Importing Furs, Leathers, Wool, & Ivory

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Importing Furs, Leathers, Wool, & Ivory

I have a confession. I struggled a bit with writing this article. I am an advocate for animal rights, and am concerned about how the food and fashion industries treat animals as commodities.  That in mind, I do think this is an intriguing area of law.  I wanted to share some logistical information with you, and invite you to make the ethical choices that you feel most aligned with.

If you are creating a high-end or luxury clothing line, you may be considering using exotic pieces such as leathers, furs, shells, or ivories. As you plan out materials for your line, do keep in mind that the United States federal government and certain state governments place restrictions on the selling and importation of these materials.

Endangered Species 

When deciding if you can bring an article in the United States, the general rule is that products made from endangered wildlife species may not be imported or exported.The United States as signed into the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). To figure out if the animal product is from an endangered species, visit the CITES website.

There are exceptions for which permits to carry these products into the United States are granted, but its generally not for business purposes.

 Labeling of Wool

Unless the wool products that you are importing into the United States were made 20 years before you imported them in, the products will need the proper tags and labels, which is covered under the Wool Product Labeling Act of 1939. Below are the requirements for labeling under this act:

  • The percentage of the total fiber weight of the wool product, exclusive of ornamentation not exceeding five percent of the total fiber weight, of: (1) wool, (2) recycled wool, (3) each fiber other than wool if the percent by weight of such fiber is five percent or more, and (4) the aggregate of all other fibers.
  • The maximum percent of the total weight of the wool product, of any nonfibrous loading, filling, or adulterating matter.
  • The name of the manufacturer or person introducing the product into commerce in the United States or the importer’s registered identification number issued by the Federal Trade Commission.

Wool from various animals can look similar when transformed into a fabric or article of clothing.  It is important to research ways you can check for correct labeling and authenticity. Cashmere, for example, is sourced from goats. A very popular type of cashmere is called Pashmina, which is a type of goat in India. Importing cashmere, and specifically Pashmina is allowed but sometimes Shahtoosh gets confused with Pashmina. You have to avoid Shahtoosh, a superfine fabric made from Tibetan antelope hair. These Tibetan antelopes are on the endangered species list.

Reptile Leathers 

Like the other materials, regulations of reptile leathers is extremely species dependent, and so you should always check the CITES list.

This PDF will give you an overview of how the trade works:


You will need a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  to import almost all types of ivory, unless it is from a warthog. Sometimes sellers will try to pass bone off as ivory, so be sure to learn the visible differences between bones an ivory.

There is an executive ban on that was put into place by Obama on elephant ivory. This happened in Feb. 2014. There are still some exceptions, such as for musicians. However, owners of these items will need to prove that they were legally acquired prior to February 26, 1976.

Antique Furs & Ivory

You may import an object made of ivory if it is an antique. To be an antique, the ivory must be at least 100 years old. You will need documentation that authenticates the age of the ivory. You may import other antiques containing wildlife parts with the same condition, but they must be accompanied by documentation proving they are at least 100 years old.

Labeling of Fur

  • The name of the manufacturer or person introducing the product into commerce in the United States; i.e., importer. If the importer has a registered identification number, that number may be used instead of the individual’s name.
  • The name or names of the animal or animals that produced the fur. Follow the Fur Production Naming Guide
  • If the fur product contains used or damaged fur
  • If the fur product is bleached, dyed, or otherwise artificially colored
  • If the fur product is composed in whole or in substantial part of paws, tails, bellies, or waste fur
  • The name of the country of origin of any imported furs contained in a fur product

Dog and Cat Fur

It is illegal in the United States to import, export, distribute, transport, manufacture or sell products containing dog or cat fur.

California Laws

California does have its own set of rules in addition to the rules of the federal government. Other states have additional restrictions as well. Below is a section of law from California:

It is unlawful to import into this state for commercial purposes, to possess with intent to sell, or to sell within the state, the dead body, or any part or product thereof, of any polar bear, leopard, ocelot, tiger, cheetah, jaguar, sable antelope, wolf (Canis lupus), zebra, whale, cobra, python, sea turtle, colobus monkey, kangaroo, vicuna, sea otter, free-roaming feral horse, dolphin or porpoise (Delphinidae), Spanish lynx, or elephant. (California Penal Laws 653o and 653p)

As you can see, California has wider protections on the types of animal products allowed to be sold. For example, no ivory is to be sold or to be possessed with the intent to sell in California.

This is a very complicated area of law, with lots of details specific to each animal, the age of the product, and the intent of the importer. For more information, contact CITES, FWS, or an attorney. For follow up questions to this article, please email