Russian Demand Fuels Comeback Of North American Fur Market

Dec 19, 2013
Originally published on December 19, 2013 12:08 pm

North American fur is booming.

Not in North America, necessarily, but "you can't keep fur in stock in Russia," says furrier Greg Tinder. "The higher the price tag you put on it, the faster it sells."

Tinder, who left Saks Fifth Avenue to start his own label, says the East has always been a furrier's dream — think big, plushy Soviet-era hats. But now, with Russia's economy on the rise, there's some new money on the block, and designers know that.

Russian designer Igor Gulyaev's recent Moscow exhibit was laden with fur, from hats and cuffs to shaggy handbags and fuzzy lapels. There were even whole dresses made of fur sheared short like velvet.

And it's not just Russia: British Vogue estimates that 70 percent of fall collections for 2013 included at least some real fur.

Alan Herscovici with the Fur Council of Canada says upwardly mobile consumers in China and Korea, as well as in Russia, are driving the market.

"The fur sales that are the strongest now are not necessarily your grandmother's old mink coat," says Herscovici. "Rather, it's the bunny cuffs and coyote fur ruffs that helped grow the retail fur industry to [$15.5 billion] last year — 45 percent more than sales 10 years ago."

Ten years ago, it wasn't very lucrative at the other end of the business, either, especially for trappers.

Maine trapper John Sewell says a coyote fur that would net $7 at auction a decade ago would sell for $50 today.

"That's what they want for the trim trade," he says.

What used to be a $2 muskrat is now a $12 muskrat. The marten that was worth $40 could bring almost $200 at an auction today.

With money like that, says Sewell, interest in trapping has gone up about fivefold in the past few years.

Sewell traps on what he calls "a very small scale" and expects to make about $9,000 or $10,000 at the North American Fur Auction in February. Bigger trappers, he says, will walk away with tens of thousands.

But the trappers' good fortune is not welcome news for animal welfare advocates who've fought to keep fur off the catwalks.

Pierre Grzybowski from the Humane Society of the United States says trapped animals can be skinned alive, drowned or electrocuted. He doubts whether the new Eastern demand for fur will spill over into the United States, where he says many stores won't sell fur.

"More and more retailers realize that it's not worth the risk to their bottom line and the risks of angering their consumers," he says, noting that American consumers are buying a third less fur than they did a decade ago.

But for rural trappers like Sewell who have come to rely on the income they get from winter trap lines, it doesn't really matter who's driving the market. They're just glad the days of the $2 muskrat seem to be over.

Copyright 2013 Maine Public Broadcasting Network. To see more, visit http://www.mainepublicradio.org/.