Luxury Brand Started Selling $6,000 Animal Costumes. Furries Are Furious.
The subculture is suspicious of people trying to cash in on them. The latest hairball is over a high-end costume brand.
Hollywood starlets wear Gucci. Sneakerheads buy Supreme sweatshirts. And now furries might have their own ultra-luxury brand.
That’s if the furry community will allow it.
When it launched last month, Zweitesich branded itself as the “world’s first designer fursuit brand” for people who dress up in anthropomorphic animal suits. The company’s aesthetic would have made a high-fashion brand proud. Zweitesich (German for “second self”) launched with a sleek website, where it sold anthropomorphic animal masks, each with a Louis Vuitton-style brand on the cheek. But furries aren’t conventional fashionistas. As parts of the fringe subculture creep toward the mainstream, the furry fandom is grappling with what it means to go commercial.
So almost as soon as Zweitesich launched, the company became the center of a catfight.
On Twitter, furries accused Zweitesich of being “insulting,” “fuckery,” and hopefully “just a social experiment.” One furry made a parody Zweitesich mask, covering their own wolf costumes in upscale logos.
The furries were responding to Zweitesich’s price tag (originally marked at $6,000, according to furry news site Flayrah), the fact that buyers wouldn’t even receive a full-body fursuit, and Zweitesich’s claim to employ “designers” rather than “tailors.” Some furries interpreted the designer creds as a dig at other fursuit creators.
Looking back, Zweitesich's founder sees where it went wrong. Behind the company's flashy exterior was Albino Topaz, a high-profile fursuit maker, whose creations (like a lavender corgi) have sold for more than $8,000. Like many in the scene, she goes by a pseudonym, which she ditched in favor of the brand name.
That's when the trouble began, she said. Furries took issue with the high-fashion stylings, assuming it to be the work of a larger company, rather than one artist.
"In my opinion, what seemed to set people off was the idea of a big corporation coming into the fandom and cheapening the hard work of individual artists," Topaz told The Daily Beast "It’s a sentiment that I too, agree with. The Furry Fandom revolves around creativity and individuality, the idea of commercialization has a hard time fitting into that equation [...] When companies try to come in and make mass-produced fursuits (often stealing designs from existing artists/Fursuit-makers) it comes as a real kick in the teeth."
Controversies like these are common in the subculture, Patch O’Furr, founder of the furry news site Dogpatch Press said.
“You see this pretty regularly. You’ll see somebody catch ire, everybody piles on them, and a month later it’s forgotten. I think this was a thing that wouldn’t matter to anybody else except furries,” O’Furr told The Daily Beast. “But I think it really struck a nerve. It really got to the root of this possessiveness that the subculture has about itself and what it built for itself.”
For decades, furries got no love in mass media, which cast them as weirdos. That outsider status became central to furries’ do-it-yourself spirit, O’Furr said. While historically nerdy pastimes like gaming and cosplay go mainstream, furries have largely escaped mass commercialization. Retail stores might sell Fortnite T-shirts, but they’re not ready to sell full-sized wolf fursuits.
But some of that fringe factor might be fading. Furries have become more common in popular culture, with brands as large as Disney appearing to wink at them. (The community hotly debates whether Disney’s Zootopia movie borrowed inspiration from furry culture.)
“Felix Croc,” who uses an orange crocodile avatar online doesn’t have a fursuit, but said he understood why fellow furries suspected Zweitesich was a mainstream brand trying to capitalize on furries.
“I think there was such a huge backlash because a) the fursuits were overpriced as hell, and b) furry has always prided itself on being weird and non-mainstream,” Croc told The Daily Beast.
“Many people saw Zweitesich as a way to try and make furry appeal to the influencers/upper crust of society, the kind who wear Gucci everything. You'll find that quite a few furries are outspoken socialists or communists and there are very few right-wing furries.”
There was also the matter of Zweitesich selling pre-made suits, as opposed to the custom suits furries covet. Fursuits often come from specialized designers, many of whom are furries themselves. Sometimes furries make their own suits.
Typically, O’Furr said, “if you want to get a full suit made, you have to spend a few hours basically mummifying yourself in duct tape to make what’s called a duct tape dummy. Then you have send that off. So this is not a casual, walk-into-a-store-and-buy-it thing. This is very much an interaction between an artist and a commissioner,” he said. It’s a very collaborative process. There’s a lot of love and personal investment in this, as well as the money.”
In a series of apologies online, Topaz said the campaign’s marketing materials were “poorly chosen.”
The branding problems began when she tried to hire non-furry to market the new brand, she said in a statement. “I was nervous about how this would go, and decided to hire someone who could create a sleek look that reflected my costume style in a professional way,” she wrote. “This was not meant to create a brand that would be considered elitist or exclusive by any means.”
On Twitter, her marketer apologized for having “forced her hand with the aggressive marketing in an attempt to get the brand to stand out from the fandom’s usual open arms inclusion.”
Topaz announced that she was putting the project on hiatus while she dealt with stress from the backlash. “In the end, these past two days have been completely devastating,” she wrote. “Waking up after these months of grueling work and knowing that people believe me to be this arrogant, pretentious jerk, is unfathomably crushing.”
Topaz is not the first person to experience this brand of backlash.
“There’s this odd dance between the subculture and the mainstream culture,” O’Furr said. When FurAffinity, the main furry social network, sold to Silicon Valley company IMVU in 2015, the community worried that venture capitalists would crush the site’s quirkiness. (It’s remained relatively untouched, O’Furr said.)
The conflicts can hit pillars of the furry community. Furry convention organizers sometimes get slammed for not registering the events as non-profits.
“I don’t think they’re really understanding that a for-profit convention is just another way of organizing that cuts out the paperwork that would have to happen for a non-profit,” O’Furr said. (Even conventions that claim to be non-profits are sometimes fudging their record. In 2017, a Colorado furry convention imploded over allegations that its founders misrepresented their tax-exempt status and allowed Nazi furries to run rampant.)
Even as furries plan outreach for their events, they worry about over-exposure, said Dralen Dragonfox, cofounder of Howl Toronto, a monthly club night for Canadian furries.
“Very recently there was some uproar about the billboards put up for FWA [Furry Weekend Atlanta], and not just in the context of rising ticket prices and paying DJs,” Dragonfox said of roadside advertisements for the upcoming furry event. “There was an undercurrent of ‘who exactly are they advertising to?’”
Furries might enjoy brief dips into the mainstream, but many also fear what they’ll lose if they go big. “There's a real fear that the very things we get hammered for (sexual diversity, sex positivity, plenty of PDAs) will have to be scrubbed or suppressed in order to gain ‘mainstream’ commercial acceptance,” Dragonfox said.
The brands may come, but the community isn’t going anywhere, O’Furr said.
“People got really upset about Walmart putting out Maskimals, fursuit costumes that were very, very cheap,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s any threat to fursuit makers because there’s none of this collaboration and unique personality being put into it.
“You can’t mass-produce that. You can’t mass-produce that relationship.”