By Maryam Siddiqi
Many know fur to be a durable product, something that can be repurposed. A coat can become a vest, for instance, then later a handbag, later still fur trim on the hood of a parka or a pair of boots.But the industry itself is just as durable. In North America, the fur trade between indigenous peoples and Europeans started in the 1500s. North American Fur Auctions, which has been selling furs since 1670, has been integral to the success of the industry for the vast majority of its history, and a significant part of that success is working with others in the business to ensure the trade is sustainable, that the products it creates, markets and sells are of the finest quality and that the work that goes in to manufacturing them is environmentally sound.
“We have 347 years of experience in terms of commercially selling furs that are, over the last 200 years, very sustainably tracked to the point where every fur-bearing animal in North America is part of a population that is abundant,” says Rob Cahill, senior vice-president, international marketing for North American Fur Auctions. “We have benefitted from a sustainable harvest for hundreds of years.” Fur as a sustainable, eco-friendly luxury textile is a story industry leaders are excited to share, particularly because of the important role the business plays in the economies of several countries. The Fur Institute of Canada (FIC) estimates that, in 2013, domestic retail sales of fur in North America totalled $4-billion, while worldwide retail fur sales reached $35.8-billion. And the impact of the industry in Canada, for instance, is significant. According to the FIC, the country’s fur trade contributes $1-billion to the national economy each year, and directly employs 60,000 people in full- and part-time capacities.
The Fur Council of Canada (FCC), a non-profit association representing all aspects of the industry, from trappers to auction houses to retailers, has placed a priority on educating those affiliated with the industry, as well as the general public, about the environmental benefits of fur. A few years ago, the organization launched the website FurisGreen.com, a resource that explains the environmental benefits of the textile — primarily that it is a natural and renewable resource. (Faux fur is made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource.) More recently, the FCC launched TruthAboutFur.com, a site the educates readers about the entire lifecycle of fur, from farming and trapping to processing, design and retailing.
“At a time when society is becoming more conscious about making choices that are compatible with protecting the environment and are sustainable, it’s very important in our trade to let people know that fur is an excellent choice,” says Alan Herscovici, executive vice president at the FCC. “Our industry is well regulated, nationally and internationally, to ensure that no endangered species can be used.” He also says that Canada has been a world leader in ensuring its fur trapping and farming business adhere to strict codes and regulations so that animals are treated humanely. And when it comes to fast fashion, fur is, again, a desirable material. “There’s starting to be statistics about this phenomenon, about how much waste there is [with fast fashion] and how much clothing is thrown away every year — and most of it is synthetic. It’s basically another form of plastic bags,” Herscovici says. “You see all the time in the trade a mink coat that’s 30, 40, 50 years old and in good condition. And it can be remodelled and styled. There’s nothing frivolous about it.”
That fur is a sustainable textile is attractive to many fashion brands, from high-fashion luxury designers to street-style staple brands, and it’s a feature that design houses want to actively promote to their customers.
“Sustainability, in general, is a concept that is taking a more special place in Fendi products’ intangible value. We are committed to constantly develop and improve sustainability along our supply chain, that’s a never ending journey,” says Frédéric Munoz, worldwide operations director for the brand. “As a leading luxury house with a unique and exclusive artisanal know-how on fur, Fendi is strongly committed to guarantee to its customers worldwide the highest level of animal welfare compliance for its exceptional fur products.”In March 2017, Fendi became the first luxury house to buy 100 per cent certified mink lots, and it recently developed a unique recycling program for customers “to reshape mother’s or grandmother’s beautiful coat to make it still in the trend today,” Munoz says.
For street-style brands like Canada Goose, incorporating certified fur into its product lines and supporting the sustainable industry is equally important and a point of pride. “Canada Goose only purchases fur from licensed North American trappers, who are regulated by state, provincial and territorial wildlife government agencies,” says Carrie Baker , SVP director of communications for the outerwear company. “Having worked with trappers for over 40 years, we know these trappers have a profound respect both for animals and nature, and we are proud to support them.As part of the company’s Fur Transparency Standard, all fur products used in Canada Goose apparel manufactured from April 2017 onwards are fully traceable, and country of origin information will be included on garment labelling. “We strongly support the ethical, responsible and sustainable use of fur. We believe in ethically sourcing fur, which is why we implemented the traceability program that ensures all fur is sourced from animals that have not been subjected to any unfair practices, inhumane treatment and is fully traceable through the supply chain,” Baker says.
NAFA has worked with Canada Goose to develop a certification system for the coyote fur used on products. “They’re looking for certified trappers and producers, and we’re working with them to develop a certification system to ensure that we have certain information that provides them the guarantee they need that the trappers [they are sourcing material from] are legally licensed and that they are harvesting within the regulations of the jurisdictions of their state, province or territory,” says Cahill. Adds Baker: “We’re committed to providing authentic and transparent information to our customers and look forward to ensuring that our consumers can feel confident in our sourcing practices and procedures.”
By 2020, NAFA plans to formally have in place its Certification and Traceability policy, which will ensure that, in working with brands like Fendi and Canada Goose, producers and the organization’s own auction house, all ranch and wild fur producers will have the opportunity to have their goods certified, an indication that they are meeting local, regional and/or national requirements and regulations. The goal is to guarantee sustainable quality, and to pass that assurance on to every other player in the supply chain.
“We know where every fur pelt comes from that our company sells, from every individual, where they’re licensed and registered or where they’re undertaking their business,” says Cahill. “When the furs leave our warehouse, we can deliver the [buyers] information about where every pelt comes from. And we’ve been working on testing a number of different tags that can go through the dressing system, so that when the designer, the manufacturer has the furs on the table they can still maintain that traceability, and if the company so chooses also follow that traceability right through to the retail level.”Being able to provide that assurance of origin and quality at the retail level on the shop floor and to the consumer is a crucial step in sharing knowledge about the industry, says the FCC’s Herscovici. “Because of the very nature of our trade, [in the past] the people who could answer questions about our trade are trappers and farmers who are out in rural and remote areas, so they were never heard. Retail furriers — and retail in general — often didn’t know these stories,” says Herscovici.“In the days of mass production, we still have an industry that is based on a natural material that’s basically produced by hand, continuing this heritage that’s so ecologically sustainably. It’s fantastic.”