- The owner of a luxury leather business in Florida is selling face masks made from python skin.
- Pythons are an invasive species in Florida, and hunters are allowed to kill them humanely to cull the population.
- The python-skin masks sell for $US90, and quickly became one of the owner’s top-selling items.
- View more episodes of Business Insider Today on Facebook.
In southern Florida, Jim McCartney is skinning pythons to be turned into custom accessories.
But they won’t be made into luxury shoes, handbags, or belts – he’s turning these pythons into face masks.
The giant snakes are an invasive species in Florida, and hunters like McCartney and his daughter, Shannon, make a living removing them from the state’s wetlands.
After skinning the reptiles, they take the skin to local business owner Brian Wood, who turns it into luxury leather goods. Recently, the coronavirus pandemic has given way to a new use for the skin of abundant reptiles: face masks.
Wood got the idea for python masks after he saw a dip in sales of his regular inventory of and contemplated uses of reptile leather that would be more in tune with the times. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommend wearing face masks to prevent spread of the virus, and in several American cities, the wearing of face masks isrequired when outdoors.
“We made up one mask just to try it out, threw it out there on Facebook,” Wood told Business Insider Today. “And all of a sudden we got a tremendous amount of orders.”
Wood makes his masks with a 3D-printed silicone base and a replaceable filter, topped off with a decorative covering of reptile skin.
Wood says he faces backlash for his work, despite pythons’ classification as an invasive species in Florida. The reptiles were first spotted in South Florida in the 1990s – they were brought over from Southeast Asia for sale as exotic pets, but by 2000 a population had been released into the wild and began reproducing.
Since then, pythons have threatened native species in Everglades National Park. Researchers estimate that pythons have eliminated 80% to 100% of small mammals in the park, like bobcats and raccoons – which is why it is legal to humanely kill pythons in Florida.
At Wood’s businesses, masks made from python skin sell for $US90. They quickly became one of his most popular items.
“The invasive python from the Everglades is definitely the best seller because it’s a good thing,” Wood said. “It’s a good thing that people are buying them because it helps the hunters, who are in turn hunting them and removing them from the Everglades.”
Wood also sells masks made from the skin of iguanas – another invasive species in Florida. Nonnative green iguanas have also become a nuisance in Florida, piling up in residential areas and even digging into the foundation of houses.
Several local government programs actually pay people to hunt invasive species, allowing hunters like McCartney to earn additional income by selling their catch to Wood.
“All the animals that we removed from the Everglades are being used,” McCartney said. “Whether it’s the skin, the meat, teeth, jawbones, skeletons, the tail spurs – every part of the animal’s being used.
Wood also sells masks made from alligator skin. Alligators are native to Florida, but hunting licenses are strictly limited in the state. These restrictions are meant to keep alligator population numbers high, but that means the price of their skin is high, too – Wood sells his alligator masks for $US120.
As Americans curb their spending during the pandemic, the revenue from face masks has kept Brian’s businesses afloat.
He hopes they offer a long-term solution to an ongoing problem.
“We’re going to have to live with these masks for many years to come, possibly,” Wood said. “So I wanted to offer something that was fashionable and that would last.”