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Fur Industry

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Fur Industry, area of commerce that encompasses farming or trapping certain furbearing mammals, processing their skins for sale to manufacturers of fur garments, and marketing finished garments to retail outlets. The term fur refers to any animal skin or part that has hair, fleece, or fur fibers attached, either in a raw or processed state. Skins of furbearing animals are also called peltries or pelts.

From earliest times, fur has been a prized commodity. Exploration in the Americas made furs more readily available, and as early as 1530 regular shipments of beaver pelts were sent to Europe from the American colonies. The beaver, trapped by Native Americans, was a main source of barter at trading posts that later grew into such cities as Chicago, Illinois; St. Louis, Missouri; Saint Paul, Minnesota; Spokane, Washington; and Detroit, Michigan.

The modern fur industry remains profitable. However, North American fur trappers and farmers face foreign competition. The modern fur industry has also been affected by the increasing popularity of artificial fur. In addition, animal rights activists have staged protests against the fur industry, working to discourage the wearing of any kind of animal fur by the public.


Fur Farming

Fur farming, or raising animals in captivity under controlled conditions, started in Canada in 1887 on Prince Edward Island. Animals with unique characteristics of size, color, or texture can pass those characteristics on to their offspring through controlled breeding. Fur farmers customarily crossbreed animals (mate different varieties from the same species) and inbreed animals (mate close relatives) to produce furs with desirable characteristics. The silver fox, developed from the red fox, was the first fur so produced. So-called mutation minks ranging from white to near black and from bluish to lavender and rosy-tan colors, each with exotic trade names, are raised on fur farms, as are chinchilla, nutria, and fox. Most fur farms are in northern Europe and North America. Fur-farmed animals provide a steady supply of fine-quality pelts, and account for most of the world supply of pelts. (See Animal Husbandry.)


Marketing Channels for Furs

Trappers send pelts to local collecting stations or to dealers who send them on to receiving houses, where they are prepared for auction. Prime furs, those caught during the coldest season (when fur and skin are best for garments), are labeled as firsts. Unprime furs, caught earlier or later, are labeled as seconds, thirds, or fourths. Fur-farmed pelts are often brought to collecting stations; more commonly, the farmer is part of a farming cooperative whose representatives supervise the assembling and sale of pelts.

At fur auction houses, the furs, bundled in groups according to color, size, quality, and source, are sold to the highest bidders. Major fur auction houses have been located in major cities around the world, including Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Helsinki, Hong Kong, Leipzig, New York, Seattle, St. Petersburg, Toronto, and Vancouver. Some furs are sold through brokerage firms. Fur dealers and manufacturers may buy at the auctions or through brokers. Factoring, begun in 1935, is a method of financing dealers, brokers, and manufacturers. Factors charge a percentage for the use of their money.


Processing Furs

Furs bought at auction need to be preserved and beautified. Dressing and dyeing firms specialize in certain types of furs and charge a price for each processed skin.

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