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THE FUR DEBATE

Should fur be abandoned by the fashion world? While many designers are criticising the production of fur, there is a broader dilemma in some parts of the world – many thousands of people in Denmark rely on mink farms for a living, for example. Desislava Todorova investigates.

Fur is a loaded issue, even more than 20 years since pressure group PETA worked to raise awareness of the cruelty of fur farming throughout the fashion industry. A big moment this October: Kering-owned Gucci called for change in the use of fur, announcing that the brand will stop using fur for the production of coats.Gucci’s CEO Marco Bizzarri said the radical change was a result of asking 150 young people working in the company across the world to tell him three things wrong with Gucci. For him, it was important to get a new perspective. And the solution came when “the shadow committee” of young employees pointed out that going fur-free would be a progressive solution. Bizzarri acknowledged the power of the high-visibility profile of Gucci, expressing the hope that his example will be followed by other luxury companies. 
 
But how will countries round the world react to this shift? For the rich millennial shopper, trends seem to be more important than anything. And if the current trend means going fur-free, then why not?Set against this is the fact that Scandinavian countries like Denmark have been relying on the production of luxury fur for centuries. Boosted by the need for warm clothing in heavy winters as well as the influence of long tradition, many people still rely on the quality of mink and fox.
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Walk down any high street in Copenhagen at this time of year and you’ll see it everywhere. Everyone’s wearing fur – and not just fur trim but entire coats, entire outfits of mink or fox or whatever.

To London eyes, it’s obscene, shocking. To the Danes, it’s how it has always been. A fur coat to them is what you always wear when the snow starts falling.

In a sense, I understand the Danish viewpoint. After all, I grew up myself in an Eastern European country – Bulgaria – where real fur is a preferred material for outerwear. I still have my great grandmother’s fox hats and coats, although I would never wear them in London.

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A pioneer in the production of mink, Denmark is the largest producer of luxury skins in the world, counting for nearly 40% of the world’s pelts. Ranked third in the country’s export market, fur has yearly exports of nearly 0.5 billion euros. Agriculture was once seen as the country’s largest employer but no longer thanks to technological advancements.

Instead, manufacturing and pharmaceuticals have taken over and family farming has remained significantly important for the economy.

Danish farms are also known to produce the largest portion of the highest-quality mink fur, selling for 20 to 30% more than mink pelts from other countries. For centuries, entire families have relied on the construction and maintenance of farms.

To improve goodwill towards the industry, in 2007, Copenhagen Fur and the Danish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Dyrenes Beskyttelse) voluntarily partnered to make the welfare regulations for mink stricter in Denmark than they are in the EU, with provisions for better accommodations and health standards. The latter party, however, was not satisfied with the negotiations.

Neighbouring country Sweden has a different take on mink production. A couple of years ago the Swedish government released a survey that proved that 8 out of 10 people preferred not to wear real fur. Known for the tradition in producing customized mink coats for generations, Sweden opposed the idea of fur farming.

Controversially, Denmark is trapped between a need and a choice. With the rise of Copenhagen Fashion Week, local producers have had to accommodate the needs of traditional fur buyers from across the world and forward-thinking stock lists.

One concept store in particular in Copenhagen combines both – the love for tradition and fashion.

Birger Christensen, located in the heart of central Copenhagen, Ostergade 38, has been at the centre of Danish fashion since 1869. Four generations of entrepreneurs and art collectors have been involved in the preservation of the family business. Spreading over 700 square metres, with two floors of international and local designers, the brand was established as a fur producing company.

According to Ingrid Andersen, a sales associate in the store, the demand for fur luxury good has changed over the years but hasn’t affected crucially the business thanks to the adaptive nature of the owners. Asked about the direction in fashion and the regular customers in the shop, she point- ed out the conditions in which the animals were bred – according to the highest standards.

She explained that many luxury brands trade with mass producing countries like China, where the animals aren’t treated well at all and that is reflected in the quality of the fur. All pieces in the Birger Christensen collection are responsibly sourced, and made from the finest quality fur.

“We make sure our minks are living well. Our customers understand that and value the efforts we are making”. Andersen explains that the store has had customers who have purchased coats over 20 years ago and still bring them in for maintenance. She states that this is another way to look into it as a sustainable way of curating one’s wardrobe. “Instead of buying 3 faux-fur coats made of synthetic fibres per season, you invest in this and have it forever”.

For a local producer like Berger Christensen, it’s vital to maintain the ongoing relationship with loyal customers, especially in times when young shoppers turn their head to new ways of spending their money which are different than their parents. Genuine fur and leather do not represent the values of the zeitgeist and the ideas of what real luxury is.

According to Claudia D’Arpizio, Milan-based brand researcher, the consumption of products and brands for Millenials today is not just a way to say who you are but a definition of one’s identity. This is reflected by their heightened engagement. Slowly but surely, millenial shoppers are moving away from old luxury habits.

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“[Millennials are moving away from] looking obsessively into their past to providing futuristic aesthetic visions; from ‘shouting their name’ to enabling consumers’ self-expression; from being fanatical of brand-purity to being open to collaborations and contamination.”

To satisfy the growing variety of needs, the brand has undergone several transformations in its concept. From a local fur producer it has grown into a contemporary concept store stocking Scandinavian and international names in fashion such as Loewe, Céline and Miu Miu to meet the millennial shopper’s expectations.

In 2016, the store space as well underwent major refurbishment under the creative guidance of Jens Birger Christensen, whose father established the luxury shopping space. During his 50 years at the top, it has given the word concept store multiple meanings. Specialising in stocking mink furs, the company has gained prominence among Scandinavian shoppers who appreciate the high quality of mink. Sold separately, the pieces for a coat could be customized and even better – assembled in various creative ways in order to express the owner’s identity.

Real fur in fashion has been and will remain an ongoing debate and innovation seems to be the ultimate response of the industry. Designers are more and more eager to experiment with various materials and fabric alternatives.

Given the fact that winters in this part of Europe could be freezing cold – temperatures drop to minus 15 – fur used to be the only real way to keep warm. However, today polymers of polyester could provide the warmth and comfort that wool and fur does. The new generation of consumers seem to have a different idea about the importance of fur production.

Nevertheless, economies which rely on the production of mink like Denmark, will not be able to make the big step forward until a new method of recycling or alternative of fur equally good is provided. While technology is still behind on a global scale, the welfare of animals is the main concern of producers contrary to the demands of animal activists, who have previously acted on the release of whole farms with minks, reflecting negatively on the local flora and fauna.

The Millenials’ generational change of heart in fur consumption offers a real alternative to old luxury shoppers’ habits. While paint-shocking tactics at fashion week may not make much of an impact, we consumers have the power to stop the fur production line by simply refusing to pay for it.

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