I come from a family of furriers with a tradition of more than 80 years. Back in the day, people used to take young apprentices to their workshops where they taught them how to perform a profession. In 1938 my grandfather started working as an apprentice at his brother-in-law’s workshop, and after a few years he learnt the secrets of this ancient occupation. After marrying my grandmother, he became her tutor and they worked together until he died. My father received knowledge from his family; he learned how to stitch, stretch and sew. He took his legacy further by opening a small shop which has become the most notorious fur brand in Romania.
From when I was a child, I had the opportunity to attend MIFUR with my father, an exhibition that holds together all-important names in the fur industry. It’s where designers and retailers show their latest pieces, skin wholesalers display pelts, some companies sell machines and tools used for cleaning, stretching, ironing and for other processes, along with accessories and package sellers. Essentially, at MIFUR you can find everything related to the fur industry. When I first visited the exhibition, I expected to see my him acting the way a businessman does in movies, signing contracts and discussing deals. I thought that I would be surrounded by sober people dressed up in suits. From the moment I walked in, I saw my father hugging two Italians that were speaking fast, joking and laughing, leaving me with the impression that they were old friends. After another prolonged hug, the joyful men left. I asked my father who the men were, “Old suppliers”, he replied. We made our first stop at a German company, where a cheerful old man hugged us. They started exchanging stories, whilst my father was petting mink skins. During their conversation, two Russians approached us, and one of them proceeded to ask the German man a question. The German then turned to my father, asked him a question and nodded to him right away. After this, he replied back to the Russian woman with a discontent look on his face. I asked my father what happened after we left. He said he would let me know later. We strolled between the booths the whole day, and we were greeted with joy everywhere. At the end of the day, we returned to the old man to say our goodbyes.
I didn’t see my father negotiate, sign any contract or act the way I thought a businessman would whilst working. I supposed the only reason he went there was to check how his friends from the industry were doing and to see the latest trends. Surprisingly, I found out that he bought a big amount of merchandise. I asked him how that was possible? I only saw him chatting the whole day, without paying any kind of deposit. He explained that this is how business works in this industry; they don’t need any kind of advance payment or contract. Contracts are useful only when you want to sue someone. In the world of furriers, one’s word is the most valuable asset. In this small world, a simple handshake is enough to buy or to sell a huge amount of goods that can cost thousands and thousands. If you are known as a person of honour, the sellers won’t need any kind of official assurance as they would know that you would pay them at the right time. No need to sign contracts. It is obvious that if you (a seller) promise someone you’d sell them something, nothing would stop you, no matter whether you’d lose money or not. Honour is the most valuable element in this industry, and once it is lost, you can never regain it.
After giving me this lesson, he explained what happened during our day at the exhibition – details that I didn’t understand, even though I was standing right next to him. At the old man’s booth, he was analysing the mink skins, even though at the time, to me, he seemed uninterested. This wasn’t the case, but because it was the first place where we stopped, and he didn’t know the prices of the other exhibitors. The German assured him that the skins had a low price, compared to the other pelts from the fair, so my father blindly agreed to buy them. Meanwhile, the Russians appeared and offered the German man a price that was 40% higher than my father’s original offer. Hearing that, the German asked my father if he still wanted to pay – the first price that they agreed on, of course. I realised why the German man had a disappointed look on his face – my father’s verbal agreement made him lose 6500 euros to the Russians. My father had only said, ‘I’ll buy them.’ No contract, no advance payment, nothing. Because my father didn’t sign any kind of paper, the German was entitled to sell the skins to the Russians, but he didn’t, because he gave his word. My father then told me that he had to buy the skins, even if he could find them cheaper elsewhere. Other pelts bought at the fair were acquired the same way – only by verbal agreement.
I left the exhibition fascinated by the world of those people of honour, who make their lives easier by respecting verbal agreements, people who are always happy to meet with other people from the industry. It felt like a friendship, more than a dealership. What do they have in common? Fairness, honesty, and the passion they have for their work.
Written by Bianca Margarit