CN) China Daily: The fur and the furious
Posted by: "Dave Neale"
Mar 2, 2012 12:51 am (PST)
The fur and the furious
March 2, 2012 - 11:59am
The long crimson dress flowed like
a torrent of bloodied puff-balls. Dyed, shaved and meshed with various
fabrics, the model's fur clothing revealed little clue to a species of
origin. Subsequent runway models' coats flaunted similar vestigial tails and
pelts from minks, foxes and other unidentifiable furbearing creatures
transported onto the catwalk of the fur fair.
convictions and best efforts of animal welfare activists, the global fur
industry refuses to go away. Instead, it seemed to be evolving and getting
bigger at the Hong Kong International Fur and Fashion Fair. The four-day
event, dubbed "the world's largest fur fair," began on Feb 25 at the
cavernous Convention and Exhibition Centre.
New fur designs have
already extended their appeal to younger consumers. Experimental production
technology has developed lighter fabrics, brought in crazy colors and funky
cuts. The bulk of the fair's most popular garments will inevitably head to
high-end boutiques and chain outlets in the frigid mega cities of Northeast
China, Russia and South Korea.
The fact that furbearing animals
don't reside in Hong Kong's subtropical climate hasn't stopped the Special
Administrative Region from becoming the preeminent trade hub for the global
fur industry. Veteran fur dealer Tim Everest said the local fair began in
1982 and quickly became an industry leader.
Everest is the managing
director of Cyril Murkin Ltd, a furrier with offices in Hong Kong and
London. The company supplies top-brand fashion houses such as Fendi, Dolce &
Gabbana, Armani and Jil Sander.
Hong Kong alone contributed an
excess of 75 percent of the world's fur imports and exports in 2011,
according to the Hong Kong Fur Federation. The local federation represents
150 manufacturers, fur dressers and skin dealers with businesses
concentrated in the Hung Hom area of Kowloon, while factories are located
throughout South China.
Furriers have suffered persistent setbacks
during the past several decades. Everest, also an adviser to the local
federation, said the ascendance of the animal rights agenda in the 70s and
repeated financial crises created major hurdles.
"We realized for
survival, we had to tie ourselves more to the fashion industry," he said.
"Once fashion embraces fur as the fabric of the future, then there isn't
enough fur around." Surrounded by the silky smooth pelts on display at his
company's booth, Everest exuded optimism.
The 49-year-old British
national has been in the fur industry for more than 30 years. He moved to
Hong Kong in 1980. Fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese, he is also versed in
the history of Chinese furs. "In the early 1900s, Shanghai was the place
that was really rockin' and rollin'. If you wanted a fur garment that was
the place to go. There was nothing in Hong Kong, certainly no fur industry,"
Cyril Murkin, the founder of Everest's company headed for
Hong Kong in 1962. London's fur establishment didn't know what to make of
it. Hong Kong's fur market was embryonic. But change came swiftly, within
the decade, droves of bourgeois artisans fled the "cultural revolution"
(1966-76), bringing their means of livelihood - fur craftsmanship. Colonial
Hong Kong's latent textile and toy factories created fortunes, opening a
market of well-to-do residents able to afford luxury goods. Fur demand soon
boomed and that was that; Hong Kong's fur trade was flourishing.
Chinese buyers at the recent Hong Kong fur fair reconfirmed that there is a
continuing industry growth trend nationwide. Attendance at the fair vouched
for that. Of the fur buyers attending, 3,171 were from the mainland,
representing 40 percent of the total 7,865. Koreans, Russians, Japanese and
Americans were well represented, too.
Everest said fur provides
fashion designers with a creative design tool that raises the prestige (and
dollar value) of clothing lines. Animal rights groups take a different
position. They say fur carries the stigma of animal cruelty and reflects an
immoral choice by consumers who buy fur products.
The activist group
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) claims that fur is an
unnecessary luxury in an era when modern fabrics could meet the market
demand without taking animal lives. The organization's regional arm, PETA
Asia released an online announcement and press release to coincide with the
opening of the 2012 Hong Kong Fur Fair.
The new PETA campaign is
titled "Get a Feel for Fur: Stick Your Finger in an Electrical Socket." It
shows a fox trying to escape from a neck snare before fur farmers
electrocute the animal. The shock footage purportedly comes from a new PETA
investigation of Chinese fur farms completed this winter.
are standard with PETA, an organization notorious for its viral digital
media campaigns featuring hidden camera footage, celebrity testimonials and
sexually provocative publicity stunts. Recurring slogans range from the
pithy "Fur is Dead" to the literal "I'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur." The
nonprofit group was founded back in 1980 in the United States. It opened an
office in Hong Kong in 2005.
Representatives have since sprung local
protests that got them ejected from several local fashion events. The group
hijacked a fur seminar during Hong Kong Fashion Week in 2008; sat in cages
outside the fur fair in 2010; and leading up to the Year of the Rabbit,
scantily clad activists shivered in their underpants while being interviewed
by journalists on a crowded pedestrian street.
The Hong Kong Society
for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (HKSPCA) is an animal welfare
non-profit group with a much longer local history, dating back to 1903. Fur
is not the HKSPCA's focus, but its deputy director Fiona Woodhouse said the
group has hosted some anti-fur awareness events during the past three or
The first single issue anti-fur group, Lynx (a group
from Britain), provided promotional materials to the HKSPCA in the 1980s.
Meanwhile, Lynx was busy redefining the campaign tactics used by subsequent
anti-fur groups and other crusading environmentalists. Lynx's founders hired
musicians and celebrities for testimonials and created visually shocking
images. For example: a model dragging a blood-soaked fur coat with the
slogan "it takes up to 40 dumb animals to make a fur coat but only one to
The British group succeeded in changing public sentiment
in the UK, but it was bankrupted by a libel case stemming from a fur farm
investigation during the early 90s. By then, public sentiment had changed.
Britain finally outlawed fur farming in 2003.
"Maybe the anti-fur
movement hasn't been consistent and awareness is falling off. Maybe now the
younger generation is not as educated, or a trend of economic circumstances
has made fur a luxury item within reach of more people," said Woodhouse,
lamenting fur's return to fashion.
The era of animal rights activism
represents a relatively new and small portion of the deeper history of the
fur trade, one of the world's longest-running globalized industries. It was
the fur trade that helped to set off the exploration of much of North
America. Outposts eventually grew to towns and cities along rivers and bays.
The Hudson's Bay Company remains the oldest commercial corporation in North
Hudson's Bay Company sold its fur auctions only a few
decades ago. The auctions continue today under new ownership. In the late
80s, fur farming associations bought the New York and Toronto auctions, and
by 1992, they consolidated into the North American Fur Auctions (NAFA). A
handful of other auction houses also existing in North America and
Scandinavian countries are also seeing good years. Representatives of those
auctions traveled to Hong Kong for the recent fur fair.
NAFA auction in early February recorded record sales, surpassing the heyday
of the Hudson's Bay Company. Total sales amounted to $322 million in farmed
and wild fur, said Diane Benedetti, NAFA's vice president of marketing.
Ever since the mid-19th century, fur has come from both farmed and wild
fur. Most fur today is farm-raised, as in China.
PETA has a litany
of complaints. It claims cramped cages cause psychological disorders and
physical abnormalities in wild animals not adjusted to life in confinement.
It fumes that laws to protect animal welfare are not always enforced; and
that animals are cruelly slaughtered. PETA condemns trappers who capture
animals in the wild because traps are inhumane, with numerous reports of
animals chewing off their limbs to escape. Traps also result in the
unnecessary deaths of household pets and non-targeted wildlife.
"Wearing fur is already something that so many people look down on. It's
just an industry that's sinking so quickly. They're doing everything they
can to get sales back up. But young people today are just too socially aware
to buy into it," said PETA Asia Campaigner Ashley Fruno.
disputed Fruno's claim, citing evidence of rising sales. Growing sales of
fur garments suggests increasing acceptance of fur, he countered. The trend
worries Asia-focused animal rights group ACTAsia. Many consumers simply
don't realize they are buying fur products or how the fur is obtained.
In a phone interview from London, ACTAsia Director Pei F Su cited
industry and government sources, showing that China has been the world's
largest fur processor and manufacturer for more than a decade. China became
the world's primary consumer of fur products in 2008 with nationwide demand
taking off, as European and American demand slackened with the onset of the
global financial crisis.
ACTAsia has launched a campaign to fight
the growth of the fur industry. Starting in December of 2011, its "NO Fur
China Campaign" began providing informational materials, posters and
stickers to more than 50 animal welfare groups around the country. The
campaign, with the microblogging site Sohu.com acting in partnership, has
elicited support from more than 100 celebrities, writers and media
personalities throughout China.
Pei founded ACTAsia in 2006 after
helping to coordinate a fur farm investigation that exposed the practice of
Chinese farmers skinning raccoons alive. During the previous investigation,
she worked with Swiss Animal Protection and the Taiwan-based EAST
International. They videotaped the skinning of raccoons alive in fur farms
in Hebei province and posted the videos online. She said farmers skinned
animals alive to work faster and preserve fur quality.
the practice of skinning animals alive on fur farms has inspired Pei's
continued work with China's fur trade. She wants to warn young people of the
inhumane methods used to obtain fur and advocate for a national animal
Animal husbandry and wildlife protection laws both
exist in China, but Pei said neither law ensures animals with adequate
minimum living conditions. A group of Chinese academics drafted an animal
welfare law in 2009 that also included humane slaughter requirements, but
the draft was not approved.
Everest said the fur farming practices
in China are by no means perfect, but they are improving. He said it would
be impossible to expect a complete overhaul of standards. In fact, he said
the International Fur Federation is eager for China's fur farmers to improve
the animal welfare of farmed fur animals. The result would be better quality
The International Federation offers an Origin Assured
label for garments coming from countries with high quality fur farming
standards. Chinese fur garments do not yet qualify.
Everest said the
fur industry invests millions of dollars in research for the well being of
farmed and trapped furbearers. "That's something that the animal rights
activists don't want to tell you," he chided.
Or maybe the hardcore
activists just don't care.
"We always have plans for taking down the
fur industry," said Fruno, the PETA Asia campaigner. "Every protest that
PETA does and every celebrity advertisement that we launch is just another
nail in the fur industry's coffin."
Animals Asia Foundation
Tel: +(44) 1579 347148
(44) 7764 161981
Fax: +(44) 1579 347343
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