Fear not Ryan Cleary! If you ever put your foot in your mouth when you’re talking about the seal hunt again you can be wearing sealskin sneakers while you do it.
When earlier this year the St. John’s South-Mount Pearl MP openly mused on the possibility of shutting down the seal hunt he found himself in a uniquely local fashion pickle: he knew he had to show up in public wearing sealskin from head-to-toe to show support for the hunt; problem was, he didn’t own any. He had to borrow a vest from a friend.
So when the Natural Boutique, which specializes in clothes and shoes made of animal hide, opened on Water Street in early June, it was chock full of politicians who were showing their support for the seal hunt and updating their politically correct (in Newfoundland, anyway) wardrobes.
“The seal hunt is indeed a very political thing, and that’s bewildering to us,” says Jen Shears, part-owner with her partner Kerry of the Natural Boutique. “It’s among the most regulated hunts in the world, and we live in a world where ‘green’ products are sought after. I can’t think of anything greener than an abundant, free-range, renewable resource that yields organic, biodegradable products.”
The Natural Boutique is an offshoot of the Gros Morne Wildlife Museum and Gift Shop in Rocky Harbour, which opened in 2009. The success of booths and kiosks at Christmas craft shows and the Avalon Mall in St. John’s over the past few years encouraged Shears to open up a permanent shop downtown.
With backgrounds in environmental biology, ecology and wildlife management, and as members of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nations Band, the Shears are keen on environmental and economic sustainability of their community and their province. This makes the Natural Boutique more than just a fashionable enterprise, it’s about environmental stewardship and community economic development as well.
The Shears tan many of the hides used to make their products themselves in Rocky Harbour and the products are produced by craftspeople they know from aboriginal communities in the province and across the country.
“Our goals are quality, supporting small business and Aboriginal enterprises,” says Shears. “If we don’t have a hand in making the item, we personally know most of the producers.”
The Natural Boutique’s most unique product is probably their sealskin sneakers (pictured above), which come in men’s and women’s styles and three different colours and will run you $275 a pair.
The Natural Boutique can be found at 152 Water Street or on their website.