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Pandemic hits possum fur price, supply in New Zealand

This handful of possum fur will eventually be blended with merino fleece to make Perino, a super soft yarn that is sent to Italy to be made into garments. PHOTO: SUPPLIED. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

WELLINGTON, Jul 1, 2020, ODT. Otago possum fur is being used to make high-end, high-priced garments by some of the top fashion houses in Italy but the price that hunters receive, along with supply of the fibre, has fallen because of Covid-19, Otago Daily Times reported.

Jimmy Brown, a buyer for Waters Ritchie and Taylor Wool Store in Dunedin, buys hot-plucked fur from hunters.

He sends the fur to Basically Bush, in Woodville, which then on-sells it to Woolyarns New Zealand in Lower Hutt.

It processes the fibre and blends it with ZQ-accredited merino wool sourced from the New Zealand Merino Co, to create ultra-soft yarns under the Perino brand.

Central Otago’s Northburn and Matarae Stations were listed as suppliers of merino wool on the company’s last couple of ZQ certificates.

The yarn was sent to Italy to be made into high-fashion garments.

“It makes beautiful fabric once it is blended with merino wool,” Mr Brown said.

However, because Italy has been affected by Covid-19 and under lockdown, demand has been affected. “The highest I paid was $145/kg fully plucked, now it is about $90.

“A lot of hunters are saying they prefer to hang on to the fur, hoping the price will improve.

“When things are going well we buy in 50kg to 100kg a week but at the moment we only have 12kg here because of the price.”

Possum fur used to be used for cuffs, trimmings, and fur coats.

“That was until the fur lobby got into the act and that Bridget Bardot and her lot got the [fashion] industry against killing.

Hunters killed and plucked the possums before the carcass got cold as it became too hard to remove the fur.

“It is called hot plucking. Hot possums are best.”

About 18 possums were required to make 1kg of 15 to 18 micron fur.

“Some guys like to save it up over a couple of months so 100kg at $145/kg is nearly $15,000 for two months’ work.

Woolyarns New Zealand’s international sales and marketing manager Jimad Khan said although the company had access to the required amount of possum fibre at the moment, demand had dropped slightly.

“In Italy and Europe, Perino product demand has been a bit slower than previous years, although we normally attend a large trade fair in July, which is when we start to see more interest.

“Our Perino Cirrus yarns go into very high end luxury fashion brands such as Ermanno Scervino and Canali, and their garments sell for €1000-plus ($NZ1747) each.

“These brands only have the products available for a short season and then they move on to the next collection of products.

“Fortunately, Woolyarns worked very hard to develop international markets and we are still receiving orders from Asian markets, in particular.”

Designers in New Zealand and Australia were also using Perino yarns in their collections.

“Although volume is much smaller for these type of customers it has been good to get orders from a new market segment.”

Woolyarns uses about 40 to 50 tonnes of possum fibre per year on average.

“Woolyarns are always pushing the boundaries of innovation and we develop products for all sorts of industries.”

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