Why Florida's Invasive Burmese Pythons May Be Turned Into Handbags

A luxury designer hopes to source her pythons from the Sunshine State, which is desperate to get rid of them.
Burmese pythons were brought to Florida as exotic pets, where they either escaped their cages or were set free once they grew too large to keep. (Photo: Pauline S. Mills/Getty Images)
Jan 10, 2014· 1 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

Florida's Burmese pythons—can't live with them, can't let armed citizens kill them. Actually, the state of Florida did let armed citizens kill them for a short period of time, but it turns out, they weren't very successful at it. The hard-to-hunt invasive species is still decimating the Everglades' ecosystem. And after several failed attempts to curtail the growing population, one luxury handbag designer wants to use the slithering beasts as source material for high-end purses and pocketbooks.

Designer Camille Zarsky's python handbags are a hot commodity, and according to FastCompany, her goal is to stop purchasing skins from Europe and instead start sourcing them from Florida's Everglades, where the invasive Burmese python population is plentiful. The move would allow her collection to be crafted entirely on U.S. soil while also playing a small role in solving a critical ecological problem.

Estimates put Florida's invasive Burmese python population at about 100,000. Chewing their way through the Everglades and its many native mammals, the snakes have no natural predator in the state. And they can reproduce at a prolific rate.

Zarsky's aim, however, isn't without its obstacles. She hasn't been able to find a tannery in Florida that can dye and tan the skins in precisely the way her designs demand. And exporting them to Europe for that purpose, only to import them back again, would double the cost of her already expensive goods.

The python skin trade, the bulk of which is sourced from Southeast Asia, is a $1 billion–a–year industry that often operates illegally and unethically, threatening some species' survival. Many of those illegally sourced skins end up in Europe as belts and bags for major fashion labels, according to the BBC.

If Zarsky's Florida plan proves to be successful, she'd be able to verify her products were legally and ethically sourced, and the move could encourage other designers to follow suit. But her success may have one unintended consequence—anything that increases global consumer demand for the skins could potentially encourage a more robust illegal python trade.

There's no question that something needs to be done to address Florida's invasive python population. But it's too soon to tell if must-have luxury handbags will play a role in the Everglades' salvation.