Article by Chloe Spencer
While I was doing research for my Huffington Post article I was writing on the fur industry and why you should buy faux fur, I came across a site called Fabulous-Furs. But the furs on this site were faux, and looked just as real as their counterparts.
I was amazed…I looked through the collections of full-length white mink coats, coyote vests, and fox shawls, which all looked so real, except that they were only a few hundred dollars each instead of tens of thousands of dollars each! All beautifully made with high quality fabrics, and the best part, never harmed an animal in the process.
In fact, animals were helped in the process. Fabulous-Furs donates to hundreds of non-profits for animal rights every year. It is also the finest faux fur clothing company in the World, with celebrity customers, TV appearances and products sold at Saks Fifth Avenue. You're probably thinking, wow that is fabulous! All thanks to a woman named Donna Salyers, who put the fabulous into furs.
I was so impressed by Fabulous-Furs that I contacted the owner and founder, Donna Salyers, asking if I could interview her for Lipsticking. At Lipsticking we love to hear about female entrepreneurs, especially those that do something for the greater good, and give back as part of their passion. And Donna gladly accepted! I was very excited, and I'm sure you are too, that we get to hear about how she started Fabulous-Furs, what the biggest challenges were for her, and how she reaped her fame and success.
Me: How did you get started with Fabulous-Furs? What prompted you to open your store?
Donna: I began Fabulous-Furs in 1989 after hearing a radio broadcast describing kittens being skinned alive to become “mink” teddy bears. It was timely because I was in my car, heading to a fur salon where I would purchase a full-length mink coat! Instead, I started Fabulous-Furs.
Luckily, my grandmother taught me to sew, preparing me for a business based on fashion and design. I have no business background or education, so it’s truly an “only-in-America" success story. Today we’re known for the world’s finest faux fur, used throughout the entertainment industry and sold in exclusive retail settings such as Saks Fifth Avenue and W Hotels. We even have sellouts on QVC! We make about 60% of our products here in Covington, Kentucky in the same 110,000 sq ft building that houses our Call Center, offices and Distribution Center.
Me: What have been the biggest challenges in having your own business? What were the biggest challenges in being a faux fur company?
Donna: A formal business background would have been really helpful. I was unaware of the definition of “business plan” until I had been in business a few years. But for 17 years, I wrote a syndicated newspaper column on the subject of sewing/fashion. I had a 30-min cable TV show for two years, known as Sewing, Etc. I’ve written 8 books and done a video series, all sewing/fashion related. So those things prepared me to write catalog copy, think creatively and obsess over design ideas. When I began Fabulous-Furs in 1989, there was a real stigma attached to faux fur. But as technology and fibers improve yearly, faux has gained a new status. Celebrity endorsements have also elevated faux fur--when movie and TV personalities embrace faux fur, it sanctions it for the rest of us.
Me: What charities/organizations have you worked with? What have you done with them?
Donna: Cedarhill Animal Sanctuary in Caledonia, Mississippi is one of my personal favorites. A refuge for abandoned, abused exotic animals and founded by Kay McElroy, Cedarhill has been the beneficiary of our annual Saturday Salon for the past five years. We’re also thrilled to donate hundreds of coats to regional schools each year. On a national level, we’re delighted to partner with Dignity U Wear. They allow us to work on a broader scale, and through their incredible network, for the past few years we’ve been able to distribute thousands of coats to needy children and adults in colder USA cities.
Me: What would you say to someone who asked you why you wear such realistic-looking fur if you're against real fur? If they said, won't most people think you are wearing real fur and therefore you are promoting the wearing of fur?
Donna: I'd point out that this is fabric—a luxurious alternative to animal fur, making animal fur a relic of the past.
Me: Do you consider Fabulous Furs the best faux fur clothing company on the Internet? In the nation?
Donna: In the World! About six years ago, we added the tag line: “The World’s finest faux fur.” To my knowledge, we’re the only company truly specializing in high quality faux fur. We’re mindful every day of upholding and fulfilling our “World’s best” claim and it truly guides what we do daily, year-in and year-out.
Me: How many people are involved in the business?
Donna: We swell to about 100 in our busy season, but our core is about 50 full-time people. I love the people who work here. We’re a work family and it’s a huge compliment that most are compelled to stay and flourish as we grow.
Me: Where do most of your customers come from? Your store or online?
Donna: Donna Salyers’ Fabulous-Furs is first and foremost a catalog. Online selling has huge growth every year, as does our Wholesale Division. Our flagship store in Covington, Kentucky has become a destination.
Me: What are some of Fabulous Furs most noted customers?
Donna: We’re in a number of stores where celebrities shop: The Hamptons, Vail, Aspen, etc. But a really fun one is Plantation Design, a beautiful interior store with locations in Los Angeles, Venice and San Francisco. They’ve sold our Ivory Ruched throws to Sharon Stone, Nicole Kidman and Kim Kardashian. We’re often featured in fashion editorials, and perhaps that’s how celebrities reach our website. Kate Moss is pictured in our Sable wrap over Tom Ford separates on a full-page in the August 2011 British Vogue. Lady Antebellum singer Hillary Scott was pictured in People Magazine with our Sable throw. Jay Leno featured us in his monologue in early December. Gossip Girl needed 40 coats once for a scene at an Embassy dinner. Everyone from Paula Dean to Dina Manzo to Ice T has placed orders.
Me: What's the hardest thing about being a female business owner? What's the best thing?
Donna: Male or female, all business owners face major challenges--whether it’s a poor economy, a warm winter, lack of capital, or government regulations. But honestly, I have no complaints. I feel extremely blessed and lucky to be born in a country where we can rise to the level of our willingness to work and risk. I’ve done this for 22 years and have absolutely loved it.
Me: What advice or words do you have for other female entrepreneurs?
Donna: Don’t give up! And stay healthy, to have the energy it takes to build something from nothing!
Me: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Donna: I’m really proud that we’re based in Covington, but have become a world player. We’ve been the subject of several Wall Street Journal stories and in one, the reporter wrote something like “operating out of an old building in the hills of Kentucky.” Often fashion magazine editors assume we’re in Manhattan when they call for samples. I subscribe to the theory that excellence can happen anywhere a business operates with heart and passion. I am also proud that we make over half of our products here in the USA.
Fabulous-Furs has appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Today Show, Miss USA/Universe, The View, CSI Las Vegas, Gossip Girl and many more TV shows. Donna has been profiled in People Magazine and twice in the Wall Street Journal and honored with the Northern Kentucky Chamber’s Image Maker Award. Pretty amazing!
I even got to experience a little of Fabulous-Furs myself! I got to try out a faux fur throw, which was lovely, and very soft. The fur was heavy and thick as a real one would be, and the plush lining on the underside of the blanket was butter-soft. It's my new go-to blanket for movie watching on the couch!
I think it's really amazing what Donna is doing, and how much she's grown her business, which started out as just a home project in her basement. And not only is it a success, it's a voice for the animals. Promoting the wearing of faux fur, so you can appreciate the beauty and luxury of fur while saving animals instead of killing them! Advocating animal rights, and helping non-profits around the nation.
The fur industry really is terrible, and it's shocking that real fur is still worn and bought today. People like Donna don't just get the word out that faux is fabulous, but make it their life passion and career! So let's help spread the word, showing the World that we don't have to kill our beautiful animals to enjoy the luxury of their fur! Times have changed, and thanks to Donna, the whole World is getting a wake up call!