The ultimate consumers of fur are the people who wear it, commonly women, often for fashion or luxury status, when they or their partners buy it. Before this, pelts pass through a number of stages in several countries.
Auction houses take most pelts from farmers and trappers. Pelts are graded and sorted into lots ('bundles') and prospective buyers from around the world inspect them before bidding. Buyers are mainly brokers acting for furriers or for companies that buy and sell pelts globally. Thus countries which no longer produce fur can still be big players in the fur market, like Britain where fur farms are now illegal. The largest auction houses are in Copenhagen, Helsinki, Oslo, Saint Petersburg, Seattle and Toronto.
The semi-raw pelts from the auction houses go to factories for processing or 'dressing' ready for combining with garments. The primary processing centres are in the Baltic States, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy and Russia.
Processing pelts entails many stages. Examples are:
to remove layers of skin and other tissues.
in brine to make the skin soft and supple.
out the long outer hairs to reveal the finer under-fur.
hairs to a uniform length.
in any one of numerous colours to make hairs look uniform.
dye along a centre line to create a natural-looking centre stripe.
by chemical or mechanical processes to create lustre.
pelts to re-shape and lengthen them.
The pelts are then sorted into bundles of matching furs - graded by colour, size, hair length and texture and go to the furrier's workshop.
Furriers are manufacturers who turn fur into products, usually clothing (but see for example Fur Brushes & Bows), and may work with designers to contrive fur garments for the fashion industry.
Furriers cut the pelts to a pattern, then moisten, stretch and tack the pelts to a table for shaping and further softening. If necessary they slice the pelts into narrow strips and stitch them together to make larger expanses of material. A full-length mink coat has hundreds of such pieces. Odd pieces are sewn together to make cheaper garments or linings. It takes about a year after killing some animals to turn their fur into purchasable clothes ready for the consumer.
China is the largest manufacturer of fur products. As well as farming its own fur, China imports millions of raw pelts from North America and Europe. China manufactures about 70 percent of the fur trade's mink garments and is the world's biggest exporter of finished fur garments and fur products, through Hong Kong, mainly to the US, Europe and Japan. See Fur Animal Statistics for more figures.
The penultimate consumers of fur are retail shops, from boutiques to department stores and other outlets. The biggest consumer markets of fur garments are North America, Europe, Russia and Scandinavia. Markets in Japan, Korea and China have recently joined in.
Glossary of Fur Marketing TermsAuction houses
- markets where raw pelts undergo selection for quality before sale.
- the bits of animal bodies humans do not eat, eg guts, ears, eyes and feet.
- tanning raw pelts to turn the skin into soft pliable leather.
- the soft and pleasant hair from mammals, eg cats, chinchillas, foxes. pelt - same as a pelt.
- an animal with a coat of fur.
r - person who deals in furs or fur clothing (but not farmers or trappers).
- same as a pelt.
- killing animals as a crop.
- an animal's skin with fur attached.
- pelts that have been fully or partially prepared for wearing.
- pelts that are untreated in any way.
- a small piece of fur that decorates part of a garment, eg a collar or hem.
The fur industry is international, claiming over a million full-time workers worldwide, including people at auction houses, furriers and retail shops. Currently (2006) the United States has 320 fur farms where about 3,000 people work, including additional hands the farms hire in the breeding and killing seasons. About 68,000 people are employed full-time and part-time in Canada and most of these are trappers, mainly part-timers, then there are 2,000 farming, 2,500 processing, 2,500 retailing and 1,000 people in related work. In Europe there are around 6,000 fur farms and over 200,000 people work full and part-time in the fur industry.
Useful Sources for this Entry
You can find these and other sources on the Web.
The Socio-Economic Impact of European Fur Farming.
European Fur Breeders Association / International Fur Trade Federation. Undated but latest figurers are for 2004.
International Fur Trade Federation (IFTF) web site.
Industry & Trade Summary. US International Trade Commission. Publication 3666. 2004.
(2004): Statistics Canada, Agriculture Division.
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