The way of fur

2014, July 28

Author: Ieva Karjakinienė

Tanning is one of the oldest crafts. People had not yet learned to sew but knew how to skin animals and cure the hides. Fur and fire would protect them from cold and biting winds. Today, fur is not just for keeping us warm – it is also a gorgeous piece of attire. I have decided to take a look at the state of tanning as it is today. When you hear words “the way of fur”, you begin imagining furs and hides being worked on with state-of-the-art machines in spacious facilities of modern companies. Turns out in reality things are not quite like that. During my visit to a tannery I was treated with sights and smells that were more befitting an 18th century French marketplace that Patrick Süskind portrayed in his novel Perfume. The workers’ apparel and the looks of the facilities were completely out of sync with the modern day. It seems as if a step across the threshold of this company takes you to a hide-working manufacture dating back to the Middle Ages. Obviously, there have been few, if any, improvements to the process over the centuries. The tanning process involves virtually no modern machines or implements. The shop is dark, dank, and foul-smelling, with vapours from the chemicals used in curing the hides and furs eating into your nose and eyes. All solutions from the containers in which the hides and furs are washed and soaked get discharged directly on the ground. Which makes the workforce have to wear rubber boots, which stand out vividly in the midst of all this context, suddenly forming a connection between this picture and the 21st century, helping you not lose the thread of reality.

In spite of the harsh working environment, watching the people here work fills you with a feeling that is very nice and warm. By contrast to the modern person, the tanners are in no hurry, carefully and thoroughly “feeling” every hair of fur they get their hands on. Not minding the stench, the dark, and the dankness, everyone works with great diligence, love, care, as if the fur they are working on were alive. Everyone is calm, relaxed, smiling and friendly. Not disgusted at all, they ladle fat, scoop out fur that has been soaked and cured. Processed that way, the fur becomes capable of providing the warmth we are used to expecting from it.

A visit to a fur sewing company, and the picture changes completely, with modern facilities and lots of light. The people are different, too – composed, always in a hurry, self-contained, restrained. Every seamstress is leaning over the fur, making haste, and the atmosphere is that of a conveyor belt. Yet here, too, just like at the tannery, every stage of sewing furs is performed with a tremendous degree of accuracy. The women are making furs out of narrow strips about half-centimetre wide, which are then cut to even the length of the hairs. As you are watching this process, you can see that the seamstresses observe every hair of ready-made fur, making sure that none is longer than the rest. Sincerely pleased with fur coats impeccably made, those ladies stir a warm feeling in you.

This report aimed to instigate a doubt about the efforts of the green movement to protect and preserve animals. Its goal was simply to show that people still continue to work regardless of the hard or even unbearable working conditions. And they don’t need any large, well-lit and ventilated rooms, lounges or motivation systems that are causing a good amount of headache for the modern CEO. The people who work here simply enjoy the trade they love, spreading the warmth around…

It is up to every individual to choose to eat meat or be a vegetarian, to wear artificial or natural leather shoes, to wear man-made or natural fabrics. It is nice that more and more people say no to fur, realising they are contributing to the wellbeing of animals in doing so.

It should be noted that in any one year, the fur industry requires more than 45 million animals. Depending on the specific type of fur coat, it takes 11 lynxes, 12 wolves or coyotes, 17 foxes, 50 minks, 28 raccoons, 100 chinchillas or squirrels to make.