While most people shy away from snakes, shoppers were only too happy to slither up to animal rights campaigner Ashley Fruno after she covered herself in green and gold paint to look like a reptile.
Wearing only matching underwear, Fruno stood outside the Tsim Sha Tsui store of luxury brand Hermes yesterday carrying bilingual signs reading "Animals suffer for exotic skins" as locals and tourists stopped, stared and took photos. "This is a provocative and fun way to bring awareness [to the cruel treatment of reptiles for their skins], and it works," said Fruno, a long-serving campaigner with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta).
Her previous stunts have included dressing up as a mermaid to protest against fishing and walking around with only a banner reading "I'd rather go naked than wear fur" to cover her modesty.
Fruno said Peta had been writing to Hermes since 2010 asking the French luxury goods giant to stop selling products made out of exotic animal skins.
Companies such as H&M and Victoria's Secret agreed to stop selling products made from the skins of snakes and crocodiles, but Fruno said Hermes ignored the protests.
"I hate doing this - if we could negotiate without doing this, we'd do it," said Fruno. She said Peta would always seek to negotiate first, and would only resort to demonstrations when the other party refused to talk.
Peta Asia-Pacific had contacted more than a dozen brands regarding exotic skins, she said.
A Peta investigation into reptile farms in Indonesia found that the animals were skinned in extremely cruel ways. One of them involved pumping snakes full of water while the animals were still conscious to separate the skin from internal organs, then pulling off the skin while the reptile was still alive.
"We have done this same protest in other places, like Thailand, Taiwan and Macau," Fruno said. "We hope to let people know what cruelty lies behind some of the leather and exotic-skin products they buy."
Fruno said Peta would continue to campaign against exotic-skin products and would continue to target Hermes.
She said: "Hermes is a leader in the fashion industry. We hope that they can take the step, and hopefully other brands will follow," she said.
Many shoppers supported the cause. A woman from Guangzhou, who had her picture taken with Fruno, said: "I don't buy [exotic-skin] products any more."
And Karen Lei, who was passing by with her daughter, said: "I think this mode of protest is very acceptable - she is not naked, and actually still looks very pretty and presentable. Their message is clear and respectable."
Student Louisa Lee, 20, said she could not afford products made from exotic skins even if she wanted to.
She added: "I think the skinning is very cruel and very violent. Besides, we're students and we can't afford such expensive goods anyway."
A spokeswoman for Hermes declined to comment on the protest.