Sisson furs and leathers credits industry innovation for survival

Sandwiched between a fortune telling business and a day spa is one of Red Deer’s oldest downtown businesses.

rank Kuny

rank Kuny

Sandwiched between a fortune telling business and a day spa is one of Red Deer’s oldest downtown businesses.

Sisson Furs and Leathers has become a familiar name over the past six decades in the Red Deer region.

Frank Kuny is the man behind the counter of this business that began in 1948. This jovial man puts one at ease in his shop adorned with racks of leathers and various fur coats of different styles and colours.

Kuny relaxes in an easy chair as he talks about the early days of the fur industry and how Sisson Furs came to be. In 1948, Ted Sisson opened the business “in a ladies’ dress shop” in downtown Red Deer.

Eventually, Sisson moved the business to the location at 5013 Ross St. where it remains today. He continued the business until passing it onto his son Rand.

Meanwhile, Kuny was forging his own name in Saskatoon.

“In the early days, there were a lot of furriers around. In Saskatoon in 1960, there were 10 furriers in the city and now there isn’t a single one.”

Kuny managed the first fur business in Edmonton before becoming the regional fur manager for Hudson’s Bay Company in Calgary. He then travelled all over the country as the national manager prior to the Canadian department store getting out of the fur business.

The animal rights movement severely hurt the fur industry, especially after HBC closed its fur department, Kuny said.

“It almost gave the animal rights (people) the one-up,” said Kuny said.

A few years ago, big designers began putting furs back into their lineups.

“Furs are back because they are environmentally friendly,” Kuny said. “You’re using a totally renewable resource, totally biodegradable . . . the fur industry is back, but not like it was in the ‘70s.’”

In the mid-1990s, Rand Sisson sold the business to Kuny and two men he worked with from Calgary’s Benzing Charlebois Furs.

The three owned Sisson Furs and Leathers for two years before Kuny and wife, Jane, took it over in March 1999. Kuny left the name under Sisson’s name because the original owner had a reputable name.

Over time though, change was necessary.

The business expanded into more leather.

“To make the season last longer,” Kuny said.

Kuny remembers when there were only two styles of coats and now he can buy so many different fur coats from manufacturers.

“For us, the survival has been the innovation of the new furs,” Kuny said. “If you look around the floor, you would be hard pressed to see two the same. Girls don’t want to be meeting themselves on the street.”

The store can make coats from those who bring skins in. Customers can also have their older style coat restyled or repaired. The “flatter” furs are in style. Mink fur is one of the most popular.

Kuny’s staff of four are ready to unstitch and sew to make new creations.

Another growing part of the business is found in the vault downstairs. Furs are stored in the cold room that has 56 per cent humidity, so the hide doesn’t dry out.

“Honestly, I can’t say the recession has hurt us. We haven’t felt it yet.”

Kuny, dressed casually in a partially zipped bowling shirt revealing another shirt beneath, continues to love fashion.

The 70-year-old grandfather of four would like to step back in the business. One of his three children, Carrie Lou Kuny, works at the store and has shown interest in taking over the shop.

Kuny will be in Montreal this week to attend the three-day NAFFEM show, which attracts thousands of professional buyers of luxury furs, boutique furs, shearlings, leathers and accessories. He loves to see what internationally renowned fur designer Zuki has created.

He remains a fan of the fur industry.

“It’s too much fun — the people you meet, the product you’re with,” Kuny said. “You get the fur under your skin and you can’t let go. You’ve got a gorgeous product and what can a guy do better than making women happy?”

Sisson Furs and Leathers is open Monday through Saturdays from 9 to 5 p.m. It closes on Saturdays from the May long weekend to the Labour Day weekend.