Interview: Tia Matthews, Fashion Business Director
“Saga Furs has set the benchmark for the rest of the industry on animal welfare, ethical sourcing and sustainable production practices.”
Manufacturing customers are under increasing pressure from consumers to communicate on how fur products are being made and whether the practice is sustainable,” says Fashion Business Director Tia Matthews. “And they’re looking to people like me for help.”
“As an auction house, you could say that our corporate responsibility ends at the warehouse door,” says Matthews, “when the products arrive from our farmer customers and just after they’ve been shipped.” However, the goal of Saga Furs is not just to be legally compliant, but through its corporate responsibility programmes, to position the company as an industry leader in ethical and sustainable business.
While the supply chain in the fur trade is long and complex, often involving local suppliers, dressers, and producers in a number of countries, Saga Furs is committed to promoting ethical business principles with its partners wherever possible.
“And the Fashion value chain, as an example of circular economy, has a good environmental story to tell,” Matthews affirms. “It has everything from environmental waste reduction through animal by-products to the sustainability and reusability of our end products.”
When it comes to production, Saga Furs annual Fur Vision event is a gold mine of inspiration for designers, looking for new techniques, including the sustainable use of fur from the point of view of zero raw material waste.
Artisans at the Saga Furs Design Centre in Denmark have developed a highly skilled approach called Intarsia, which involves scraps of fur being laid out together. “The result not only looks stunning but it promotes zero waste.” Another technique called Air Gallon Hole Punching, expands the fur in the garment and makes it lighter with less material used.
Saga Furs design experts also demonstrate innovative ways to layout patterns onto fur skins to optimize material use. For example, manufacturers can even receive skins, prior to cutting, with printed patterns on the back that ensure the least amount of waste product.
Matthews says high quality and personalized clothing with longevity are trending in fashion at the moment. She cites a recent campaign called Vintage Fur carried out in social media, print and the blogosphere. Unlike oil-based artificial fur, vintage fur is a natural, warm and versatile material with a low ecological burden; and it can stay in use for decades – with the option to revamp along the way.
Generally, Matthews sees a growing interest in fur in the fashion forward social media, with people wanting to know how fur is being used on the runways. She sees demand for fur in the textile industry also growing but not just demand for any kind of fur. Matthews stresses that: “Today’s consumers want ethical fur. They want to know that the animals were raised responsibly and that the environment has been taken care of.”
Interview: Charles Ross, Head of Sustainability
“The fashion brands and multi-brand retailers are definitely asking their suppliers for more green dressing!” Charles Ross, Head of Sustainability
Growing up in New York where Ross’s own family ran a fur dressing and dying business, Ross began his career as a fur fashion dresser and dyer, so he’s seen this sector up close.
“Fur dressing is a chemically intense process,” Ross explains, “first tanning the skin side then softening and cleaning the fur side to turn it into a pelt to be shipped to the customer.”
At industry level, the existing standard for chemical use in dressing is called REACH. Ross notes that although most REACH-compliant dressing companies are still in Europe and North America, he’s starting to see progress in Asia. The domestic Chinese market is not involved with REACH, however, dressing companies in China that export products to Europe and the US are starting to understand and comply with the REACH guidelines.
“That means, increasingly, they’re being required to test products for chemical residues before shipping – based on end user requirements.”
A new standard called Fur Mark is also gaining weight in China, which will involve overseeing and eventually certifying the dressing processes within Chinese factories.
While China’s wide-ranging compliance levels gradually evolve, in Europe Ross is encouraged to see that leading companies in Europe are already investing in product testing to new high levels that go beyond REACH. This is to preempt future protocol coming on stream in 2020. “That’s got to be where the future direction lies,” says Ross, “because the big brands and retailers are going to demand safe and environmentally-friendly chemicals and processes that go beyond REACH.”