Mink coat ads vanish from newsprint
SACRAMENTO, California––A furrier somewhere in the U.S. may yet buy a page of advertising, in what little remains of 2019, in one of the thousands of newspapers that are electronically searchable at www.NewspaperArchive.com.
As of December 29, 2019, however, the year appeared to be ending without a single NewspaperArchive member periodical publishing an ad containing the words “mink coat” during the traditional height of the so-called “fur season,” from the run-up to Black Friday sales on the day after Thanksgiving to the last days of post-Christmas inventory clearance.
The total for 2018 was just 11 mink coat ads; for 2017, only one.
By contrast, furriers bought more than 600 mink coat ads per year at peak, 1986-1990, often full-page spreads, not counting ads placed in papers not included in NewspaperArchive, among them the New York Times, whose ad content is not electronically searchable.
Ads gauge optimism of retailers
By 1986-1990, though, U.S. retail fur garment sales were already close to peaking at $1.85 billion in 1987, plummeting by half to just $950 million five years later.
Advertising volume, though useful as a measure of the profitability of an industry, is even more indicative as a gauge of the optimism of the industry sales force that profits can be boosted through exposure. An industry that advertises expects to grow, and to recover from any temporary setbacks. An industry that does not advertise may survive for a time by catering to existing clients, but is already in a “death spiral” of cost-cutting pessimism.
Searching 40 years’ worth of “fur season” advertising accessible through NewspaperArchive, ANIMALS 24-7 during the last days of 2019 documented the increasingly desperate response of the fur trade to the rise of anti-fur activism in the early 1980s, when retail fur sales had soared for more than a dozen years in a row, to the near complete collapse of fur trade advertising in recent years, after more than two decades of trying to recapture a vanishing market.
Fur trade saw animal advocacy coming, yet collapsed anyhow
Mink coat advertising in 1980-1982 was steady at about 260 ads per year, NewspaperArchive shows, but abruptly doubled in 1983, parallel to mentions of “animal rights,” as the then-young movement gained momentum.
Ever more aggressive fur trade advertising and discounting bought furriers a few more years of rising sales, but when the crash came, it was permanent, despite the purchase of more than 5,100 mink coat ads during the 1990s, 10% more than in the 1980s.
Taking inflation into account, U.S. retail fur sales have not recovered. The highest reported U.S. retail fur sales volume of the past decade, in 2014, was still only 40% of the 1987 peak.
Decline of fur & decline of newsprint
Data extracted from NewspaperArchive since 2000 illustrates three parallel trends: the declining numbers of furriers left to buy ads, the declining volume of ads that they purchase, and––of course––the declining importance of newspaper advertising as a promotional medium.
From the all-time high of 662 mink coat ads bought in 1990, the retail fur industry ad buy fell to 235 ads in 2000, and then 82 in 2010.
The low ad buy in the 1990s was 352 in 1999, the last year of the decade; the high in the next decade was 288 in 2002, with a low of 93 in 2008; and the high in the present decade was 94, in 2011, with seven declines in the eight years since then.
California bans fur
There is not much optimism left in the U.S. fur trade, especially since California Governor Gavin Newsom on October 12, 2019 signed into law a statewide ban on selling or making clothing, shoes or handbags with fur, beginning in 2023.
The new law is likely to be challenged in court meanwhile, but recent legislative and legal history does not give furriers great cause for hope––and even if the new law could be overturned, sales history does not hint at profits in building inventory.
West Hollywood, California has had a fur sales ban in effect since 2013 that has so far stood up. A San Francisco fur sales ban in effect since January 2019 allowed stores until January 1, 2020 to sell inventory on hand then. A Los Angeles fur sales ban, adopted in February 2019, gave furriers until 2021 to sell their remaining stock.
Proposed fur ban failed in New York City
A proposed fur sales ban in New York City, which has historically accounted for more than half of all the fur garments sold in the U.S., was not even brought before the city council for a vote, originally expected in October 2019, after furriers organized a coalition of Hassidic Jewish and black clergy to contend that the proposed ban was discriminatory.
However, the claims that temporarily saved the New York City fur trade may not last long, should the contemporary animal advocacy movement belatedly learn and make use of its own history.
Organized black opposition to the cruelty of the fur trade goes back much farther than the existence of the anti-fur activism that arose in the late 20th century. Among the first outspoken voices raised against fur was that of civil rights leader and minister-turned-animal-advocate Richard Carroll, beginning circa 1913.
Organized Jewish opposition to the fur trade was rallied in the same era by David and Diana Belais, who in 1921 formed the short-lived First Church of Animal Rights.
The arguments that Richard Carroll and David and Diana Belais used then––essentially that cruelty serves only the interests of the power-holders––are as valid now as then.
“Any fur used will be fake”
The Karl Lagerfeld label in December 2019 reportedly became the latest big name in fashion to discontinue making and selling fur garments, ten months after founder Karl Lagerfeld himself died on February 19, 2019. The notoriously ornery Lagerfeld, 85, was a longtime vegan who left most of his estate to his cat.
Other designer brands abandoning fur in recent years have included Gucci, Prada, Armani, Versace, Michael Kors, Jimmy Choo, DKNY, Burberry, and Chanel.
The online fashion retail platforms Net-A-Porter and Farfetch no longer sell fur, while the London-based House of Fraser in November 2019 beat a quick retreat to a “no fur” policy just a month after trying to reintroduce fur following a multi-year hiatus. That hiatus was disrupted in 2017 when “faux fur” items offered by House of Fraser turned out to be real.
Queen Elizabeth II in the same week issued a terse statement through her communications secretary that, “As new outfits are designed for the Queen, any fur used will be fake.”
“The palace said that doesn’t mean fur on existing outfits will be replaced or that the Queen would never wear fur,” noted John New of CBC News.
Global mink production down a third in five years
About 80% of world fur consumption has been mink, with minor fluctuations, for as long as global fur trade data has been tracked, beginning circa 1950.
Global mink production has dwindled from about 90 million pelts in 2014 to 60 million in 2019, according to the auction house Kopenhagen Fur, owned by Danish fur producers.
“The market has almost reached an equilibrium between supply and demand,” offers Kopenhagen Fur chief commercial officer Jesper Lauge Christensen on the company web site––meaning that global fur consumption has dropped by a third in just five years.
In Europe, as in the U.S., fur consumption is almost certain to drop further. Most formerly fur-producing nations have already left the industry, with more poised to follow.
Much of Europe leaves the fur trade
Irish agriculture minister Michael Creed in June 2019 obtained cabinet approval to propose a phase-out of fur farming in Ireland. The Irish fur industry already contracted to just three producers, in Donegal, Kerry and Laois, together exporting pelts that in 2018 sold for as little as $24,000.
The Dail––Irish parliament––is to introduce a bill to make the phase-out official early in 2020, confirmed Stephen Maguire of The Irish Mail on December 15, 2019.
An October 2019 opinion poll reportedly found that about 80% of the Irish public favor an end to fur farming.
England and Wales banned fur farming in 2000, while continuing to allow fur imports currently totaling about £26 million per year. Scotland and Northern Ireland banned fur farming in 2002, and Austria in 2004.
The Netherlands, the second largest producer of mink pelts in the European Union, banned fur farming in December 2012, with a 12-year phase-out to be completed by 2024.
Bans followed in Slovenia (2013, with a three-year phase-out ended in 2016); Macedonia (2014); the Czech Republic (2017, with a phase-out period ending at the end of 2019); and Norway, Belgium, Croatia, and Luxembourg (all in 2018, with a five-year phase-out in Belgium and a 10-year phase-out in Croatia).
Chinese fur production down 15%
China and Finland now have the largest fur farming industries, distantly followed by the U.S., Russia, Denmark, and Canada.
China appears to be the one nation in which more foxes and tanuki (“raccoon dogs”) are raised for fur than mink. Chinese mink production has contracted from as many as 60 million pelts in 2014 to as few as seven million in 2019, according to China’s fur trade and its position in the global fur industry, a comprehensive economic report published in July 2019 by the multi-national animal charity ACTAsia for Animals.
But, warns ACTAsia for Animals, “Fur was not on its way out of fashion in China. This report (China’s fur trade and its position in the global fur industry) seeks to illustrate that it is misleading to rely solely on mink production figures to evaluate whether the fur industry in China is growing or shrinking. All species must be considered. In examining the fur production chain–– farmers, auction houses, buyers, designers, manufacturers and retailers––this report explores the possibility that China’s fur industry itself may not be in decline. Indicators suggest it is now in the process of consolidating its strength through international collaboration, and by adapting its supply of fur in line with new fashions for fur trim.”
ACTAsia for Animals estimates that total ranched fur production in China is now about 50 million pelts per year, down about 15% from the 2014 peak.
U.S. mink industry now mainly supplies China
Moreover, China in recent years has absorbed as much as 80% of U.S. fur production, though this may have changed in 2019 during the U.S./China tariff war
Claimed Wall Street Journal retail and fashion reporter Suzanne Kapner, on April 14, 2019, “U.S. production of fur used in apparel and accessories has been climbing for a decade, and in 2018 reached its highest level in 17 years, according to Euromonitor International. Compared with a 2009 low, annual U.S. fur sales more than doubled to $531 million last year.”
But the Euromonitor International data is partially contradicted by U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics. According to USDA data, 2004-2017, U.S. mink pelt production peaked in 2014, as did the average price per pelt. Pelt sales peaked at $291.5 million in 2011, compared to a three-year average of $119 million, 2015-2017.
North American Fur Auctions in creditor protection
The biggest and oldest raw pelt seller serving the U.S. and Canada, North American Fur Auctions, on November 1, 2019 announced that it had gone into creditor protection.
Headquartered in Toronto, North American Fur Auctions is a descendant of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The Hudson’s Bay Company itself, now a holding company for retailers including Saks Fifth Avenue, Hudson’s Bay, Lord & Taylor, and Saks Off 5th, quit selling fur in 1991.
“We have faced almost insurmountable challenges as our banking partners of many years appear to have decided to get out of the fur business,” North American Fur Auctions president Douglas Lawson wrote to trappers and fur shippers.
Unable to find a new banking partner, North American Fur Auctions warned that the wild and ranched fur auctions it had planned for 2020 are unlikely to be held.
The rival Fur Harvesters Auction, of North Bay, Ontario, is expected to pick up any slack in fur demand.
But only wild-trapped coyote and bobcat pelts showed any significant increase in prices paid at the March 2019 Fur Harvesters Auction, reported Trapping Today. About 25% of the beaver skins offered did not sell at all.