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Op-Ed | Welcome Fur with High Standards

The fur debate doesn’t have to be black and white with no middle ground. Designers and consumers have every right to use and buy fur, argues Jan Erik Carlson of Saga Furs.
Jason Wu Autumn/Winter 2015 show using Saga Fur products | Source: Courtesy
  • Jan Erik Carlson

HELSINKI, Finland — Fur obviously has a place in fashion. Just take a look at the most recent runway shows in the world's major fashion capitals. More than 70 percent of the latest autumn/winter and haute couture season collections featured fur. Fur designs have been booming at retail too. Simply put, designers want to use it and consumers want to buy it. If that is not a clear barometer, then I don't know what is.

Fur has had a place as a fabric for clothing since the very beginning of mankind. In the early days, the use of fur was a question of survival against the harsh elements, but through time, it has evolved into a luxury-driven fashion item.

Even today, there is something unique about the effect fur has on anybody who comes into contact with it — the designer who uses it, the consumer who buys it and even the anti-fur lobby that fights to abolish it. This tactile, three-dimensional material touches us all deeply and evokes great passion and creativity.

Having worked in the fur sector for almost 20 years, I never stop wondering why the discussion about fur has to be a black and white issue with no middle ground. In related luxury industries, it is possible to have a more nuanced view on the raw materials that go into the final products.

In the jewellery business, for example, there is an understanding that “blood diamonds” from conflict areas are not to be used. In the luxury confectionary business, cocoa from countries that use child workers for harvesting is completely off limits. But we do not hear anyone arguing that diamonds or chocolate should be banned altogether.

Maybe the simple truth is that the anti-fur organisations adapt the “all fur is bad” strategy because it is an easily understood message from a propaganda point of view.

Designers that use fur have a responsibility to ensure that the type of fur chosen lives up to the ethical and environmental demands of the modern luxury consumer. The challenge is to identify the types of fur, the sources and the production methods that live up to this kind of scrutiny.

As a fur auction company that works hand-in-hand with leading fashion designers, Saga Furs saw this development coming a long time ago. We act as the bridge between the fur breeding and fashion sectors, providing a flow of innovative design ideas. We understood the need to promote a new kind of luxury fur that could live up to growing ethical demands through certification, traceability and sustainability.

The Saga Furs business is based on a fur farming tradition that goes back more than 100 years in the Nordic countries, built on tremendous passion and know-how. We offer mink, fox and Finnraccoon from European farms that are regulated by EU and national legislation.

Fur farming is actually the most regulated animal use industry in Europe — but our farm certification programme requires fur farms to go beyond national animal welfare standards, with advanced animal health and welfare, breeding conditions, food maintenance, farm hygiene, record keeping and environmental management. Certified farms are regularly inspected by independent outside auditors.

We use a traceability system that tracks the skins throughout the supply chain, making it possible to know which farms produced the skins in which products. Because the production chain is transparent, fashion retailers can cross-check their fur suppliers and identify the farms that are supplying them. Some leading luxury fashion brands even conduct spot checks on the farms themselves.

We also have a very strong sustainability profile. The animal feed is made of fish not fit for human consumption, fish by-products and waste from the food industry. We are working towards an organic way of processing the raw pelts, by developing new chemical-free processes.

Since launching these initiatives, we have received enthusiastic feedback from some of the world’s leading fashion companies. This makes it clear: the fur product of the future must meet certification, traceability and sustainability standards.

By pairing responsible fur sourcing, a heritage of craftsmanship and modern innovation, one has the makings of a business that will thrive in the future. We have not yet reached the boundaries of quality, creativity and excellence in fur design.

In conclusion, fur certainly does have a place in fashion — not just any fur, but that made with the best possible animal welfare, as documented through certification and traceability systems.

By working with products and processes that live up to the fashion industry’s demands for responsible practices and minimise the environmental impact of the material, fur will continue to move forward as a luxurious and relevant material in the years to come.

Jan Erik Carlson is the director of marketing for Saga Furs, a global fur auction house with headquarters in Finland.

The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Business of Fashion.

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