Illustration By Maia Ruth Lee
Gerry Armsworthy is a 73-year-old “roadkill specialist” who makes stylish and practical winter wear out of animals he finds dead on the street. His home in Regina, Saskatchewan, is also his workshop, where he keeps seven sewing machines and a giant freezer for storing his collected carcasses. He creates upward of 100 pieces per year, selling them at local craft markets and through his made-to-order business.
VICE: How did you get into this very unique line of business?
Gerry Armsworthy: Back when I was working and traveling around the province, I saw all these lovely animals whacked and lying on the side of the road. I had a hobby of sewing leather and needed some trim for my slippers, so I went to the library and got a few books on skinning, fleshing, and tanning.
Is useable roadkill hard to find? I imagine the majority is all torn up.
Not in Saskatchewan. On the highways there are a lot of wild coyotes, foxes, badgers, and raccoons that are always out forging for food. Most of the time they get hit at night.
But don’t the animals’ bodies basically explode on impact with the car?
No, the only way they fall apart is if the vehicle runs directly over them, but even then it’s not very much. They’re only not useable if they get hit by a 16-wheeler and they become completely flat. But I don’t pick up the ones that are stuck to the road. I use the ones that are off to the side and in the ditches.
Do you price your furs according to scarcity?
Absolutely. My most expensive item is a hat made out of badger fur. The badger is one of the meanest animals of the weasel family and has beautiful fur, but it hibernates in the winter. They only get hit by cars when they wake up to eat.
Have you ever come across a cat or dog hit by a car and thought, “Hey, they’d make a nice hat!”
Oh no, I wouldn’t do that, but I have had some strange requests. I once had a guy who wanted me to process his dog. I told him he’d have to go somewhere else. I also had some fellow phone me up and tell me he wanted the skulls. My wife and I thought that was pretty strange. There’re all sorts out there.
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to do this?
Most people don’t think of this, but when an animal gets hit by a car, one of the first things that happens to it is its bowels break. It can be very messy and stinky, and it’s rather discomforting when you skin it. When you’re cleaning the blood and innards just use water, but never hot water because it will cook the blood and you’ll never get it out.