Pamela Paquin wants to transform the fur industry — using roadkill

How a single mom living in central Massachusetts is turning accidental animal deaths into fashion, one pelt at a time.

Paquin wearing one of her own creations. —Jean Nagy / Boston.com

Pamela Paquin wasn’t always in the fur business. After growing up in Wayland, Paquin moved to Europe, where she spent a decade working as a sustainability consultant. But when she became a single parent, Paquin decided it was time to do something completely different.

In 2013, Paquin applied the skills she learned in her consulting days to the fur industry, and launched Petite Mort Fur, which sells coats and accessories made from roadkill. Ahead, Paquin talks about how she came up with the idea, and how she thinks it could revive the American fur industry.

1. How did you come up with the idea?

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My husband left me when my daughter, Naia, was four months old. I was a new mom of an infant and found myself with no support. I was living in Copenhagen, Denmark. I had to remake my career and myself so I could be with her when she gets off the bus everyday.

I moved to my cousin’s farm in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. Naia started preschool, and I spent the first month sitting in a chair outside, staring at the trees wondering what I was going to do with my life. How could I have a meaningful impact on the world, still pay the bills, and be there for my daughter every day?

That’s how Petite Mort Fur was born.

2. How did your past career influence Petite Mort Fur?

I’m not an activist. I’m a businessperson. The way I go about my work is I find a gap in the system – in any system – and my job is to find that gap, that hole, and turn it into an opportunity.

What a waste it is leaving roadkill on the road. These animals were being thrown away while others were caged and skinned alive.

So I looked at the figures. You want to go to a data point immediately. The humane society had done a study saying that a million [animals] a day are killed in this country accidentally. That’s 365 million a year.

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3. How did you get from this idea to actually getting your hands on the animals?

I was thinking about the pipeline. So, who picks up the animals? The highway department does. They already bring them to a central location for disposal. I made up some business cards and went to the local highway department. This was in Jaffrey. I got my fur buyer’s license.

And I would get a call when there was an animal.

I had a 1999 Land Rover and I made a bike rack into a skinning rack. And I put it on the back of my Land Rover. My daughter would be in the backseat, and I would harvest the fur.

I’ve centralized the process a bit since then, and I have five men now that I source from, who each work with the highway departments near them or the animal control departments. And then I’m still harvesting myself as well.

Paquin checking on coyote pelts just in from Canton and Randolph, Massachusetts. —Jean Nagy / Boston.com

4. What has been the reception from the fur industry?

Early on, I went to Fox and Klaff in Copley Place, and M. Miller in the South End, and Luxe Boston at the Taj.

As people who make and sell furs, they were kind, but their question was whether I could standardize the quality of the pelt.

If we can standardize accidental fur, the United States will become the global leader.

5. What types of animals are becoming “accidental fur’’ in the region?

Most common, by far, are raccoons. Also skunks, opossum, and coyote. After that come beaver and mink. Otter, less frequently. I have a few bear each year. And absolutely lots of deer. After my first year and a half, I found deer fur is not too useful for garments. All my deer will be turned into leather now.

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6. Do you consider yourself an animal lover?

My interest is in animals. I grew up on a farm. I was responsible for taking part in the harvesting of meat, which we ate and sold to others.

We donate to Critical Paths in Vermont which builds underpasses for wildlife. We also donate castoffs to animal wildlife refuges where they need a fur for orphaned animals.

7. Were you a fur wearer before launching your business?

No. And a lot of my clients have never worn fur. What I’ve found is that half of my clients are habitual wearers, and half are people who’ve never worn fur before.

Fur is the best way to stay warm. Nature has an amazing [research and development] department.

What’s beautiful about accidental fur is you get to have your cake and eat it, too. It’s the first fur line where you can honor the animal where it came from. Their death was an accidental demise. But in this way, it’s elevated … and people feel good about that. A lot of clients feel very connected to whatever species of animal they buy.

Paquin at home with her daughter, Naia. —Jean Nagy / Boston.com

8. What does your daughter think of your business?

I have a lot of friends with farms, so she grew up with animals and caring for them and knowing they were going to be used for meat.

She was very curious and we would talk about the animals I harvested. I wanted her to understand these animals were our neighbors and we should value them. And you have to make a business in sync with nature, and not be wasteful.

9. How do your prices compare with the standard fur industry?

My prices tend to be about 10 percent over what standard fur costs. Our pom-pom hats are priced between $300 and $500, depending on the fur that’s used. I have the only accidental otter in the world that I made into a neck muff, and that’s $2,600.

10. What’s next for Petite Mort Fur?

I’m looking to bring in some capital to be able to scale. And the ultimate goal is to help bring back to North America a $35 billion a year industry.

Know someone in Boston who you’d like to see featured in a future Q&A? Email me at sargent@boston.com.

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