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No more faking it for fans of real fur

Sales of genuine fur products are increasing, say retailers and brands

When Harvey Nichols fashion director Paula Reed quit the business earlier this month, the headlines speculated that her departure was a result of anti-fur protests, with Reed accused of being responsible for breaking the retailer’s self-imposed, decade-long ban on fur.

Although Harvey Nichols chief executive Joseph Wan denied any link between Reed’s exit and the protests, the publicity has put the contentious subject of fashion and fur back in the spotlight.

However, some retailers and brands argue that customers have become less concerned about the use of real fur. Indeed, fur sales are at an all-time high globally, with brands and retailers citing the fact that consumers are better educated about fur manufacturing processes as a reason for the growth.

Globally, fur sales have grown 44% in the last decade, according to the International Fur Trade Federation (IFTF). Global retail sales figures for 2011/12 were $15.6bn (£9.64bn), an increase of more than $500m (£309m) from the previous year. Although Europe’s retail fur sales fell slightly from $4.5bn (£2.77bn) to $4.4bn (£2.72bn) in the same period and account for 28% of the global total (the Europe figures do not include Eurasian countries such as Russia, Turkey and the Ukraine), the IFTF says sales in the UK have risen – it doesn’t break the figures down to specific countries.

A brief browse online shows just how many of the autumn 13 fur pieces – a key trend on the international catwalks – were picked up by designer-level stockists.Net-A-Porter, Matches, Harrods and are currently selling fur pieces from brands including Marc Jacobs, Burberry, Marni and Christopher Kane.

“Fur is everywhere at the moment – it’s on trend. Designers are endorsing it through their collections and celebrities are wearing it again,” says Pamela Shiffer, owner of the eponymous premium London boutique. “You have to make ethical decisions as a buyer, from fur to leather, and if it’s ethically  produced it’s fine. In the UK there will always be controversy, but I don’t see the fur trend waning.”

Shiffer, who has allocated more of her autumn 13 budget to fur than ever before, attributes fur’s  revival to two key factors: an increase in awareness and education about the fur market, and the  country’s emergence from the recession. 

Michelle Birkins, owner of premium womenswear retailer Michelle B in Barrowford, Lancashire, agrees. “We’re selling stacks of it,” she says. “Not mink or chinchilla, but when it’s rabbit people close their eyes to it.”

A more seasonal approach to fur as seen with a rise in dyed furs and more varied usage on the form of trims may have also led to a rise in demand, according to Mark Oaten, former Lib Dem MP and now chief executive of the IFTF.

“Attitudes have also changed,” he says. “It’s true to say a lot of demand in the UK comes from Chinese and Russian consumers, but there is a younger market developing with a di_ erent attitude to the whole thing.”

However, the UK is still one of Europe’s least fur-friendly markets – it is one of only three EU  nations, with Croatia and Austria, to have banned fur farming, and as seen with the recent protests outside various Harvey Nichols branches, it still provokes strong emotions. A spokesman for animal rights group Peta claims consumers are still “disgusted” by the use of fur in fashion, and argues there has been no domestic increase in demand. “All the major players have no-fur policies in place,” he says. “It’s getting so cheap you can see all sorts of people wearing it around the world, but in this country people still don’t want to see animals skinned for their fur.”

However, according to Emily Kerr, sales and marketing director at fur brand The Soho Furrier, issues such as the safety of factory workers have overtaken animal rights concerns among clothing  customers.

“People have different things to worry about now. The industry has changed a lot in the last few years and animal rights issues have taken a backseat,” she claims.

The Soho Furrier launched 18 months ago and now has 25 UK stockists. “People’s response is generally excitement that they can wear fur again,” Kerr says. “We’ve seen very little opposition.”

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