Every year Saga furs teams up with Spanish fashion MBA students from Universidad de Navarra in Madrid in a business consulting project. This year the students were asked to explore the big question: Does fur and Saga’s business have a future in the fashion world? With surprisingly positive results.
The seven MBA students took a so-called PESTLE approach to their research, assessing a combination of political, environmental, sociological, technological, legal and ethical factors influencing the fur trade. Big macro questions were explored such as whether warmer winters linked to climate change might lessen demand for fur garments; or how political factors like a possible ban on fur in New York City might influence perceptions, and what impact high-tech advances like 3D printing and lab-grown biofur might have on the industry’s future. The study also took into account factors, among others, like the socio-economic impact of the fur farming on small rural communities that don’t lend themselves to other types of farming; and the changing face of fur consumers to include Millennials and Generation Z.
Newcomers want “value-plus” brand relationship
These new generations, soon to make up the bulk of fur consumption, want what the students call a “value plus” relationship with their brands. In the 1980s, wearing a fur coat was an emblem of conspicuous consumption, a wealth signifier and status symbol. Fur was also synonymous with luxury, the research states. While today’s young consumers still want luxury, they also pay close attention to the values represented in the products they buy.
Not all fur created equal
Based on the premise that not all fur is created equal, the students also critiqued Saga Furs’ industry leading sustainability program as a future industry driver. Exploring Saga’s unique environmental management and animal welfare certification program, focus on transparency and openness.
The students were able to verify many of their findings through statistics gleaned from a survey conducted among 179 young people – defined as future fashion leaders. The survey tracked consumer attitudes ranging from the aesthetics of fur products to industry transparency, animal welfare, and the social fear linked to wearing fur as a possible impediment to purchase.
Shift in student mindset
According to Charlie Ross, Saga Furs Business Manager Sustainability and Supply-chain Management, what made this year’s group particularly interesting, was that the students, at the outset, had not been overly enthusiastic about their assignment. “While nobody in the group was openly anti-fur, most of them were self-described as indifferent,” Ross explains. “But by the end of the research, all seven participants said they would personally consider purchasing fur and that they had a new understanding of the Saga supply chain.”
Indifference equals opportunity
Indifference to fur was also a notable feature of the survey itself: “While people with strong preferences, either strongly for or against fur, were fairly evenly balanced in the results,” points out Marika Peuhkuri-Grön, Saga Furs CSR Programme Manager, “a notable 25% of respondents were classified as indifferent. And according to the students, this is the group that Saga Furs needs to start influencing.” The question is how?
Adding communication channels is one way. For example, investing in more podcasts, favoured by Millennials. Showcasing the long history of fur as part of our cultural and economic heritage is another suggestion. But ultimately, the way for Saga to reach this undecided group, say the students, is to take the company’s communications to the next level by becoming more emotional.
“It’s interesting that we were being advised to take lessons from the playbook of the anti-fur groups by appealing more to people’s emotions, particularly in our social media outreach,” says Peuhkuri-Grön, “but we will certainly take their advice into account!”
Teaming up with the right resources
Julio Suarez-Christiansen, Saga Furs Business Director, who’s been associated with the program for 15 years, called this year’s encounter a maximum learning experience for both Saga and the school.
“Throughout the half-year project, Saga mentored the students in best practices, reviewing their presentation materials and skills, teaching them professionalism and helping them think strategically, Suarez-Christiansen says. “In return, we got informed and honest feedback from young Millennials and Gen Zeds, who wouldn’t otherwise be that easy to reach.”
Ross concludes: “It was nice to hear that young people destined to become tomorrow’s business leaders do see a future for the fur industry and for Saga based on adjusting our messaging and putting more emotion into our communications.”