After five months in the role of Saga Furs’ CEO, Markus Gotthardt looks back at what’s been and what the future holds for the brand. Aside from getting familiarized with his team, the board and the industry, Markus has also attended his first online and live auctions. Looking back, he can conclude that it’s been some busy months.

Last time we spoke in May, you had just started at Saga, now we’re all interested to know what you have been up to the past few months?

It’s been a busy five months meeting a lot of new people, getting to know the board and my management team, farmers and buying customers. We held our first online auction in June and the first live auction in September. The auction was quite the event. There were some very intense weeks – meeting customers, meeting people, and a lot of work that really showed what this business is all about.

I have also been travelling quite a lot. Domestically I’ve been visiting farmers in Ostrobothnia, and internationally I’ve been to Poland and Greece. I’ve met with farmers, buyers and other people in the trade. So, it’s been quite a race, really.

Could you tell us more about your story and how you got to where you are today?

It all started with studying economics, marketing. I wanted to understand how to influence people and how to sell. My vision was to build a knowledge base in that area. Then I drifted into the food industry in Finland and into consumer goods. That was 12 years for American companies like Mars and Disney, working in marketing and sale.

It was some good years, and I learned how to handle the business from small details upwards. Caring about people and the quality of work you put in is the most important part.  

Did you always know that you wanted to work with sales and branding?

At first, I did not want to do sales, but early on, I noticed that you can’t do marketing if you don’t know sales. At the end of the day, business is all about bringing in money. Sustainable business needs to be profitable, and we need money for profit. 

What was your first impression of the Saga Furs brand?

The Saga Furs brand is something you need to see from within the trade, and you need to be very close to the products. So, for many people, it is unknown. That is something I would like to see us work with.

The brand has a good vision and a good purpose, but the target group is very limited, and we need to understand what the relevance is. How can we make it interesting for a larger target group, and how can we be credible for those who stumble over our brand. What does it give them, and what does it mean to them. Those are the most important things in branding.

Is that how you want to develop the brand in the future?

Looking at the brand in this trade, we need to ensure that our backward is clean, that we don’t have sustainability issues. We need to be sure about our own business – what we do, how we handle it and that the animals are being treated well.

Sustainability is one of the most important things since it is where the brand comes from – the long heritage in the fur trade with very natural products in a modern way. Currently, the fur image is not very good, mostly due to the anti-fur people working very hard to bring about some details of this business that might not be very attractive to all people.

What does sustainability at Saga look like?

I think sustainability is about creating a platform for the good things we do. We need to be able to tell how we are working, why we are working the way we do and what good it does.

Over-detailed sustainability reports are the wrong way to go. We need to talk about it in a very understandable way. We need to make our processes traceable, so we can show the progress we are making in many different things. I’m talking about the entire chain, from how the animals are treated and fed to the whole production process until we have a finished garment. 

What has been the role of sustainability in your previous jobs?

I’ve worked for eight years with the meat company HKScan and sustainability in the meat industry is very close to that of the fur industry. From a company perspective, but mostly from the perspective of how the animals are being treated. Looking at the whole value chain and the concept of being part of an entire ecosystem is very important for this industry.

Have you had the opportunity to visit any farms?

Yes, during the summer, I visited a couple of farms in Finland. It was my first time visiting one, and it was very interesting. As I’ve been in animal production for some years, it wasn’t really surprising. There are more similarities than you would expect.

We are now in a position where the young generation is not as emotionally against fur as they might have been a few years ago.

How can Saga assist and aid in the demand for fur moving forward?

We are an enabler in the fur industry, that’s the perspective I view us from. And when it comes to the demand issue, we as a brand need to be relevant and interesting. To be so, we need to make fur acceptable to a larger population, which is a hefty task requiring strategic tools to work with.

I think our two main drivers are the Creative Hub and Fur Vision. For the Creative Hub, we have some very talented young people creating new ways of using fur and inviting designers to visit our premises. For Fur Vision, we recently held events in Tokyo and Seoul, and we are in contact with people who work with fur or could be working with fur.

We are now in a position where the young generation is not as emotionally against fur as they might have been a few years ago. It’s more acceptable as long as it is natural and we’re not doing bad things. So that’s something for us to drive on.

I don’t see us as a major brand where we would start buying up media space in international magazines, being very visible in sponsorships or things like that. We should be present in the markets we work with because that is part of the branding issue. We are more in the B2B interface, but we also have to promote on a larger scale for consumers.

As 2022 is coming to an end, what do you see for the next year or the future?

This is a very interesting time for the industry. We are facing issues with the primary production, with the number of animals going down drastically, and we need to be able to ensure the infrastructure around the business. Our main target is to help our farmers to stay alive and produce animals. Without the animals, we don’t have the business.

Creating the things outlined in our strategy, like financing viable farmers and working with well-motivated personnel at Saga, is what I look forward to putting into practice. It’s a question of building road maps and executing them. It’s been a good few months, and I’m looking forward to the coming year.