MILAN — Furla is the latest fashion brand to go fur-free, beginning with the cruise 2019 collection that will be in stores in November. All women’s and men’s products will be made using ecological fur.“Over the past year, Furla has grown exponentially at an international level,” said Alberto Camerlengo, chief executive officer of the group. “The decision to progressively ban from the collections the use of animal fur is a project that confirms the brand’s increasing interest in the environment, with particular attention to the animal world, to which Furla is very sensitive. The decision, moreover, responds to the growing request for ethical products by consumers who are more and more aware and attentive to these themes.”Camerlengo underscored that the technological progress made in recent years allows the company to have valid alternatives, making it pointless and unnecessary to use animal furs.The decision is aligned with president Giovanna Furlanetto's own sensibility. During an interview at Furla's offices in Milan, Furlanetto proudly showed the Mantra bag she carries regularly, saying it was one of the brand's best-selling items. But what gratifies her is the fact that the bag is made using vegetable tanning, a traditional treatment that relies on plant-based tanning. Launched last year and available in white and black cotton at a select number of stores, it retails at 550 euros and is part of a special project focused on sustainability in manufacturing. "It is regularly sold out," she said.Although the use of fur at the Italian accessories company over the years has been limited, a quick scroll on Instagram shows just how attentive consumers are to the issue. Responding to photos teased on the social media platform, comments included: “Please stop animal abuse. Cruelty is not fashionable;" “Hi, I’m an animal lover and was wondering if you can try to use less fur in your products? I know you probably think the animals lived their best life, but they don’t, they most often live horrible lives,” and “Furla could stand for something so beautiful using only synthetics or faux fur. Start a movement!”Several fashion brands have revealed fur-free policies in recent months, including Michael Kors and Jimmy Choo, following in the footsteps of Gucci, which unveiled its plans in October. The decision aligned the Italian brand with the practices of its Kering stablemate Stella McCartney, who has long eschewed the use of fur and leather, as well as with Ralph Lauren, Giorgio Armani, Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein. Retailers including the Yoox Net-a-porter Group and Selfridges have also said "no" to fur.Furla's decision comes on the heels of the company's "best-ever" year in 2017, said Furlanetto. “This was particularly gratifying because it was also the family-owned company's 90th anniversary. We had the highest earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, and expanded around the world.”The Italian accessories company saw EBITDA climb 34.1 percent and, according to WWD calculations, reach more than 80 million euros. In the 12 months ended Dec. 31, sales rose 18.3 percent to 499 million euros. At constant exchange rates, revenues were up 20 percent.In May 2016, Furla set in motion plans to go public, inking an agreement with TIP Tamburi Investment Partners SpA, but the initial public offering was postponed last year and Furlanetto said that, “since liquidity is not an issue,” there were no new developments on the subject.Chief executive officer Alberto Camerlengo emphasized the single-digit like-for-like growth and increased worldwide sales in all markets last year. “We bought back our business in Australia and Portugal, we grew in Asia solidly, we consolidated Japan, we increased sales in Europe, which is a difficult market now, and also in the U.S., where, despite the [local] complexities, we grew at retail — it was all very positive. We are particularly satisfied.”In particular, at constant exchange rates, sales in Asia-Pacific rose 50 percent, accounting for 24 percent of the total.The company opened a flagship in Beijing in December at Beijing WF Central, with its biggest façade in the world, covering 3,996 square feet. Camerlengo said it was easier to find the right retail space in these new markets. “In Asia, you can really make a statement [with real estate],” he observed. Furla has just bought back its business from a distributor in Singapore, where it counts five stores.[caption id="attachment_1202626229" align="aligncenter" width="683"] The new Furla store in Beijing at WF Central.[/caption]Revenues in Japan, where the company has been present since 1990, climbed 15.4 percent, accounting for 23 percent of total revenues. “Japan is the single most important market for us,” said Furlanetto. “We are reaping the rewards of years of sowing in that market.” Furla just opened new offices in Tokyo’s Aoyama district, bringing the total number of employees in Japan to 430. In the region, there are 79 directly operated Furla stores and Furla’s men’s division has grown to account for 11 percent of sales. “Men’s wear is doing very well in Japan, they are very open to new products — more than other countries, where our women’s DNA sometimes limits a little our expansion in men’s,” said Furlanetto.Sales in the U.S. grew 9.6 percent, accounting for 7 percent of the total. Camerlengo said that, while growth in the U.S. was driven by the retail channel, the company has a solid business with department stores, too, including Bloomingdale’s — which is opening new Furla doors — and Saks Fifth Avenue. “We work with those that preserve the brand, that don’t do wild discounting and promotions,” he explained.The company this year will open a store in South Coast Plaza in Los Angeles, after two years of negotiations. Last month, Furla opened a pop-up store that will be in business for one year at Forum Shops at Caesars in Las Vegas, and will unveil a unit at Aventura Mall in Miami this year. “This is an exceptional location to set a foot into South America,” said Furlanetto.The Europe, Middle East and Africa region was up 12.9 percent, representing 46 percent of revenues. In the first quarter of 2018, openings are expected in the EMEA region in particular in Germany and in the Czech Republic. “Europe is performing well and we are growing in Germany, where there is a strong brand awareness because of our presence in department stores, but we are investing in street stores. We just opened a banner in Frankfurt and next up are units in Düsseldorf and Berlin, in addition to the existing venue in Munich,” said Camerlengo.Furla has been rationalizing its network in Italy, closing small stores in small cities, but at the same time the brand has become available at specialty stores such as Luisa Via Roma in Florence and Franz Kraler in exclusive mountain resort Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. Italy accounts for 15 percent of sales.Last year, retail revenues accounted for 70 percent of total sales.The company today is present in around 100 countries and relies on a worldwide distribution network of 467 stores, compared with 444 in 2016. Of these, 253 are directly operated, 177 are franchised and 37 are in the travel retail channel. Sales in travel retail gained 14.5 percent.Asked about foreign exchange rates, Furlanetto acknowledged the strong euro is penalizing the company, as the brand has become more expensive for Asians in Europe, but Camerlengo underscored that the company is not changing its prices. “Our strategy and path are clear, we want to offer an excellent product at the right price and we don’t want to change that or correct prices to follow the fluctuations of the currencies penalizing our customers,” he said.The company has also been investing in its organization. In January, Furla revealed the acquisition of Effeuno Srl, a longtime partner company specialized in manufacturing leather goods. Based in Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, a 40-minute drive from Florence, the 53,820-square-foot plant already exclusively produced Furla’s accessories, employing over 100 workers and manufacturing two million pieces a year between bags and small leather goods. The takeover is part of the brand’s strategy to invest in Italy and aims to strengthen the group’s supply chain, boosting production.The company in February launched its new online platform in China, as it works to improve digital sales, with a focus on mobile.In the end, however, it’s about “surprising the customer, there are so many bags out there, everybody is doing bags, but we need to be creative and innovative, differentiating our product. It’s increasingly more difficult, but this is what has helped us to emerge — reinventing ourselves,” said Furlanetto.
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