Booming Fur Industry Puts Best Foot Forward

IFTF expects sales to grow 6 percent to 7 percent this winter.

PARIS — Boosted by its continuing presence on the runways thanks to designers like Marc Jacobs and Phoebe Philo, and new, more contemporary manifestations, the global fur industry is continuing to boom. Business for the coming winter season is estimated to grow by 6 to 7 percent, according to Mark Oaten, chief executive officer of the International Fur Trade Federation (IFTF).

“This industry is being led by young designers who are using fur in an incredible way, with color; with light designs, which means that you can wear fur in hot climates; with the use of trim, which is opening up the market to so many people,” Oaten said.

The net worth of the global market was between $15 billion and $16 billion in the 2010-2011 season (the industry’s business period runs from roughly October through March), the last period for which data are available, according to IFTF.  About $4.5 billion of that figure came from Europe, $6 billion from Asia, $1.5 billion from the Americas (mainly North America) and $3 billion from other markets, primarily Russia.

Growth in consumption is being driven by Asia, largely China, and by strong demand in Russia, although the vast majority of farming and production still takes place in Europe, Oaten said. In coming years, he expects to see increased demand from the Gulf countries, Turkey and potentially Brazil, notably due to technological developments that allow lighter-weight products.

“This market tends to follow wealth, but one of the barriers to it following wealth in the past has been [its nature as] a product for a colder climate,” he said. “But innovation, with trims and lighter weights, means that we can actually follow wealth, if wealth happens to be developing in countries with hotter climates.”

Attitudes toward fur have altered somewhat since the Eighties and Nineties; cumulated sales increased 70 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to IFTF figures.

“I think design has led the consumer attitude change,” Oaten said. “And also a younger generation whose passion is not animal rights. They’re very motivated on environmental issues, more than on animal-rights issues, and that for us represents a new industry demand, because we have gone a long way to ensure welfare is of the highest standard.

“There is less focus on welfare. Maybe it’s because we’ve got our act together, maybe it’s because attitudes have changed, maybe it’s because they’re seeing fur more on the catwalk, in magazines and in products that they like,” he explained. “The younger generation loves fur trim, and they are buying it.”

The association has also initiated a life-cycle analysis of the whole fur value chain, the results of which are in and will allow the federation to develop a set of guiding principles for the industry, which Oaten hopes to make available within nine months.

“Interestingly, we put in some comparisons with fake fur, because we wanted to look at the environmental impact,” he said. “We found all through the chain, as a natural resource, it is having less environmental impact than fake fur.”

The fur industry is also upping its game in terms of advertising. “Traditionally, we were in [women’s magazines] because we had to be, because magazines were not covering fur,” Oaten explained. This fall, the IFTF will broaden its media reach. In October, the organization will place its first ad outside the fashion press, in the Economist newsweekly, and in November, a campaign developed in partnership with designer Rick Owens will break in GQ.

“This industry has perhaps been a little bit shy, maybe as a kickback to the Eighties and early Nineties, when it was under attack,” Oaten continued. “Now it’s time to be on the front foot and say ‘Look, we’re doing incredibly well as an industry, let’s tell you about it.’”