Fur on Copacabana beach? Why not. Boosted by a 10-year surge in sales to Asia, the global fur industry is primed to take on what it sees as the markets of tomorrow.
Hobbled during the anti-fur 1980s and 1990s, the trade has rebounded as all but a few designers put fur back on the catwalks, and luxury-hungry China sent global sales surging 70 percent in a decade, to US$15 billion last year.
However, Mark Oaten, a former British MP who took the helm of the International Fur Trade Federation (IFTF) last year, is already scanning the horizon beyond Asia and its US$6 billion in annual fur sales.
“The knack of any industry is to spot where the next market is,” said Oaten, whose key targets are Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and — despite some skepticism in the business — Brazil.
“We know Brazil is going to be an economic powerhouse, we know Brazil loves its fashion — this is the market in my judgement,” he said.
“This industry tends to follow where the wealth is. Our product has always been associated with the cold, but now our product has changed, and we are able to follow the wealth into warm climates,” he added.
New types of fur — colored, lightweight, trim — are making the industry less dependent on the cold season.
Philippe Beaulieu, head of the French Fur association, said European fur — mostly mink and fox, accounting for 60 percent of world production — has been transformed through working with fashion designers.
“Designers push us to do new things. We are now able to work lighter fur with a regular sewing machine instead of a fur machine. We can mix it with different fabrics, use laser to create patterns or cut holes, without damaging the fur,” he said.
Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton and Jean Paul Gaultier have each used lightweight fur for summer collections. So, is this the shape of things to come?
“Absolutely,” Beaulieu said. “There are no hang-ups about putting fur on the summer catwalks, because it can be shaved so close it becomes like velvet or silk.”
To woo new markets, the IFTF is launching a multi-pronged public relations drive, including an ad campaign in Vogue highlighting fur as a fashionista must-have. None of the IFTF’s upcoming ad campaigns tackle the issue of animal welfare head-on, but since 2007 it has been working on a global welfare labeling scheme called “Origin Assured.”
The label, which applies to two-thirds of furs sold worldwide, ensures fur comes from a country that enforces Council of Europe standards on cage size, access to water, type and regularity of feed, housing conditions and pain-free slaughtering techniques.