and second-hand purchases, because I believe Australians don't feel the comfortable association other country's populations have with it. We also don't get four months of sleet or snow,'' a Jackson Furs representative said.

An 83-year-old retired furrier, who asked not to be named, worked in the Myer fur department in Melbourne during the 1960s and said fur was once a huge business for Australian department stores. ''Furs weren't just for the rich and famous. We didn't have airconditioning in our cars and our homes, so nearly all women had a fur coat,'' he said. ''It was just another item of clothing. Furrier's didn't even go broke in the depression. There were three or four furriers on [Melbourne's] Chapel street, and now there are none.''