LONDON — Gucci’s new anti-fur policy made waves when it was revealed on Wednesday night, and the question remains whether other megabrands will now be under pressure to follow suit.
Saga Furs, the Finland-based auction house that supplies the likes of Fendi, Louis Vuitton and Versace, believes that many brands — large and small — will remain committed to fur.
Charlie Ross, Saga’s head of sustainability, said on the sidelines of the company’s presentation and sales campaign at the Savoy Hotel here, that demand both from established and young labels is high — and that prices have been rising.
“We’ve had a great 15-year relationship with Gucci, we were sorry to see them go, but we are happy that this is not a Kering decision. We have spoken to Kering and many other Kering brands will continue using Saga-certified furs,” Ross said the day after Gucci revealed its decision to go fur-free. In addition to Gucci and Stella McCartney, which also doesn’t use fur or leather, Kering owns Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Bottega Veneta and Saint Laurent.
The group said it wants to allow its brands freedom to make their own decisions regarding the use of fur.
“Gucci’s new policy was based upon a decision taken at ceo level, it wasn’t based upon our program. We have already moved onto the next clients,” Ross added.
On Wednesday, Gucci joined a number of major labels that have stopped using real fur, including Ralph Lauren, Giorgio Armani, Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein. Retailers including Net-a-porter and Selfridges have also said no to fur.
Gucci’s chief executive officer Marco Bizzarri, who revealed the no-fur news during the fourth annual Kering sustainability talk in partnership with the London College of Fashion, said the use of real fur feels “outdated” and that Gucci needs to use its high visibility to encourage positive change.
Livia Firth, who interviewed Bizzarri on the London College of Fashion stage, said the decision is bound to impact the way the rest of the industry views fur. “There have been other labels that did this in the past, but I knew that once Gucci decides to go fur-free, it will be a real game-changer for the industry,” she said.
Pete Killian, principal at the Cambridge Group, which specializes in business strategies for brands, said more labels are bound to follow Gucci.
“Gucci’s move is one that looks to be following competitors such as Armani and channels like Yoox, who have already made this move. This will put pressure on other houses and brands to commit. Houses with a broader range of brands can hedge their risk by testing out the next few seasons with a few brands in their portfolio, likely the more youth-oriented brands.”
As for the business impact of ditching fur, it will likely be limited for Gucci. Luca Solca, head of luxury goods at Exane BNP Paribas, said he was not surprised by the Italian house’s move, given Kering’s numerous environmental and social initiatives. He said Gucci’s fur business is not significant.
The house had already eliminated kangaroo fur from its signature Princetown backless loafers last year, replacing it with lamb’s wool. Gucci’s fur offer mainly consisted of elaborate coats, such as a lamb-and-mink-trimmed cropped jacket which retails for 14,580 pounds on gucci.com or a rabbit bomber jacket with mink intarsia, priced at 7,940 pounds. Those materials will be replaced with faux fur, wool and new fabric innovations, Gucci said.
Saga’s Ross agreed that the impact on Gucci’s business will be limited. “The brand was important to us as a trendsetter, but as far as sales volumes it was just another client,” said Ross, adding that Saga Furs’ business won’t be impacted by losing Gucci.
Killian said that saying no to fur could actually generate more business for Gucci, by opening it up to a new generation of luxury consumers who are more conscious of sustainability and ethical issues.
“The decision marks a clear shift in acknowledging the younger demographic as the main fashion buying force and acknowledging social media as the fashion main media channel,” Killian added. “Fur is not popular on Instagram and big brands want to avoid potential scandals on social.”
Rina Plapler, partner at the branding agency MBLM, which focuses on topics such as customers’ intimacy with brands, said that although Gucci might alienate certain customers, the benefits of eliminating fur are likely to be bigger.
“This move can create a stronger sense of shared values among many customers and prospects,” Plapler said.
At the other end of the spectrum, Saga Furs said Millennials, who are known to be more price conscious, are in fact driving new trends in the fur market, and fueling the popularity of fur trims and accessories. The only difference between them and older generations of fur customers is that they “do their homework” and look for sustainably sourced products, Saga said.
Tia Matthews, Saga’s business director, pointed to a 30 percent annual increase in online sales of fur products. “Are Millennials more interested in transparency and the supply chain? Absolutely they are, but we are in a business of being transparent,” she added.
He also pointed to young, London-based labels that are working with the company including Astrid Andersen, Roksanda and Christopher Kane. He argued those brands are drawn to Saga’s sourcing transparency as well as its hand-crafted furs, which are made using special sewing techniques to ensure they are light.
Saga has an annual certification program in place that ensures its fur is made sustainably. It has also recently hired external auditing companies and offers traceability programs to identify the exact provenance of the raw materials on offer. Last March, Saga introduced its first auction of 100 percent certified mink, to great response from the likes of Fendi, Burberry, as well as Gucci.
While Gucci may be going fur-free, it is not likely to be joining its Kering stablemate Stella McCartney in also eschewing leather.
“We also have to think that we have 60,000 mouths to feed,” said Bizzarri, who added that the well-being of his employees was another key element of creating a sustainable company. He said the company is investing in a number of start-ups that are looking at alternative ways of producing high-quality leather that will eliminate water and chemical waste.
Real fur was thrust under the spotlight during the spring 2018 collections season, where anti-fur protesters made their presence strongly felt. In New York, protesters disrupted a presentation of Olivia Palermo’s capsule collection for Banana Republic, while in London they gathered outside the Burberry, Versus Versace and Gareth Pugh shows brandishing placards and screaming through megaphones at guests entering the show venues.
Ironically, none of the shows disrupted by the protesters actually used fur on their runways for spring. Burberry, which is a Saga Fur customer and does use fur at times, said it ensures it works with suppliers governed by strict animal welfare standards.
According to its sourcing policy, Burberry “provides standards to its suppliers in order to safeguard that Burberry does not knowingly use any materials in its products, which are under any threat of extinction or are endangered or may inflict any harm to animal welfare or livelihoods.”
After Gucci revealed it was going fur-free, PETA voiced its approval in a statement and highlighted its intent to keep going after brands that use fur.
“After more than 20 years of PETA protests against Gucci’s kangaroo-fur loafers and seal-fur boots, Gucci has finally pledged to join Armani, Ralph Lauren and Stella McCartney in the ranks of fur-free fashion houses. The writing was on the wall: Today’s shoppers don’t want to wear the skins of animals who were caged, then electrocuted or bludgeoned to death. Until all animal skins and coats are finally off the racks of clothing stores worldwide, PETA will keep up the pressure on the clothing and fashion industry.”