Max is a 23-year-old software developer who grew up in Ohio but now lives in San Francisco. He works for “one of the larger tech companies” in the area, although he won’t specify which, and says many of his friends work for well-known tech giants. Max – a pseudonym – didn’t disclose his salary, but the averages for companies of this size are well into six figures.
The image of Max you have in your mind right now may be that of a Silicon Valley tech bro: a gregarious, cocky young man that brags about his paycheck and has a penchant for flashy cars and extortionate gadgets. But his personal passions couldn’t be further from that stereotype. Max moderates one of Reddit’s biggest forums, r/furry_irl, home to over 54,000 subscribers. He is what’s commonly known as a “furry”.
Furries identify as animal characters with human traits, and like to dress in animal suits to show off their “fursona”. They go to meet-ups, comment in online groups, and attend conventions, just like any other shared-interest group. They are also often misclassed as engaging in a form of sexual fetish – but while this exists, it represents just a small minority of the furry community, which is better described as a fandom.
Furries were one of the first “bizarre” internet fandoms to hit the mainstream, and are often associated with negative connotations, of the “mom’s basement dweller” and “internet weirdo” variety. Their abnormality, their ubiquity (the fandom stretches from Mexico to Eastern Europe and beyond), and, most of all, their visibility has made furries an easy target for mainstream publications to mock the unusual communities growing online.
But the thing is: most furries don’t fit those basement-dwelling stereotypes. While mainstream media still uses them as a punchline, the socially awkward, unsuccessful, internet loser, furries are having the last laugh. Because furries are not society’s social pariahs – furries are, in fact, some of society’s highest-earners.
“Of the furries I’ve met, just about every single one was either gainfully employed or still in school and working toward their future careers,” Max tells me. “I have plenty of friends who work at places like Facebook, Discord, Google.” Max isn’t unusual in his mix of personal and professional interests: he tells me that most of his furry friends also worked making big money in tech. “If you use anything to do with technology or the internet, chances are a furry worked on it at some point.”
Daniel (another pseudonym) is not a furry himself, but has long been involved with the online furry community. He tells me that he gamed with several furry friends for more than ten years; several of them were software developers, just like Max.
“One couple I know, in particular, make a lot of money,” Daniel says. “One half makes enough money from software development that his husband doesn’t have to work.”
When Daniel first learned this, it surprised him that “people with intensely weird and niche interests could become highly paid professionals”. But in the community, this is entirely normal. Conversations about the day jobs that fund these surprising pricey outfits have been going on for years, with a typical exchange of the sort often found on Tumblr and Reddit reading, “Furries become surgeons”, “No, furries ARE surgeons.” One popular comment on a post about furries working in finance reads, “Damn, why does this whole fandom seem to revolve around money?”
There’s a reason for this: the outfits worn by furries, also known as “fursuits”, with most (yes, most) costing hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. The number of Reddit questions about the cost of fursuits is in the hundreds, dating back nearly ten years and while different users claim different price points, the common figures quoted in r/furry are roughly $500-$700 for a “partial” suit (ie head, tail, feet and hands) and around $2,000 for a full one. Those with special features, such as scales, can go for even more than that $5,000 mark. And many forums have users quoting fursuit auctions where full suits have gone for $10,000 – some as high as over $20,000.
“I would say the range is $2K-$5K for a full fursuit,” Max tells me. “But sometimes they can be much more.” Those furries who choose to have their own fursuits specially made are only able to do so because they are in jobs where they are incredibly well-paid.
Furries spend so much on fursuits that they are able to reliably fuel a whole industry. When New York Magazine’s think-piece publication, Intelligencer, wrote about the cost of fursuits in 2016, it noted that the furries who pay these enormous prices keep the independent artists who make these costumes afloat through regular, fairly-paid commissions. Furries’ animal fursonas are so integral to their lives, it argued, that in addition to paying the several thousand dollar cost to get a full or partial fursuit, they are willing to pay vast sums just to get piece of art made of their character. “There is still at least one online community that treats artists with respect and pays fair prices for original work,” the magazine wrote. “When it comes to commissioning original works of art, nobody can match the furries.”
Of course, furries don’t have to wear fursuits – and in reality, most don’t. “Instead express their interest in other ways – typically through art, clothes, or just socialising with friends,” Max tells me. But even if fursuits don’t represent the entirety of the community, Max does hope that the growing knowledge of furries non-fursona lives might help upend that “basement dweller” stereotype.
“On top of being hardworkers,” he tells me, “they are just genuinely nice people.”