Sustainability

California basically banned fur. So what’s next for retailers?

Earlier this month California’s ban on the sale of new fur products became law, marking a continued push for retailers to invest in alternatives.
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Francis Scialabba

· 4 min read

This is the first of two stories about California’s fur ban. In part 2, we’ll look at the movement to overturn the law.

There was a time when a lavish mink coat symbolized luxury and opulence. Well, not anymore—or at least not in California, which as of this month, officially became the first state to ban the sale of new fur products.

The law, which was passed in 2019, went into effect last week, meaning retailers must cease sales of all new clothing and accessories made of fur unless it’s secondhand. The outcome has been a long time coming as similar provisions were already in place in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Berkeley.

  • The law is likely to have a big impact on fur-sellers as California accounts for 22% of total fur sales in the country.

Similar laws are already prevalent in parts of Europe and potentially in the works in states like New York, and many shoppers seem to have long supported a ban of fur products.

  • Fur Free Alliance published a map showing that 71% of Americans are opposed to killing animals for their fur, when surveyed by Research Co. in 2020.

Retailers have been taking note, as shifting consumer sentiment has driven brands to experiment with innovative fabrics, a trend that is likely to continue.

Fur-tunately: Leading the sentiment against fur and in favor of the ban are millennials but primarily Gen Z  who are redefining what “luxury actually looks like,” Timothy Derr, partner in Kearney’s consumer and retail practice, told Retail Brew. “And they want to do it in a socially conscious way. Maybe they won’t completely move away from real fur products, but they’re gonna buy them at a secondhand market. So, I think, if anything, it’s gonna increase scarcity for those larger retailers.”

PJ Smith, fashion policy director for the Humane Society, agreed, adding that consumers pulling away from products responsible for animal cruelty is pushing companies to reevaluate their options.

“If you take California and New York out of the equation, that’s roughly half the fur sold in the United States that would just be gone, and that’s a huge impact for the fur trade,” he said.

For Derr, this is less a reason for panic and more of an opportunity for retailers to look to innovative alternatives. “This is a big chance for retailers to redefine who their consumer is, as well as redefine what they’re going to offer to their consumers,” Derr said. “It just allows a chance for these retailers to really pivot.”

Brands like LVMH and Fendi have already started investing in “partially bio-based faux fur”and alternatives that include faux fur made out of corn or recycled plastic bottles, and experts say that this experimentation is likely to continue.

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Smith said demand is also pushing investors to “pump” a lot of money into these alternatives, meaning they could even scale to a large retail level. “We have already seen other companies come up and get a lot of financial backing, because they know that there's going to be a need, or a demand for that aesthetic,” Smith said.

Marie Driscoll, managing director of luxury and fashion at Coresight Research, agreed, adding that retailers are already replacing real fur with not just faux fur, but also puffer jackets and wool coats. “There has been a significant surge in luxury sports apparel with technical outerwear at prices ranging in the $1,000-$2,500 range,” she told Retail Brew. “Of course that is less than the price of a mink or sable coat, but the market for these trending outerwear brands is larger than the market for furs.”

Coming up: A salesperson at a small, Beverly Hills fur store told WWD, “We don’t know how this will affect us.” The magic word to save the business for independent fur retailers, per Driscoll, is: “re-merchandize,” and “reposition their business to an outerwear focus from a fur focus,” she said.

Retailers beyond CA are probably paying close attention since...other states tend to follow suit.

“[California] is simply the first to do it,” Smith said.” We’ve already seen 12 cities across the United States that have banned fur sales, the entire country of Israel banned fur sales in 2021. In the EU, they’re gathering signatures right now that will force the EU Commission to consider banning fur production and imports into the EU for products. So this is an important first step, which will ultimately relegate animal fur to the history books.”

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