For decades, Antonis Disios’ factory was a hive of activity, with sewing machines making fur coats for his affluent Russian clients. The firm was forced to close overnight in March due to European Union sanctions imposed on Russia as a result of the Ukraine crisis.
Disios, like hundreds of other fur enterprises in Kastoria’s lakeside city, was barred from exporting to Russia, Greece’s primary market for fur. Because there was no local market, he sent his 23 employees home, and his stockrooms were overflowing with hundreds of unsold items.
“This city is going through its worst,” Disios stated as he stood in his quiet store. “We’re in despair.”
He begged the EU to free the sector from sanctions while holding up a coat he claimed cost 30,000 euros ($30,183) to create using one of the most costly furs in the world, Russian sable.
“They must set us free. Or they can come take them and sell them themselves,” Disios said to Reuters.
Kastoria is the core of Greece’s centuries-old fur industry, Europe’s only surviving fur manufacturing center, and one of the few EU nations that still allows fur farming despite pressure from domestic and international animal rights organizations.
With the death of Denmark’s massive fur business due to a coronavirus-driven mink cull, animal rights activists expect that the loss of access to the Russian market will herald the end of the European fur market, which has already fallen dramatically in response to animal welfare efforts.
With a rising number of major fashion brands, like Gucci and Prada, pledging not to use genuine fur in the future, environmentalists think the sanctions against Russia might hasten the demise of an industry they describe “morally bankrupt”
“Russians have traditionally been big buyers. The war has obviously stopped that, which is extremely good news,” said Mark Glover, a spokesperson for Fur Free Alliance, a coalition of more than 50 animal protection groups around the world.