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Feb 20, 2023
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Greece's fur industry suffers due to war in Ukraine

Translated by
Feb 20, 2023

"Today no one sets foot here": one year after the adoption of European sanctions against Moscow in retaliation for the offensive in Ukraine, the huge fur exhibition hall in Kastoria, in northwestern Greece, is deserted.

An employee in the fur showroom in Siatista - AFP

And the wealthy Russian clientele, lovers of expensive mink coats but decried by animal rights defenders, has disappeared.

A golden armchair in the shape of a throne in front of a mirror dominates the room where the creations of artisans from the Kastoria region are exhibited: "Russian women dressed in their brand new furs posed there like tsarinas", tells an employee to AFP.

"But today no one sets foot here anymore," laments this man who requested anonymity.

Renowned for the production of furs since the 15th century, the cities of Kastoria and Siatista, in Western Macedonia, had to suspend their commercial activities with Russia after the imposition of sanctions against Moscow.

Fur is indeed considered a luxury product whose export to Russia is now prohibited.

In 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic, exports reached 108 million euros, including 44.7 million for Russia alone, details Akis Tsoukas, president of the Greek Fur Federation.

According to a study by Ernst and Young, in 2008 Greece held 25% of the Russian fur market, but that figure had already fallen to 2% by 2017, according to the study.

The war in Ukraine, which began a year ago on February 24, 2022, has accentuated this decline in this northern corner of Greece which borders Albania and North Macedonia.

Last year, exports "fell to zero", laments Mr. Tsoukas who had to lay off 80% of his company's staff, or 52 people.

For years now, activity in the region has been suffering. Stopping the use of animal fur is a demand from consumers in Europe in particular, supported by associations for the protection of animal welfare.

Mink coats

However, about 80% of the inhabitants of Siatista and the nearby villages live from this industry, underlines the mayor of the municipality of Voio, Christos Zefklis.

“My father was a furrier and I learned the trade very young, but the coronavirus and the war destroyed us,” laments Apostolis Gravas, 47, head of a family business in Siatista.

A mink coat can sell for 1,000 euros for the cheapest and go up to 200,000 euros for the rarest pieces.

Mary and Kostas Fotis in Siatista, in Greece. - AFP

A few years ago, 1.8 million mink were raised in the region. The forecast for 2023 is only one million animals, says Miltos Karakoulakis, spokesman for the Panhellenic Association of Fur Breeders.

And of the 92 farms in the region, only 60 remain today.

Half of the 4,000 fur artisans in the region have been forced to retrain, but the "transition to a new economic model is proving very costly", notes Christos Zefklis.

Some furriers emphasize the need to move into other American, Chinese, Japanese and Korean markets.

Working in Russia

Local craftsmen have also decided to export their know-how and will work in Russia for a while.

"We are in despair, that's why I looked for work in Russia like many of my colleagues," says Apostolis Gravas.

Maria Fotis, who has worked in the sector since 1979, assures that the Russians are looking for experienced workers.

"As they can no longer buy in Greece, they produce and sell fur there", according to Fotis who now operates in a workshop in Chelyabinsk, in the Urals, where six of the eight employees are Greek, according to her.

But with a three-month visa "you can't stay long", she says.

Some professionals try to stay afloat by seeking to diversify their production while the exploitation of mink is denounced by defenders of the animal cause.

The manufacture of lamb leather products, "more acceptable" from an ethical point of view, is a solution, believes Stelios Porporis, marketing director of a company which currently employs only 70 people compared to 500 in the past.

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