In China, it’s all about mink – not stoles, but stools. Since the 1980s and early ‘90s, as the demand for fur has plummeted, so to has the price. Now, opportunistic Chinese furniture designers and buyers are cashing in on the latest trend.
Zhu Xiaojie, whose furniture-making studio is in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, has been designing for forty years. But two years ago, at the Shanghai Expo, Zhu attended a discussion where Danish fur supplier Kopenhagen Fur talked about how their pelts could be used in furniture creations. “‘What does fur have to do with furniture?’ I wondered at that time,” admits Zhu.
Now Zhu uses the skins from Kopenhagen Fur, the world’s largest fur auction house and a major mink supplier, in a new line of furniture. He believes it serves as the perfect complement to his favorite furniture-making material: striped zebrawood indigenous to West Africa.
Many Chinese anxious to show their status see fur as a symbol of luxury. “Fur as a design material is a symbol of high quality,” says Jiang Li, a professor at the Central Academy of Fine Arts overseeing the university’s home-furnishing design studio. “With good design, focused study and sufficient publicity, [fur] should have a bright future in China,” she says.
There have been some drawbacks to designing furniture with fur. “Insects, damp and dry weather affect it,” Zhu says, “especially when it’s not being used.” In addition to the logistical problems, there is a storm of controversy around the ethics of raising animals for their fur.
“I struggled with this issue for a long time, because I knew there were many anti-fur groups around, which regularly staged protests and made criticisms. But I’m also a very inquisitive person and am capable of weighing the issue. I asked myself a few questions. I said, Do I wear leather shoes? I do. Do I eat meat? I do. Since I wear leather shoes and eat meat, what more do I have to struggle with?” Zhu has said that he is satisfied with the conditions of the animals raised at Kopenhagen Fur’s fur farms in Denmark.
Fur suppiers point out that fur is durable, recyclable and biodegradable. Carcasses can also be used as biofule and fertilizer. Messages like these are helping to promote fur products to the younger generations. In fact, Kopenhagen Fur launched its Oh! brand this spring for just such a purpose.
“A lot of young girls would never buy a fur coat, but they might buy a little hat like this, or a little key ring like this, so they get familiar with fur,” says Soren Meiling-Nielsen, Oh!’s sales manager. For now, Oh! will be marketed in Europe, North America, South Korea and Japan, and in China within the next four years.
Fur and hide sales make up almost a third of Denmark’s exports to Hong Kong and the mainland. China buys 84 percent of the fur and hides produced in Denmark, according to the Danish embassy in Beijing.
photo credit: oh by kopengahen fur