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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Crocs and Fur

Apparently Crocs are in trouble and one of the reasons, according to this Washington Post article is “the problem with a nearly indestructible product is that shoppers rarely need to replace it”. Whatever your views on the fashion component of Crocs, this is bad news for business sustainability and a win for the built in obsolescence argument.

We need new models for business success that allow long lasting products to be successful (maybe with some assurance that they are ultimately bio-degradable). Perhaps it comes with making money from such things as reconditioning and refurbishing, upgrading and servicing. Of course we have to shift consumer preferences too so they don’t want new stuff all the time.

That got me to thinking about what models there might be for sustainable materials and I think fur fits the bill .

If you are reacting with horror to my statement that fur might be an example of a sustainable material let me ask you to put aside the issues of animal rights and sustainable farming/hunting and just look for a minute at the material itself to help me illustrate my point.

In the interests of full disclosure, my father, now retired, was a furrier in an earlier part of his career (hi Dad!).

Growing up I would spend time in the fur workshop. Customers would bring the product back for refurbishing and redesign, retaining the original material. A five year old coat would be brought into the workshop and my grandfather would spend a week dismantling it and recreating it into the latest design. At the time, the fabric was so valuable, relative to the cost of my grandfather’s labor, that this model made business sense.

The key characteristics here are a material that is valuable and long lasting, where the labor cost of reworking it into a new design is less than the cost of starting again with new material.

I wonder though, whether things are going to have to get a lot worse with regards scarcity of raw materials before we reach that crossover point for the more mundane raw materials that go into the products we use every day. Or is there a way we can create business models with those drivers now before we are forced down that road by adverse circumstances?


  1. In most instances the indigenous people also ate the animal before selling the fur so sustaining themselves and their enviroment.
    Unfortunately the misguided anti fur lobby destroyed the wild fur trade and these indigenous people either moved off the land allowing the developers and loggers on or turned to farming, in both instances destroying the very forrests the animals need to thrive and we need to breath. As happens in many cases of people trying to do some good with out education and just emotion, their ignorance in the end does a grave disservice to the very cause they want to help.

  2. If there is any incentive for the reuse of fur or remodelling that would be due to scarcity. Scarcity that thankfully still is in practice. You most certainly will hardly find a leather jacket owner interested in remodelling it. leather is commonly enjoyed aged. Nevertheless, leather jackets can be easily found obsolete in charity shops. I must ad that I have no particular compassion for animal rights group or any PETA related campaign at heart. However, it is misleading to think that we could ever satisfy demand in clothing by using fur and expect at the same time that customer will rationally use their clothing through its entire life spam.

  3. Hi Kevin. My name is Julio Suárez-Christiansen and I am the CSR Director of SAGA Furs, a Finnish-Norwegian company defending the interests of our fur farmers. Our label SAGA represents the most recognised fur brand (if you come from a fur family, you surely heard about us!!). I had the opportunity to listen to you recently in Ithaca at the netimpact conference. It is great to hear rational arguments about the fur trade!!! We at SAGA are working hard to show consumers that fur can be a sustainable and "csr-wise" material. You might want to have a look at our CSR material, you can find it in our website. Let us have a chat next time we cross paths!!! thanks, Julio