What Do Alligators Have To Do With The Recession?

Until recently, Park Avenue millionaires and swamp-trolling Louisiana farmers have been engaged in one of the most unlikely of reciprocal relationships. The Southerners breed and treat alligator skins; the wealthy buy luxury goods made from them.

Think “fashion” and “recession” and the image of dirty, swarthy men probably doesn’t come to mind, yet the New York Times reports that these guys are being just as impacted by the decline in the consumer market as fancy boutiques and haute couture fashion houses. The biggest player in the alligator game has been Hermès, but now that the economy has hit the luxe accessories market, people just aren’t dropping thousands of dollars on alligator watches, purses, and shoes like they used to.

For animal rights activists, this probably comes as welcome news. And it’s true, the work entailed in alligator farming sounds pretty inhumane and gross:

“Stolid men wade into shallow tanks and pull the alligators out by hand. Biting happens. After the gators are killed with a stab to the brain, they are skinned and sorted: heads and claws for the French Quarter souvenir shops, meat for the Cajun restaurants, guts for turtles, dogs or anything else whose tastes run that way.”

On the other hand, it appears that both the recession and Hermès have put families in the position of losing their livelihoods. (Hermès seems to have cornered the market, buying up skins at very low prices.) Some alligator farmers who hoped to strike it rich are now going into debt. Says one to the New York Times about the business: “I guess it’s like being married to Miss America. You get all the benefits of the hugs and kisses, but she’s mighty high maintenance.” [New York Times]