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Russian Market Fuels Comeback Of North American Fur Market

Photo caption:

Photo by Mikhail Metzel

A model displays a creation by Russian designer Igor Gulyaev during the Volvo Fashion Week in Moscow on Oct. 27, 2011.

Photo caption:

Photo by Robert F. Bukaty

Coyote tracks mark the fresh snow in Maine's Baxter State Park. One Maine trapper says a coyote fur worth $7 a decade ago sells for $50 today.


North American fur is booming.

Not in North America, necessarily, but "you can't keep fur in stock in Russia," says furrier Greg Tinder. "The higher the price tag you put on it, the faster it sells."

Tinder, who left Saks Fifth Avenue to start his own label, says the East has always been a furrier's dream; think big plushy Soviet-era hats. But now, with Russia's economy on the rise, there's some new money on the block, and designers know that.

Russian designer Igor Gulyaev's recent Moscow exhibit was laden with fur, from hats and cuffs to shaggy handbags and fuzzy lapels. There were even whole dresses made of fur sheared short, like velvet.

And it's not just Russia: British Vogue estimates that 70 percent of fall collections for 2013 included at least some real fur.

Alan Herskovici with the Fur Council of Canada says upwardly mobile consumers in China and Korea, as well as Russia, are driving the market.

"The fur sales that are the strongest now are not necessarily your grandmother's old mink coat," says Herskovic. "Rather, it's the bunny cuffs and coyote fur ruffs that helped grow the retail fur industry to [$15.5 billion] last year -- 45 percent more than sales 10 years ago."

And 10 years ago, it wasn't very lucrative at the other end of the business either, especially for trappers.

Maine trapper John Sewell says a coyote fur that would net $7 at auction a decade ago would sell for $50 today.

"That's what they want for the trim trade," he says.

What used to be a $2 muskrat is now a $12 muskrat. The marten that was worth $40 could bring almost $200 at an auction today.

With money like that, says Sewell, interest in trapping has gone up about five fold in the last few years.

Sewell traps on what he calls "a very small scale," and expects he'll make about $9,000 or $10,000 at the North American Fur Auction in February. Bigger trappers, he says will walk away with tens of thousands.

But the trappers' good fortune is not welcomed news for animal welfare advocates who've fought to keep fur off the catwalks.

Pierre Grzybowski from the Humane Society of the United States says trapped animals can be skinned alive, drowned in water traps and electrocuted. He doubts whether the new Eastern demand for fur will spill over into the United States, where he says many stores won't sell fur.

"More and more retailers realize that it's not worth the risk to their bottom line and the risks of angering their consumers," he says, noting that American consumers are buying a third less fur than they did a decade ago.

But for rural trappers like Sewell who have come to rely on the income they get from winter traplines, it doesn't really matter who's driving the market. They're just glad that the days of the $2 muskrat seem to be over.

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