Technology is evolving at a fast pace and everything is becoming automatic. We have self-driving cars, we use vending machines, instead of buying items directly from a shop, and we use self-checkout systems as an alternative to the traditional cashier-staffed checkout. All these changes have a major impact on the labor market, because people are being replaced by machines. Many occupations are disappearing and because of this, professions which require handcraft and expertise are becoming extinct. In the fabrication process of jewels, there are automatic tools that are substituting the jeweler’s work, but in furriery, this replacement isn’t possible, because a machine can’t execute the furrier’s work.
New technologies were developed in this field for cutting, stretching or drying the skins, but the tools are designed only to improve the productivity of the workers and are not meant to be a substitute of the furriers. Moreover, all the existing appliances have to be operated by an expert, because furriery is a profession that requires a high amount of knowledge, skill and a handicraft that can only be achieved by practicing the activity for a long time. It isn’t only an occupation, it is an art. Two coats can be made by two furriers but will still look different, even if they’re made from the same kind of fur, and in the same model, as every furrier is like an artist who creates something unique, in their own way. Furriers possess (maybe without being aware of it) vast knowledge of geometry, learned by working in an empirical manner with the material. They usually come from families with traditions that have lasted for decades, or maybe for hundreds of years. For example, I come from a family of furriers in which almost all my relatives coming from my father’s side were furriers or deluxe tailors. My grandfather started working as an apprentice, for free, for his brother-in-law 80 years ago, at the age of 12. At that time, children who came from the countryside were moving to the city, going to workshops and working in exchange for sleep. The apprentices were happy to perform a job for free, because they had the opportunity to learn how to execute a handicraft in a wealthy domain, as learning how to craft a fur coat takes at least two years.
For almost all furriers, their occupation is not only a thing that they do for a living, it is a vocation that requires a lot of passion, talent, skill and vision. For many of them, the money resulting from their work is not a purpose; they are a consequence of an action done well – at least this is what I learned from my family, who are involved in the production of luxury fur garments. My father always said that quality must be the main goal that you need do pursue, and if you are aiming to make the best items on the market, the financial rewards will follow. If you want to obtain the maximum profit, this desiderate will be seen on the garments that are coming out of your workshop. Like every artist, furriers don’t necessarily want to share their knowledge; they are trying to keep the secret of their techniques, because they want to maintain their items, unique. Furthermore, furriery implies patience, because there are many times the worker has to deconstruct a coat after it has been done already if they see a defect discovered at the end of the production process. In this case, they have to start over, from stretching, which is the first step in the manufacturing process. In their workshops, the products are not serialized, so the furriers are always making something new. They have to adapt to different situations, because fur is a natural material, and substantial differences can occur between one batch of skins and another one. For this reason, the workers have to modify their templates and models, adjusting them so that they are in accordance with the material’s characteristics and limitations, unlike the tailors, that are using a fabric which remains the same every time.
Furriers do not throw away. They utilize every piece of the fur, but only discard those smaller than 2-3 millimeters, too small to be sewed again. There are workshops in Greece that sew head and feet that are thrown away after the furriers use the skins of minks and foxes. However, the sewers are very specific. They consider those who put together mink pieces, are not working with fox fur, and generally those that are sewing the heads, are not stitching the feet. There is a whole market that targets the recovery of the fur scraps: some people’s duty is to buy the pieces and sell them to the wholesaler; the wholesalers categorize them according to their color, type and size of hair. After that, they sell the sorted furs to the sewers, who make fur plates. The fur plates are sold to workshops, where the furriers use them to make coats. All of them are individuals with an immense degree of patience, because it takes a lot of virtue to be able to accomplish their work.
The furrier’s skills are inherited, transmitted from generation to generation during a long time, and unfortunately, the amount of people willing to learn to work in this industry is decreasing, which ultimately means that one of the oldest professions in the world is slowly disappearing. This means that a good furrier will be hard to find in the future. There are only a few schools that teach furriery left in the world. But this fact can be altered with a change from design and professional schools. Workshop owners should return to the old practice of taking apprentices and teaching people how to work with fur, to support the industry and ensure that their inherited profession will not perish.
Written by Bianca Margarit