ARTISANS: Sold on sealskin - Part 1

Published on April 23, 2015

In two separate outports, in different parts of the island, skilled seamstresses are sewing up success with home-based businesses.

Family owned and operated businesses have been an important part of Newfoundland’s economy for decades, especially in outport communities.

Whether it’s a small corner store, a carpet shop or a fishing vessel, it’s the family businesses that continues to thrive because of a “support local” mentality.

In the small fishing town of Heart’s Content in Trinity Bay, Laurie Pitcher has built a family business based on her passion.

Laurie loves to sew using traditional materials like silks, satins and other fabrics generally used for formal attire. But a request for a sealskin jacket from her husband Lindo Pitcher two years ago opened up a brand new world of opportunities.

“Eventually I broke down, got some pelts and made a jacket,” Laurie told TC Media at her home and workshop in early March.

And Sealskin Treasures was born.

Unlike some high-end boutiques that sell sealskin and other animal fur products, Laurie didn’t want to limit her clientele to only those who could afford expensive furs.

“I want anyone that wants it to be able to purchase it,” she said. “My clientele is the everyday person, like myself.”

But don’t let her prices fool you. Sealskin Treasures purchases high quality pelts from local supplier Carino, and fox fur from M & E Fur Farm Inc. in Placentia Bay.

“I strive for quality, and that’s it,” Pitcher said.

Leather, purse linings, zippers and other items not available in Newfoundland are shipped in from other parts of Canada.


Keeping it in the family

Laurie and Lindo Pitcher fish during the commercial season. Their two sons, Tyler and Ryan, also fish.

But since the business began to pick up at Sealskin Treasures, Laurie hasn’t been able to spend as much time on the water. She set up shop in her basement with two sewing machines, a desk and shelves for storing finished products. Pelts are placed across a couch.

Lindo handpicks the pelts from Carino and cuts them, while Tyler does much of the tanning work. Then the pelts are ready to become fashion accessories. Laurie and fellow seamstress Arlene King do all the sewing.

Sealskin Treasures is a small, intimate workplace, and Laurie would like to keep it that way. She doesn’t have plans for a big expansion, though perhaps she’ll try some new products someday. She just enjoys sewing and creating different things out of sealskin.

“Sewing is not a love, it’s not a hobby. It’s a passion for me,” Laurie said.

She often loses track of time during a project, and can spend an entire night at her sewing machine. But she enjoys every minute.

At a time when sealskin is being criticized by some celebrities and animal rights activists around the world, Laurie said business is booming for her.

“Sealskin is really popular now,” she said. “We’ll ride the wave while we can.”

Although sealskin is in high demand now, Laurie knows there could be a downturn in the future, but she’s not concerned.

“I have no idea where this is going to go,” she said simply.

Some of the most popular products Laurie makes are purses, mittens, women’s hats, Mountie-style hats, and custom jackets, which she only makes to order. She has also begun creating boot cuffs that can be worn with dressy footwear. She has no plans to make actual sealskin boots, though.

 Checking out the merchandise

Laurie Pitcher takes Sealskin Treasures on the road, travelling the island for some of the biggest craft shows, including the Downhome Expo, Manufactured Right Here Expo and the annual Craft Council of Newfoundland’s annual showcase.

Her upcoming itinerary includes stops in Twillingate in July, Lewisporte in September and Marystown in November.

“We’ve met so many wonderful people,” she said. “And we’ve been received so well at all of these places.”

Sealskin Treasures has shipped as far away as the Czech Republic.