Environmentalists Chain Themselves to Victoria's Secret

Categories: In the Streets

Victoria's Secret got nailed again today when a pair of activists chained themselves to the entrance of the lingerie chain's Upper West Side store to demand that the company stop pulping virgin timber to churn out its ubiquitous catalogs.

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Using heavy-duty bike locks, two members of the activist coalition Catalogs Without Clearcuts bolted their necks to the front doors of the Broadway and 85th Street boutique at 9:45 this morning, preventing shoppers from entering for nearly an hour.

They were backed by about two dozen other demonstrators—many of them young freegans with the Wetlands Activist Collective—who greeted the morning rush of Manhattan commuters and mothers and nannies pushing strollers with singsong chants like:

"Victoria's is stripping forests bare, just to sell you underwear!"

and:

"Victoria's Secret, don't you know it's wrong to log the forest to sell your thongs?"

They came off like typically preachy, self-righteous environmentalists. Yet many passersby seemed genuinely concerned by the notion that Victoria's Secret is printing up no less than a million catalogs a day using predominantly virgin paper milled from Canada's Boreal forest—the largest tract of ancient forest left in North America—in addition to second-growth forests in the Southern U.S.

"They send me way too many catalogs, I agree," commented one Upper West Side mom, as she quickly wheeled her infant past the ruckus.

Another young woman approached bearing a coupon to redeem a free set of pink panties, then quickly scurried away. "Of course it's disturbing," she responded, when asked how she felt about shopping there. "I had no idea they were killing all those trees."

Although activists have been targeting Victoria's Secret outlets across the country for the last two years, the demonstrators today said they decided to "up the ante" with civil disobedience in order to press the company to act on a pledge to expand the use of recycled paper.

"They've been talking about contracting with a more environmentally friendly paper supplier for the last year," noted Rev. Charles Blustein Ortman of the Unitarian Church in Montclair, New Jersey, who helped shepherd reporters to the word-of-mouth-only demonstration. "We want them to know that it's time for them to make a decision."

The spokesperson for Victoria's Secret parent company Limited Brands did not return press calls, but instead forwarded a general email touting the company as "a leader in the retail industry with respect to waste reduction and recycling."

The email noted that all Victoria's Secret clearance catalogs are now printed on 100 percent recycled paper, as was most of Limited Brands' 2004 annual report. But the clearance catalogs amount to just 12 percent of Victoria's Secret's total output.

On their website, you can watch a video of Limited Brands VP Tom Hellman standing before a babbling brook as he boasts of the 9500 tons of office paper and cardboard the company recycled last year—enough to save more than 161,000 trees.

But critics say that doesn't make up for the bulk of the firm's paper use—those glossy pin-up-style catalogs—which are printed on entirely virgin paper and mailed out to customers at the rate of one nearly every two weeks.

"It's not just trees they're destroying, but an entire ecosystem where vast numbers of songbirds in North America go to nest, and where caribou and grizzly bears and wolverines live," said PJ McKosky, a 25-year-old pet sitter from Williamsburg, who said he'd spent a week camping in the Boreal in August in order to experience the impact of clearcutting first hand.

"These are species that require intact eco-systems to survive, and they're just ravaging all that to sell underwear," added McKowsky as he sat cross-legged before the store's entrance with a thick chain looped around his neck, pinning him to the brass handles of the front door.

"We will not stand idly by while they're participating in ecological apocalypse!" chimed in Adam Weissman, coordinator of the Wetlands Activist Collective, who was chained to another door a few feet away.

The police took the demo in stride. At 10:40, a team from the NYPD's Emergency Services Unit arrived to cut the locks. First they attempted to clip the casehardened steel chains with a pair of giant bolt cutters. When that didn't work, they tried to saw through the links with a Sawzall. Finally they brought out the big guns-- a hydraulic powered Hurst tool (the kind used to pry people from car wrecks), which looked like a big lobster claw, and which snapped the links like celery stalks.

As two activists were cuffed and led away in a squad car, police escorted a few determined shoppers inside. Police said they expected the two would be charged with disorderly conduct, criminal trespass, and criminal mischief.

"Of course, I absolutely support their action," remarked Patricia Coulson, a banker from London sporting a crushed velvet hat. "At home, I'm on a mailing list so I don't get junk mail. I'm just picking up something for a friend," she said, before wading into the racks of push-up bras.


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