The dimly lit showroom at Marc Kaufman Furs is packed with steel racks weighed down by fur coats of every species. Those furs are getting more expensive.
“We’ve never seen prices of fur at this level. This is the highest it’s ever been, and because it’s increasing at such an increase, it’s causing us to be a little nervous at this point that it’s going to out-price itself for the United States,” said Marc Kaufman from his midtown store.
Renewed demand in the U.S., coupled with a surging appetite from affluent Chinese and Russian customers is inflating fur prices.
Kaufman, whose family has been in the fur business for three generations, says he’s had to raise prices by 40 percent from last year to absorb the new costs. A low-end mink coat that sold for $2,500 two years ago now sells for $4,500. Kaufman says he used to pay $30 for each mink pelt that went into such a coat, now he pays $70. Custom made pieces are more expensive: the heavyweight boxer Tyson Fury bought a $30,000 dollar chinchilla coat from Kaufman’s store last month.
Furs are sold through a handful of auction houses, which hold between 15 and 20 live auctions a year. Fur ranchers—who raise mink, fox and rabbit— along with wild trappers, bring their pelts to the auctions for sale. Manufacturers and a few private labels send buyers to these auctions to purchase the season’s pelts.
A press release by the North American Fur Auction summarized their 2013 winter auction: “Record Attendance Creates Record Prices.” It noted a 50-70 percent increase in the price of fisher cat from last year; 80 percent increase in the price of raccoon; and a 40 percent increase in the price of lynx from the previous year.
The numbers of regular buyers at these auctions has increased, from about 200 a few years ago, estimates Kaufman, to around 700.
Global fur sales reached $15.6 billion in 2011-12, a 44 percent increase from a decade ago, according to the International Fur Trade Federation (IFTF). Sales increased by over half a billion from last year.
Fred Gelp, another New York retailer, says prices are skyrocketing now only because they’ve been static for much of last twenty years. “Its only expensive because it had not gone up with the value of everything else,” said Gelp.
PETA’s successful anti-fur campaigns in the 80s and 90s deflated demand and kept prices down. Campaigns featured scantily clad celebrities such as Pamela Anderson with tag lines reading, “All animals have the same parts.” PETA graphically showed those parts by sneaking into fur farms and videotaping the slaughtering of the animals.
But in the last few years, major labels are once again incorporating fur into their designs. Marc Jacob, Michael Kors and Louis Vuitton all included fur in their fall 2013 collections.
In 2000, 42 designers were using furs in their lines; by 2012, that number grew to over 500, according to Keith Kaplan, director of the Fur Information Council of America. Kaplan points to a Financial Times study that found a 400 percent increase in retail stores offering furs over the last five years.
Kaplan says a generation of Americans who were too young to be affected by the anti-fur campaigns are showing a strong desire for the skins, “these kids are growing up and they don’t believe what their parents were fed,” said Kaplan, “We’ve got a tremendously and significantly growing acceptance of fur among the younger generation.”
Designers are appealing to this generation by integrating fur with fabrics in new ways. The furs are stretched thin over fabrics, or strips of fur are sewn into clothes, making the final piece lighter, and allowing the manufacturer to save money by getting more surface area out of a single pelt.
Adding to the demand, a growing middle and upper class in China and Russia are snatching up furs.
China’s domestic market increased by 10 percent last year, to $6.4 billion, according to a report by Euromarket International, a research firm. Across Asia, fur sales were $5.6 billion in 2012, about 35 percent of the global market, according to the ITFT.
Eurasian sales, which includes Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, are $4.3 billion, about 27.5 percent of the global total, according to ITFT numbers.
This new global hunger for fur is outstripping supply. “For everyone to buy—there is not enough skins in the world for everyone to buy,” said Kaufman. He is worried that the pressure on supply will drive prices out of reach for many young professionals.
“Production has been pretty steady,” said Michael Whelan, executive director of Fur Commission USA. Chinese production increased by 12 percent last year; U.S. mink farming increased by 9 percent over the same year. This hasn’t been enough to keep up with demand. Fur auctions are now consistently selling 100 percent of their offerings, a rarity ten years ago.
But Fred Gelp, the New York retailer, thinks high prices are ultimately a good thing for the industry.
“Fur prices going up are going to make fur a more desired product,” said Glep, “people aren’t dreaming of owning a Kia, but they are dreaming of owning a Mercedes… and fur is becoming a Mercedes again.”