America tries on a new breed of guilt-free fur: drowned swamp rat

You can wear fur, look good, keep your morals intact – and save the environment, too. If you don't mind wearing the remains of a swamp rat fished out of the wetlands of Louisiana.

This is the promise of a "guilt-free fashion show" being staged in Brooklyn, New York, this weekend, featuring everything from coats to cocktail dresses made with the fur of nutria, or coypu.

The rodent represents a threat to the fragile ecosystem along the Gulf Coast every bit as dangerous as the BP oil spill, and numbers have swelled so much there is now an official $5 bounty on every nutria tail.

The "Nutria Palooza" fashion show is the ultimate in recycling chic.

"We are a collective of cutting-edge designers with a shared commitment to saving the wetlands and reclaiming these pelts from just being wasted," says Cree McCree, the New Orleans writer and designer behind Righteous Fur collective, and the organiser of the show. "At the moment the nutria are just buried or disposed of in the marshlands. It's almost criminal – and it does no honour to the animal. In the Native American tradition, when you kill an animal, you have to use every part."

So on Sunday night, in a little art space in Brooklyn, 24 designs that range from conservative men's coats with nutria hoods to more outré items such as a nutria merkin and even a fur-lined wedding dress, will be up for sale. Ms McCree has also designed a line of jewellery using the rodent's distinctive bright orange incisor teeth.

Righteous Fur was conceived less than two years ago, while the designer was involved in a project to develop fashion harvested from nature, including clothing made from swamp grass, moss and bones. By then, the damage caused by nutria was already a statewide issue.

In a twist of irony, the animal was first introduced to Louisiana for farming more than a century ago from South America, as the rich and famous sought outfits made from its soft fur. Escapees from local fur farms made their way to the wetlands, where their exploding population ranges over 23,000 acres of sensitive and protected coastline. The animals burrow into the levees and bayousides and feed on the marsh grasses that hold the wetlands together.

The reward was introduced in 2002, and about 90 per cent of nutria are destroyed after capture, says Righteous Fur. Recycling the pests' pelts into fashionable apparel encourages bounty hunters to increase their nutria yield. Also, a portion of all profits goes to the Barataria-Terrebonne Estuary Foundation, which works to restore the vanishing coast.

"Nutria suck," say event organisers on their invitation to Sunday night's show. "We must kill them... and then, we must take their pelts and make some guilt-free wearable fashion art!"

Interest has already been rising in guilt-free fur from high-end designers. Oscar de la Renta featured a nutria waistcoat in his recent winter collection, and designer Billy Reid used it for collars, hats and an evening cape, referring to the pelt as "bad-ass fur".

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