Chicken Feathers: For Fishing or Fashion?

Last week Sweetwater Fly Shop, Storefront Manager Marya Spoja, was interviewed by the Livingston Enterprise.  It was great to hear her take on the new craze that has hit the fashion world. Quite eloquent Marya!

Enjoy the article.

Hackles selling like hot cakes — for fashion
By Camden Easterling, Enterprise Staff Writer

Enterprise photo by Aaric Bryan

Livingston stylist Tracy Flanigan shows her feather hair extension at The Edge Salon recently. Local fly shop workers say they’re out of saddle hackle feathers in light of the trend.

Ask Rick Halloran of Dan Bailey Fly Shop where to find the long feathers called saddle hackles that are popular in fly tying, and he’ll point to an empty row of hooks on a wall.

“That’s where they used to be,” Halloran, a sales associate, said during a recent day in the downtown Livingston fly fishing shop.

Several Park County fly shop workers and owners say they’re out of the feathers due to a trend of women — and the occasional man — sporting them in their hair.

“We ran out of our last one probably two weeks ago,” Halloran said.

Local and national theories on just where, when or why the fad began vary widely. Some say rock icon and Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler spurred the feather fervor when he wore the fly tying staple as a judge on “American Idol.” Others credit teen idol Miley Cyrus.

Either way, local fly shop workers say the result has been a nationwide run on feathers — and a premium in price for those used as accessories.

“Probably once or twice a week we get a couple of girls coming through looking for feathers,” said Marya Spoja, the retail manager for Sweetwater Fly Shop south of Livingston.

The women — who tend to travel in small groups of three or four and range in age from 20s to 30s — stand out a bit as a different customer demographic than the fly shop is used to seeing, Spoja said. Sweetwater doesn’t carry fly tying materials, so workers refer the feather seekers to other shops.

Spoja said she hasn’t been inclined to try the trend herself.

“I’d probably get run out of the shop,” she laughed.

Dandy Reiner, owner of Hatch Finders Fly Shop just south of Livingston, said she received her first call about the feathers about two months ago when a hairdresser in California inquired if she had any hackles available.

“The past few weeks,” she said, “I’ve gotten a phone call a day from hairdressers across the country.”

Reiner, whose shop provides its own hand-tied flies, said she has charged stylists roughly what had been the going rate of about $56 dollars for a saddle. A saddle yields about 200 usable feathers.

“It’s crazy,” she said. “We sold $500 worth of saddles to a hairdresser in Colorado.”

That caller also offered to pay far more if she could sell him feathers once she gets a new supply, she said.

Suppliers are backordered on the feathers but still are charging shops the normal price, Reiner said.

“It takes a long while to raise these on a rooster,” Halloran said of why suppliers can’t immediately offer more feathers.

Tracy Flanigan, owner of Livingston’s The Edge Salon, has been using feathers on clients for about two months.

“We just kind of put a few feathers in people’s hair for a little bling,” she said.

When she first caught on to the trend, she ordered the feathers online without realizing they are common fly tying materials.

“I was paying a fortune for them,” she said.

Online feathers had been fetching about $40 per set of 10, she said. Once she figured out she could find them at fly shops, she began sourcing them locally. Fly shop workers have seemed “not thrilled” when they learn she’s using them for style rather than flies but have been polite and friendly nonetheless, she said.

Flanigan sells the feathers for $5 to $10. They can be washed and styled and last up to three months. The feathers can be dyed, and for a while bright colors were popular with clients. Lately, though, she’s been using the neutral versions she’s found at fly shops, Flanigan said. Stylists attach the feathers to the hair with a small plastic bead.

“We don’t sell the beads,” Halloran quipped.

Jokes aside, Dan Bailey’s has had some customers frustrated by the shortage of hackles, Halloran said.

“Obviously the guys that tie are a little perturbed because we don’t have any,” he said.

But others are taking the trend in stride, said Dean Reiner, former owner of Hatch Finders.

“Any tier worth a salt has got two or three boxes full of feathers,” Reiner said.

People using the feathers for hair styles typically want those from the saddle of the bird, which provides longer pieces, he said. But fly tiers easily can use the shorter feathers that come from the bird’s neck, he said.

Shop workers and owners said they’re confident the craze will subside as stylists find the feathers in short supply nationwide and pay high prices for them.

“I think it’s going to be a fad,” Halloran said. “We’ll be able to restock.”

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