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Sydney business transforms antiquated fur coats into family heirlooms

Sydney man follows in grandmother's footsteps by giving new purpose to old fur with online shop In Hattie's Attic.
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Santas
Derek Marchand, Janine Joseph and Viola Cleary display some of the items for sale online through In Hattie's Attic that were made using repurposed fur coats. Similar items can be found at Hattie's Heirlooms, a craft shop that opens when cruise ships dock in Sydney. (ERIN POTTIE / Local Xpress)
SYDNEY — Remember that fur coat collecting dust in your closet? It might be time to give it a second look.
 
Inspired by his grandmother’s success in creating crafts out of old garments, Sydney native Derek Marchand launched In Hattie’s Attic last winter to transform out-of-style furs into family heirlooms.
 
In its first year of business, Marchand and girlfriend Janine Joseph have been busy filling orders for headwear, scarves, pompoms, pillows, key chains and highly sought-after Santa figurines.
 
While many people find it unethical to wear fur, Marchand said the business is recycling an unused product and creating less waste in the environment.
 
“A lot of the fur just comes from people who just honestly want to get rid of them,” said Marchand. “They don't want anything to do with them.
 
“Some of these coats back in the day might have been four, five or six thousand dollars, now they’re dated — or maybe it has a rip in it — at least this way it can be turned into something instead of being thrown out.”
 
Marchand’s grandmother, Viola Cleary, first began making teddy bears and dolls for sale at local craft markets. She now operates Hattie’s Heirlooms, a seasonal Sydney waterfront shop that was named after her mother.
 
“Viola, my grandmother, every year she would make these Santas and every year she would nearly be sold out,” said Marchand. “I always thought there was a big demand for it, especially for the online world. She taught me to make the Santas. She’s the founder of it, but she never really had much desire to put it online because of the workload. It’s more of a hobby for her.”
 
Cleary said she started making Santas about 15 years ago after reading an article about American craftsman Lynn Haney, whose work is admired by Christmas enthusiasts around the globe.
 
She soon realized the popularity of her own dolls, with repeat orders from local customers and cruise ship passengers who come to dock at Sydney’s port each summer. 
 
With her children showing no interest in creating crafts, Cleary said she was thrilled when her grandson stepped forward to learn the trade.
 
“Derek is a perfectionist, he loves doing them. He’s kind of like me, he finds it really relaxing so that worked out and when Janine wanted to do headbands and other pieces of fur, it was great because I don’t do a lot of that.”
 
Marchand said making each Santa is an intricate and time-consuming process. Both he and Joseph hold regular jobs but work to complete their online orders in the evenings. 
 
Each figurine is unique, although they all come complete with a porcelain face and a beard made of curly lamb or Mongolian lamb. For their coats, any fabric can be used from Harris tweed to wool tartan or a satin wedding gown.
 
Marchand said although they do purchase vintage clothing for their own purposes, many of the crafts they sell are created from items once belonging to an individual customer.
 
“Everything is handcrafted basically from scratch,” Marchand said. “You won’t find anything like them. They’re just so unique and that’s what really made me want to get into it because I saw the business opportunity for it.”
 
Orders are now rolling in from across Canada and the United States, including one order from a woman in Maryland who wanted several Santa Claus dolls made from her late mother’s fur coat.
 
“The lady in Maryland who sent us her coat, she was giving them to her sisters and she said they were just so excited,” said Marchand. “They couldn’t believe it. You feel like you’re making these things for these people you don’t even know, and you just know how much they’re going to appreciate them.”
 
In Hattie's Attic can be found online at www.etsy.com/shop/inhattiesattic


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