Perceptions Change With Education
“Anti-fur sentiment has waned as more ethical practices lure younger generations to their modern designs,”says Hockley, a London-based retailer specializing in luxury fur. He may forever attract outrage from paint-wielding animal rights campaigners, but the founder of a booming ‘ethical fur’ company has claimed the market for luxury pelts is getting bigger every year.
Frank Zilberkweit is the chairman of The Polar Group, a British firm that owns and operates Hockley, known for its multicolored garments that have been seen draped around the shoulders of pop star Lily Allen.
A fifth generation fur trader, he said the London-based firm has seen a dramatic rise in demand from young consumers, stockists and fashion designers as anti-fur sentiment waned in recent years.
“We are finding that the biggest change in the industry in the last five years has been in people’s attitude towards fur,” Mr Zilberkweit explained.
“Ten years ago there was a strong vocalization of concerns about how the fur trade was conducted, and because our industry never communicated with people any prejudices were automatically accepted as fact.”
Haunting images of caged animals raised in poor conditions to be skinned for their fur have damaged the perception of fur for decades, but according to Hockley the reality of the industry has changed dramatically.
Whilst it still provokes targeted attacked from animal welfare groups such as Peta and influential fashion icons including Stella McCartney, public opinion about fur is changing, Mr Zilberkweit said.
He claims that the industry treats animals more humanely than those who farm animals for meat or leather, adding that demand for ethically-sourced fur motivated a series of improvements in regulation.
The ‘Origin Assured’ (OA) program, for instance, was launched in Moscow in 2007 to distinguish between ethical and unethical farming in the more than $15bn (£9.2bn) global fur industry.
Backed by the International Fur Trade Federation, it’s a label similar to ‘Fair Trade’ that is reserved for fur sourced from farms that meets the industry’s new standards.
Hockley are one of nine UK retailers that relies solely on OA fur, which includes mink and fox from Helsinki and red fox and raccoon from North America used to create coats that retail between £2,000 and £7,000.
“The industry has got its act together and offers much more information, which is demonstrating that we have very high standards, probably greater than most other animal industries, particular meat and leather, because we are so aware of past criticism,” Mr Zilberkweit explained.
“There are always going be people who don’t believe in it, but I think that is born from a total lack of understanding.
“Most people are fairly ambivalent about these things and are only swayed when they don’t have the correct information presented to them. If you present the facts to anybody who is open minded, they will find the fur industry is not the pariah it is made out to be – far from it.”
Following in the footsteps of most luxury retailers, Hockley has relied on demand from China to fuel expansion. And unlike larger rivals, the country’s anti-extravagance crackdown appear to have spared the British firm.
“The very top end of the luxury market is becoming very expensive and has suffered a setback in the emerging markets, but just below that level there is a niche for young design houses with innovation and modern products to succeed, the owner explained.
“Our entire business is driven by China, that’s the number one market for us.”
But the emphasis on youth and innovation by Mr Zilberkweit, who is by his own admission “steeped in the history of fur”, may have also captured the imagination of Britain’s twenty-somethings.
“If you compare the UK to Russia or China we’re a small market, but in the western world British fur is showing one of the quickest increases in demand of any luxury industry,” he said.
UK sales of fur increased by more than 30pc in the first year of the decade and, according to Hockley, domestic buyers for their distinctive pelts have quadrupled in the last five years.
“The world was moving on and our industry was not moving with the time. Our products started to have a very dated look, and it was hard to sell 50s and 60s styles,” Mr Zilberkweit said.
“And as a result the clientele is changing dramatically; we are getting young, fashionable, British people through the door, which is not what you traditionally expect as a luxury fur seller.
“I’m not saying that we’re going to be like Primark, because we’re not. We’re not even going to be like H and M, but we have products that are reasonable and affordable, relevant and modern.”