The trademark problem of fast fashion is its short life. Various surveys estimate the life time of clothing between 2 and 3 years, for the most part before incarceration. From a sustainability perspective it is problematic when products are rather quickly replaced with new, resource-intensive products. According to the European Commission, long active life is currently considered the most efficient way to improve sustainability in fashion.
Natural fur garments are famed for their long life time, but a new survey from the International Fur Federation bring real data to the argument. Across the four largest natural fur markets (Germany, Italy, UK and France) in Europe, 76 percent of fur owners said their natural fur garments will be given extended life through remodeling, donation or re-sale, when the garment is no longer in use.
While the properties may vary between different fur types, natural fur generally has very good technical characteristics for long life. The higher price levels characterizing handcrafted products like fur garments is a well-established parameter for longer fashion product life, but interestingly product lifetime and sustainability also begins to have value to consumers in its own right.
"It is definitely an argument that fur is a product that can be either upcycled through redesigning, or naturally recycled if you out put it in the soil. People understand these things now. Five years ago nobody cared, but today we talk much more about sustainability than we did before," German furrier Tim Mersmann said.
Repairment and remodelling is core business
From his shop ‘Mersmann Design’ in Münster, Germany, he sells a range of natural furs in addition to other natural leather materials. He estimates that 40 percent of Mersmann Design’s turnover on fur garments stem from redesign and repairing, while 60 percent of the turnover is generated from sales of virgin fur. Across Germany however, he believes turnover from redesigning and repairing of fur garments is considerably larger than 40 percent.
Yet, the possibility of extending garment life comes as a surprise to consumers of the fast fashion age, to whom the bone marrow reaction is to simply replace old stuff with something new.
"Many of the people who come in here don’t even know redesign exist. Some people come in with the motivation that they want to sell an old fur coat, or they want to know what kind of fur it is. We tell them, you have something of value here. A perfect, long-lasting material, and then we show them different possible redesigns. It often works," Tim Mersmann said.
"The sales speech is supported by brochures outlining the possibilities with redesign, and fur technique samples displayed in the shop. Redesigning is also advertised in the street windows of Mersmann Design, and it should be a market of opportunity: only 16% of Germans in possession of a fur garment have had it redesigned, and Tim Mersmann think there are many old fur garments stored around Germany that could achieve new life through redesign – and thus contribute to a greener planet.
Design for extended use
Another sustainability advantage of handcrafted clothing is the opportunity to design for extended use. As many as 50 percent of the fur coats Tim Mersmann sell are reversible, making the garment suited for different occasions.
"Here in Münster people are conservative and don’t want to show off, so they wear the fur inside. If they go to a posh place the fur will be outside, but if they go to the market the fur can be on the inside. I tell our customers: 'you have to wear it, and have fun with it'. A lamb or a mink coat can easily be worn for 10 years, so instead of buying many jackets releasing microfibers, you can buy one fur coat, and you have something that is more sustainable - and the price is the same in the long run," he said.