Strong seams between fur fashion and handicraft

What do you see when you look at a skillfully made fur garment? Every stitch, seam and knot holds knowledge and skill but also a sense of continuity. The stitch has its intended place and is immediately followed by a new stitch and then another. And so they are sewn together – the past, the present, and the future.

The practices of indigenous cultures prevail even today, known as ecology or sustainable thinking.

A history of sustainability

Over the millennia, fur has had many uses and meanings, each of which has been invaluable to its user. Indigenous women and men played a crucial role in the development and success of the fur trade as their life was strongly tied to hunting, fishing, and gathering. While the men hunted, the women prepared the skin, with the children following every step, from hunting to finished product. Thus, the skill of handling fur was inherently passed from father to son and mother to daughter.

In addition to the craftsmanship, the children also learned to appreciate animals and respect nature. Every last part of the animal was used for food, tools or clothing, not to waste any of the gifts nature provided. These practices of indigenous cultures prevail even today, known as ecology or sustainable thinking.

Eventually, furs began to be exchanged for utensils. In North America, the fur trade took off in the 16th century, which also helped launch the trade between Indians and Europeans. In the 19th century, the fur trade slowed down due to the great popularity of silk, but in the 1950s, with the Turkish production at its peak, fur was again the desired material, with the most valuable furs being mink.

Luxury yesterday, today, and tomorrow

The concept of the luxurious mink coat from the 1950s can be traced as far back as the Ancient Egypt period, when only kings and high-ranking priests were allowed to use furs. Much the same was still true in the 11th century when only nobles and other wealthy people donned the precious material. For those living in Arctic conditions, fur was long seen as a practical material, as it was the only material that could keep its wearer warm and dry. But in warmer climates, people used high-quality furs to demonstrate their socioeconomic status. Even today, fur is considered an exclusive and luxurious material in the fashion industry. And it’s no wonder – as a natural material, it’s used in handmade garments made with tools and knowledge that has been passed down for centuries, if not millennia.

It’s about expressing who you are and where you come from.

Knowledge as a seam through history

In indigenous cultures, fur craftsmanship has evolved to embody the identity of both the craftsman and the tribe. It is about expressing who you are and where you come from while preserving the history, traditions and skills of the tribe. The tools used are quite simple and have changed surprisingly little over the centuries. The key to the craft, however, is knowledge. Whether in indigenous cultures or the modern fashion industry, the often tacit knowledge of how to handle fur is passed down from person to person, from generation to generation. This intangible, living cultural heritage is also recognized by UNESCO, promoting and preserving it through the 2003 Convention.

The value of knowing what you wear

Traditional handicraft and modern production might seem worlds apart, but they can still shake hands. With fur, this is perhaps most strongly seen in the fashion industry, where handcrafted furs are combined in creative ways with modern textiles. The sustainability is ever-present, as fur clothing is not made for just one user but is often passed on to the next user – as such or tailored new. The wearer develops a bond with the piece of clothing because the history of the garment is known.

Handcrafted items are gaining in popularity as consumers have, once again, started to value the quality of handmade products. Like they always have done since the beginning of time, furriers today still use every part of the skin. A skilled furrier can make a whole fur coat from leftover pieces. These products, made from real fur by skilled artisans, are sustainable in the true sense of the word.

Facts

Get to know the artisans

Human hands have been working with fur since the beginning of time, but what does the craft look like today? In the next issue of Saga Voices, we will introduce skilled artisans, their story, and their art, unlocking some of the secrets of working with fur.

The key to the craft is knowledge.