Fur trade is important to the Greek economy, says industry spokesman
by Katerina Lorenzatos Makris ~
As the fourth annual “Fur Excellence in Athens” International Fur Fair takes place this year on March 27-30, Animal Issues Reporter takes a look back at the 2012 event for conversations with protestors, police, fair workers and industry insiders in this series of articles on fur.
Nikos Panagiotou grew up in the Kastoria region of northern Greece, center of the nation’s fur industry. Now a professor in mass media at Dimokritous University in Athens, he also serves as spokesman for the Hellenic Association of Furriers.
Animal Issues Reporter Katerina Lorenzatos Makris met with Panagiotou at the“Fur Excellence in Athens 2012,” International Fur Fair.
In Part 1 of the interview (below), Panagiotou says that the fur industry is Greece’s fourth largest export sector, employing 40,000 residents in the Kastoria area.
AIR INTERVIEW WITH NIKOS PANAGIOTOU – PART 1
AIR: About how many attendees did you have this year?
NIKOS PANAGIOTOU: I will give you the details regarding last year  and this year . Last year we had 1,200 attendees. Last year there were three days of exhibition. We had 43 companies participating. And 7,000 square meters.
AIR: This year you’ve had an extra day?
PANAGIOTOU: This year we had an extra day—four days. Doubled the exhibition space to 14,000 square meters, and we had 63 companies in total—53 from Greece and 10 from abroad, international ones. And up to now we have 1,100 visitors after yesterday, not including today. So it means it will be like a 20 to 30 percent increase in the numbers of visitors, probably 30 percent.
AIR: What do you think accounts for the increase? Is it the extra day?
PANAGIOTOU: Actually, it’s the publicity, the interest in the sector, and the quality of the participants. Most of the biggest companies in Greece are in here, with strong international presence, so all this counts in favor of the fair.
AIR: Who organizes this?
PANAGIOTOU: The Hellenic Association of Furriers. It’s a new association that represents the younger and the stronger fur companies in Greece.
AIR: What would you say—in your mind—what are the five best things about the fur industry, both in Greece and in general?
PANAGIOTOU: Let me start by saying that fur is green. It is something that is natural, not technically made, like plastic. Regarding Greece, it is the fourth exporting sector.
AIR: Really? What would be the first three?
PANAGIOTOU: Tourism, shipping, and agriculture. We have a long tradition in the fur manufacturing. There are two producing centers around the globe. One is in the Greek region of western Macedonia, Kastoria [in northern Greece], and the other one is in China. These are the largest and the biggest fur production centers in the world.
So actually, Greece is competing with Chinese companies. You will not find these types of examples where a European country can compete with Chinese industry, and be really competitive, not just trying to catch up with Chinese. We are actually in the same position with them.
This happens because in the fur business the price does not matter that much—it’s much more the quality. But even in price we are on the same level, we can compete with the Chinese there as well.
AIR: You can compete…?
PANAGIOTOU: We can, we can. So this means you have a very competitive sector in Greece that must be taken into account.
AIR: So you’re saying it’s sort of like David and Goliath, with Greece, of course, being David… ?
PANAGIOTOU: Yes, but it’s probably more Goliath and Goliath!
AIR: I mean in terms of population, Greece has only 11 million and China has well over a billion.
PANAGIOTOU: It’s not even 11 million. It is actually 50,000 people, inhabitants, in the Kastoria fur center area against the Chinese. It’s a good story.
AIR: So you said there are 50,000 inhabitants in the Kastoria region…
PANAGIOTOU: …against the Chinese.
AIR: Can you tell me what makes—I know you could do a dissertation with this answer—but what are the top things that make Greek fur such high quality?
PANAGIOTOU: It’s the long tradition, some techniques that the others lack, and the quality of the skins that we use. Most of them are [bred] and not hunted or whatever.
AIR: As I understand it, they’re not bred or farmed in the Kastoria area very much?
PANAGIOTOU: No, 95 percent are being bred and farmed abroad, in Canada, Denmark, Poland, the United States, et cetera.
AIR: Were there other good things about the fur industry that you wanted to tell me about?
PANAGIOTOU: These are the most important.
AIR: Do you have any numbers on how many jobs it provides in Greece?
PANAGIOTOU: Yes. The most important thing is not just the jobs that we provide. The most important thing is that there is a competitive advantage in this type of sector that other sectors lack. This means that the jobs that are being created are very highly skilled. So this means that additionally that we actually add not only skilled workers but we need more people to work on the commercial side—to create advertisements, to work as representatives with the companies abroad, plus the other workers that we need for manufacture.
So the number is the whole region of western Macedonia is working in fur and around fur. The total number is like 80 percent of the population—40 thousand people—are in the fur business.
We have to take this into account when we are against the fur trade. We have to take into account that we have these numbers of people working. For example, some political parties in Greece said that we should abandon the fur business and become hotel owners. But if those people had followed their suggestions 40,000 people would be unemployed these days due to the economic crisis.
Western Macedonia is the third region after Athens and Thessaloniki in exports. For example, you have Athens, five million people, Thessaloniki, one million people, and the third region in exports is western Macedonia with 50,000. This means that it’s another strong element that proves the importance of a country that is desperately looking to bring in money from abroad.
Previous AIR articles on fur:
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Animals ‘should not be sacrificed on the altar of fashion,’ says fur fair protestor
Full interview with Mariza Christodoulou, Vice President, Panhellenic Animal Welfare and Environmental Federation
Killing animals for fur is just as necessary as killing them for food, says industry spokesman
Full interview with Olga Kikou, Coordinator, Animal Rights Group, Greek Green Party
Fur industry will grow despite animal advocates’ efforts to remove ‘freedom of choice,’ spokesman predicts
Interview with Thorbjørn Schiønning, Anima (Danish animal welfare group)
Visit to a fur farm in Denmark
Interview with Ann-Mona Kulsø Larsen, Nordgaard Fur Farm (Denmark)
Interview with Jan Helleskov, Communications Chief, Magasin du Nord (department store in Copenhagen that no longer sells fur)
Interview with Jens Birger Christensen, CO, Birger Christensen (furrier in Copenhagen)
Visit to Kopenhagen Fur
Katerina Lorenzatos Makris is a career journalist, author, and editor. Credits include hundreds of articles for regional wire services and for outlets such as National Geographic Traveler, The San Francisco Chronicle, Travelers’ Tales, NBC’s Petside.com, and Examiner.com (Animal Policy Examiner), a teleplay for CBS-TV, a short story for The Bark magazine, and 17 novels for Avon, E.P. Dutton, Simon and Schuster, and other major publishers.
Together with coauthor Shelley Frost, Katerina wrote a step-by-step guide for hands-on, in-the-trenches dog rescue, Your Adopted Dog: Everything You Need to Know About Rescuing and Caring for a Best Friend in Need (The Lyons Press).
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