Despite downtown Everett's moribund retail climate and the town's reputation as a blue-collar haven, Terry Fieck makes his living in this downtown Everett shop selling furs to the wealthy.
Ensconced in the Everett area for about 15 years, Terry L. Fieck Furs specializes in the custom-fur business.
Fieck, who has 30 years of experience in the business, disputes the notion that the fur business is dying. Neither the recession nor animal-rights' activists have slowed his business down, he says. The fur business is, however, adapting to changing times and styles.
Fieck watches European trends, which have changed dramatically over the past five years to include more items in unusual colors and textures.
"We color it purple or green, whatever the customer's favorite color is," Fieck says. The store's most expensive coat was a $10,500 fire-engine-red sheared mink.
A popular texture these days, he says, is sheared fur. Shearing, with an instrument that looks like barber clippers, creates a texture that resembles and feels like velvet but still maintains the comfort, warmth and convenience of traditional fur, Fieck says. Some coats are sheared to include patterns, like houndstooth checks, on the surface, Fieck says.
Today's fur buyers want one garment that they can wear for both casual and dress, he says.
Traditionalfull-length mink coats do not serve that customer, Fieck says. So, those types of coats are less popular than they were in the past.
About 75 percent of his business is custom-design work - original garments that Fieck designs and makes himself. He even made fur teddy bears for one customer.
Fieck says his customers are getting younger.
Many of the new styles are designed to appeal to women in the 40-year-old range. Traditionally, he says, fur buyers have been in the 50-year-old category and above.
Even the animal-rights movement is having less impact on the fur business - at least in Europe, where it started, Fieck says. Some of his customers who have visited Europe recently told him that fur is again popular overseas.
Fieck contends that many people are beginning to understand that most animals raised for their fur are on ranches like chickens or cattle.
Animal-rights' activists, however, argue that many animals are subjected to cruel treatment by trappers and others involved in the process of making furs.
Fieck says he chose Everett as the location for his store, because it was more convenient for him, and less expensive, than downtown Seattle.
Fieck says he has about 800 regular customers and more than half have two or three fur garments.
Some are really big spenders. "We have one customer who drove up and bought 36 fur garments, and she loves the jeweler more than the furrier," Fieck says.
About 66 percent of his customers are from Snohomish County, and most of the rest are from King and Pierce counties. Fieck does have customers from Alaska and Florida, he says.
Typically, Fieck's customers spend between $2,000 and $8,000 on a garment, with most sales in the $2,800 to $5,000 range.
Fieck learned his trade 30 years ago. A job trapping animals for extra money led to an after-school job with a furrier in Rochester, Minn., when he was 16.
After Fieck graduated from high school, the Rochester furrier advised him to go to a bigger city to learn more about the business. Fieck moved to Minneapolis/St. Paul and worked for a manufacturer.
He then migrated to the Pacific Northwest to take a furrier job with Arctic Alaska. He wanted to be more creative, though, and struck out out on his own.