This paper has been kicking up a lot of animal-related controversy lately. After slaughtering and eating a sheep this past January ["Silencing the Lamb," Feature, Jan 4], we caused such a hullabaloo of a dialogue that you'd think we invented the concept of humans using animals for food all by ourselves. That's not something I want to necessarily reprise, but I do think it's symptomatic of an interesting, broader trend in the attitude of consumers. Vegetarianism and veganism are, as it were, falling out of fashion. Traditionally associated with environmentalism, it is somewhat ironic that the increased interest in buying and producing sustainable products has, in some cases, trumped the perception of an animal product-free lifestyle as the pinnacle of virtue. Leather, for instance, is back (for most of us it never went away, including a rather hefty portion of the dietary vegans) with a shinier reputation—the vanguard of sustainability prize leather as a much longer-lasting and renewable resource over those petroleum-based vegan shoes.

I think it's outstanding that people are concerned with what they buy and what they eat, how those things are produced and what their impact on the environment in the long term will be. Portland has situated itself as a virtual capital of this particular brand of thoughtfulness, so it seems as likely a place as any for the Schumacher Fur (811 SW Morrison) drama to unfold.

In case you haven't been following the news coverage, Schumacher Fur is going out of business after 112 years as a family-run Portland establishment. The reason for this is a protracted sidewalk campaign by animal rights activists protesting the store and fur trade as an industry. Essentially, the protest has become enough of a nuisance that the business has been unable to relocate due to the trepidation of prospective landlords, and is being forced out of its current downtown location—after some waffling, the landlord has served an eviction notice, meaning the store will be open for less than 30 days.

Meanwhile, in New York, Paris, and Milan, designers' collections for fall and winter of 2007 have shown lots of fur—according to the International Fur Trade Federation, over 400 well-established fashion designers are using fur. Historically, fur coats have been reserved for rich old ladies and vintage starlets, but these days fur is increasingly being used in linings and smaller items like scarves and boleros, that are not only more affordable, but are attracting a much younger market. The sales numbers for the industry are up, even in this golden age of sustainable fashion. So while the pendulum is swinging back over dinner plates that now prize local, organic, and free-range animal products over their heavily processed substitutes, can it be possible that fur is returning as an acceptable, even sensible, textile in the thinking shopper's wardrobe?

If so, now is the time to invest, with Schumacher's going-out-of-business sale plunging prices: everything in the store is 50 percent off, with selected items at 60 percent off. To get a clearer idea of ethics in the fur trade, I spoke with the executive director of the Fur Information Council of America, Keith Kaplan. Kaplan enumerated the sustainable attributes of fur as a renewable, all-natural, biodegradable resource that has a lifetime far longer than any synthetic. The animals used are mostly farmed, under strict regulations, and the industry has invested millions of dollars in research on the care of the animals. "Because at the end of the day," says Kaplan, "if you're sick, the first thing you notice it in is your hair." The fur industry has a very literal interest in keeping the animals' stress levels low and ensuring they, and their fur, are healthy.

Other sources of fur come from over-populous species, such as coyote, that are culled by hunters. "We work very tightly with wildlife conservation groups," says Kaplan, and the use of endangered species is forbidden. So what of the propaganda we see, the horrible signs and videos warning would-be customers of the atrocities committed by the fur industry? According to Kaplan, much of it is fabricated, and there are documented cases of farmers who were paid to stage these alleged conditions.

As with any animal product, unless you raised and killed it yourself, you never truly know how happy the chicken that laid your eggs was, or how depressed the cow that became your car seats.

Just as we research the care of animals that become our food, the same amount of attention should be given to the decision to wear fur. Perhaps you don't like the idea of fur farms, good conditions or not, but fur that is culled at the behest of conservation groups is acceptable. Maybe you can only justify wearing the fur of animals that are also used for food, and maybe you're simply convinced that there will never be a place for fur in your wardrobe.

Whatever your thinking is, the fact that you are thinking is what's most important, and taking the time to investigate the issues involved beats succumbing to emotionally manipulative propaganda every time.

Brains are the key piece of the season: