Pamela Paquin is picky about the roadkill she uses to make her neck muffs and mittens, but not as picky as you might think. Even if a car has ridden right over a fox or raccoon near her home in Massachusetts, the partial pelt may still be valuable.
"I don't bother with the ones in the middle of the road that have been flattened. But the ones in the break-down lane that look like they're asleep are often salvageable," says the designer.
"The soft bits like the stomach may be eviscerated or broken apart by predators. But the back fur is the most desirable for me and I can often use that. It's such a high-quality product that even the smallest bit is worth taking the time to retrieve."
To some animal rights advocates, working with any fur is beyond the pale. But Paquin, who also works as a sustainability consultant, argues that roadkill is morally justifiable, because it's using up something that would otherwise go to waste. It's not killing something just for the sake of it.
Plus, picking up a dead animal is better than leaving it to rot, she says. "Part of it is showing the animal respect. You're taking them off the road and ensuring that other animals don't start scavenging. You're acknowledging what's happening and not just driving by."
Her company, Petite Mort Fur, gets its pelts from two sources. Either Paquin picks up the carcasses herself, together with a cousin who lives nearby, or she works with highway departments and animal control officers who help her locate the animals. Either way, don't go getting any ideas: you need a license to gather roadkill and, ideally, a rabies shot as well.
Paquin works with many of New England's indigenous animals including possums, beavers, skunks, bears, and coyote. All of her garments, from leg warmers and gloves to hats and vests, are unique and very expensive. Most of them cost between $1,000 and $5,000, reflecting the high labor costs.
Having sold enough items to know demand is out there, Paquin now hopes to start collecting roadkill from other states and to start using deer skins to make leather. The latter should make the business less seasonal. At the moment, her business is restricted to the winter months when animal furs are at their best.
Some may still complain. But Paquin hopes to build a sexy, feminine brand ("petite mort" refers both to a woman's orgasm and the demise of the animals). "We have to be able to embrace death as part of life and make the best of it," she says.