After graduating from the Schulich School of Business, York University in Toronto, Canada, Lumin joined an internship program set up by the Canadian Government’s International Business and Foreign Trade Ministry. The Ministry was working with Canada China Business Council (CCBC) in China, of which North American Fur Auctions (NAFA) was a member – this was Lumin’s gateway into the fur trade. Lumin describes her entrance into the fur trade as the “perfect accident”, but sixteen years later, this accident can only be described as the perfect match.
When Lumin first joined the fur trade, the fur industry in china was just taking off. Adopting a supportive role, Lumin was the framework on which promotional campaigns in China and NAFA business development would depend. Lumin gushes:
I still remembered the old days where auction house customers depended on and thanked me for my work… Today, as a person who is in charge of the Chinese market, I am so proud.
As someone who knows very little about the fur market in China, other than its growing at an accelerated and unprecedented rate, Lumin informs me that mirroring a huge market like China is even greater responsibility.
First came an influx of customers. A trickle of natural fur enthusiasts from northeastern China turned into a stream of shoppers from China’s central regions and before she knew it, a flood of customers from south China meant the entire country’s market was resting on her shoulders. This is a lot of responsibility for someone born in a small town in the south of China.
Lumin grew up in simpler and more peaceful times. Her family and friends still enjoy the slow lane, something Lumin has traded for international industry which is going through a period of rapid political, economic and environmental change. But drastic change isn’t new for Lumin. In fact, she has witnessed NAFA’s transformation from a small enterprise – a descendent of the Hudson’s Bay Company founded in 1670 – to a global fur auction powerhouse – a process in which Lumin and a collection of her colleagues were instrumental.
Lumin delights in the shared determination of everyone at NAFA, and reminisces how she was not the one to “roll her sleeves up”. In fact…
Then President and CEO, Mr. Herman Jansen, would kneel down and pack the models’ high heel shoes in order to help us quick pack.”
That’s NAFA. We worked hard, we worked like family and we were not afraid of challenges and difficulties.
At that time when competition from the other auction houses was rife, and NAFA was the smallest auction house on the global stage, what Lumin and NAFA lacked in assets they made up for in creativity and passion.
The goal has always been trying to face all the challenges and do our best. That’s why I love NAFA – I felt lucky that I could join a company like NAFA, we took care of each other, supported each other. And when we worked together, we tried to achieve the best result. stories like this – I think that’s why NAFA has become stronger and stronger after all these years. I was happy that I was part of this history to witness how NAFA is getting stronger and how Chinese fur industry is getting stronger.
It seems, from the outside, that the fur trade is going from strength to strength. Taking this view, where do you believe the future of the fur fashion industry headed, Lumin?
If we talk about the fur choices, then the fur fashion industry will benefit more because of its diversity – when more and more designers and consumers realize that they actually have many choices, not only mink or fox, but a rich variety of natural, beautiful and unique North American wild furs. Then more and more furs will be used by the fur fashion industry to provide unlimited choices to fur lovers/consumers.
If we talk about the designs, personally, I am a big advocate for mixing different furs or mixing furs with different fabrics. I believe that this is a big trend now on the catwalk as people don’t want to wear the same thing again and again and they don’t want to wear the same thing as other people are wearing. Mixing furs or mixing furs with different fabrics can offer so many choices to the consumers in looks and in textures.
This is interesting, so you see fur expanding beyond the autumn/winter fashion season?
When furs can be mixed with different fabrics then fur can be worn in the spring and fall, even summer is not off limits. Imagine wearing a fur mixed with chiffon or lace as a dress? NAFA sponsored the China design competition where one of the winners created a few pieces of technical samples for us which can definitely be used to create a summer dress. They are light, full of movement, and definitely new looks. Can we imagine how much attention this lady would get if she is wearing a fur dress for an evening party in Shanghai in the summer?
This is an age to emphasize different personality. Everyone wants to be a unique “me”, I think. If there is something different from others, let you jump out, that will be the fashion. And I think that this will be the direction for us to work on.
I can’t help but find Lumin’s enthusiasm infectious, a dress with fur detailing in the summer? Well, never say never!
Lumin’s front line experience of witnessing the fur trade growing isn’t reflected in the media. In fact, with designers going fur-free, Lumin’s account couldn’t be more diametrically opposed. But what does a key player and pillar within one of the globes biggest fur auctions have to say to apathetic people pushing for fur bans? Something which threatens Lumin’s livelihood.
All these years, I have heard many stories that the anti-fur people attacked our trade by creating untrue reports such as killing the seals and killing the raccoons. And the fur industry responded too late or too slowly, and then we suffered huge loss to the public influence. Now fur bans is another round of attacks on us, which has caused the industry more loss. We have lost many leading brands and we shouldn’t let this continue to happen. That’s why I totally support that the whole industry should work together and act together under the leadership of IFF as quickly as possible. A Chinese saying is: it will never be too late to amend, if we lose one sheep, it will never be too late the mend the sheep pen to avoid more loss. We should have learned enough from the previous experiences and to protect our industry in the future. If we continue to think that this is something that other people will do and just wait, we will lose at the end.Right now, IFF’s FurMark project would like to work with ranchers, auction houses, dressers, manufacturers and retailers together, which is the big direction for us to follow and work together. Transparency, traceability and sustainability should be key words for us to share with our public.
So, looking to the future, what can China teach the rest of the world? And in particular, what can the women of the fur trade do the make their mark on the industry as you have.
Now, China – China’s population is huge. So, it would be difficult to answer this question too simply. Right now, China can teach the world more and more demand for unique designs, but many of the consumers still would like to have their garments to have the practical purpose. So, in order to sell, I think that the designers still will consider this duality.
I think that Chinese fashion will have its own position in the world, just like other industries, it’s China vs world.
As for women in the trade, most of the girls that I know are hardworking (in order to survive in this men’s industry, haha). We have to be ambitious.
Speaking with Lumin has taught me that it’s never too late, with passion, determination and ambition, what the entire fur trade can achieve is limitless. Cooperation is the answer! And Lumin, a grassroots powerhouse, is someone we can all thank and aspire to emulate.
I like to finish off all my special Here Come the Girls features with a quote, so, Lumin, is there a quote you remember when times get tough or to motivate you?
Right now, as Diane Benedetti, my previous boss and mentor, keeps telling me: Hang in there. Everything will be fine.
I couldn’t agree more, Lumin! Thank you for everything you do, you are a true fur trade powerhouse.
One response to “LUMIN YAO: A GRASSROOTS POWERHOUSE”
This is a great article and she is a very nice person. It would be even better if the text from her was darker. Pale pink may symbolize women to some but it is certainly hard to read and women deserve to be heard! : )