China, E-commerce Bolster Luxury Fur Sales in COVID-19 Year, Report Says

LONDON — Demand from Chinese consumers and retailers’ quick pivot to online sales helped to bolster the luxury fur business in 2020, despite the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research from the University of Copenhagen set to be released Thursday.

The luxury fur business also remained buoyant despite the decision by Denmark, the world’s largest mink producer, to cull millions of animals last November due to fears of a COVID-19 mutation spreading to humans, and jeopardizing the development of future vaccines.

According to the new report, Global Fur Retail Value, COVID-19 had a “significant” impact on the fur sector, but it will be a temporary one, and will not impact long-term growth trends.

The report added that the closure of the Danish mink sector is not estimated to have had any effect on fur retail sales in 2020. However, the full impact of the mink cull remains to be seen as Danish fur products purchased in 2020 had already been produced and delivered before the pandemic struck.

According to the report, which was commissioned by the International Fur Federation, some 25 percent of worldwide production, and 30 to 35 percent of the international trade in raw mink skins, was wiped out by the pandemic.

The report estimated that, without the impact of the pandemic, the European fur retail trade in 2020 was about $6 billion. Including the impact of COVID-19, the fur retail trade was estimated to be $4.8 billion, with part of that decline coming from the lower prices of fur garments and raw mink skins.

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Last year, the global fur retail trade was estimated to be approximately $25.1 billion, without the impact of the pandemic. Including the impact of COVID-19, it was estimated to be $20.1 billion.

The University of Copenhagen analysis, conducted in May by Dr. Henning Otte Hansen, senior adviser, Department of Food and Resource Economics is the most recent, and comprehensive, academic study of the sector’s value, according to the IFF.

Numbers were drawn from official statistics, trade associations, company data, scientific papers, reports and interviews with experts.

LaQuan Smith with a model from his fall 2021 collection. Lexie Moreland/WWD

The IFF represents and regulates the global fur sector. It describes itself as promoting “the business of sustainable natural fur,” and said it actively works to develop, implement and advance animal welfare and environmental standards.

In an interview, Mark Oaten, chief executive officer of the IFF, said there were many factors that contributed to fur sales in 2020, despite the worldwide lockdowns and ongoing travel restrictions.

He believes that demand in China and South Korea bounced back quickly last year, with people “rewarding” themselves with purchases such as coats with fur trims, and fur bags, duffels and accessories they spotted on the runways of brands such as Fendi, Dior, Saint Laurent and LaQuan Smith.

For fall 2021, as reported, Smith showed off a pastel mink coat, and a reversible knitted fox and wool coat, part of his first collaboration with Saga Furs.

Also, with a renewed focus on environmental matters, and the “buy less, buy better” messaging from myriad brands and retailers worldwide, consumers are wanting to invest in “slow” fashion rather than in disposable pieces, he added.

“Slow fashion is booming as people reconsider our relationship with the environment and the impact of their personal choices. Ours is a resilient and global trade, providing people with something of immense value: sustainable natural products that are made to last,” Oaten said.

He also pointed out that Chinese retailers and manufacturers in particular were quick switch to e-commerce during the pandemic, allowing people to shop for luxury fur even when physical stores were shut.

“There has been a shift to online sales with smaller manufacturers and retailers starting their own e-commerce platforms,” to sell their fur, Oaten said.

The report flagged other shifts in China, which was the world’s largest mink producer between 2010 and 2017.

Today, the country is estimated to account for 15 percent of world production, and is now engaging with fur in a different way — as a consumer of finished product. People, Oaten said, are buying fur for myriad reasons, to keep warm, as a status symbol and as a fashion statement.

Oaten added that demand from Russia, Asia and Middle Eastern markets has not disappeared, and that people are buying locally when they cannot travel — a trend that many European luxury goods companies have witnessed over the past year.

In the report, retailers identified “classic cuts, vintage looks and earth tones” as contributing factors to strong luxury fur sales worldwide.

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