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TikTok’s ‘mob wives’ trend is fueling a resurgence of fur

By Yola Mzizi, CNN

(CNN) — Edwards-Lowell Furs didn’t expect 2023 to be a good year.

In anticipation of the ban on the sale of new furs that went into effect in its home state of California in January 2023, the company had transitioned its business from selling furs to storing them. Plus, Edwards-Lowell Furs’ said, dwindling sales — declines of around 50 percent year-on-year — had forced it to sell its building in Beverly Hills.

But then owner Paul Matsumoto connected with Natalie Bloomingdale, founder and CEO of vintage e-tailer The Sil, and the two teamed up to host an online auction of pre-owned coats from Edwards-Lowell Furs’ on The Sil’s Instagram.

“We sold the first batch of furs in a matter of minutes,” said Bloomingdale. The two now host sales three times a month, and Matsumoto said it’s breathed new life into the business.

This year may bring even more demand due to the explosion of the “mob wives” aesthetic on TikTok. Characterized by animal prints, heavy gold jewelry, glossy leather trousers, perfectly coiffed hair and a massive fur coat, the trend has already racked up over 160 million views on the platform. Its emergence has been fueled by several factors — the 25th anniversary of HBO’s mafia-centric hit “The Sopranos,” the onset of a colder winter, and a burgeoning interest in fur among younger consumers.

It’s quite a pivot from just a few years ago, when it appeared fur’s trajectory was on an unstoppable decline. Since the late 2010s, brands and retailers including Canada Goose, Gucci, Net-a-Porter, Versace, Prada, Neiman Marcus and Michael Kors all announced their intention to phase out fur products. In 2021, Israel became the first country in the world to enact a ban on new fur sales, while Italy and Norway announced they would stop fur farming. In 2021, Kering chief executive François-Henri Pinault said that fur had “no place in luxury.”

Fast forward to 2024, and the sentiment around fur appears to be shifting as the mob wife aesthetic raises awareness of the material amongst a new generation of consumers.

But this fur moment is different from the past. Now, it’s secondhand and fast fashion retailers that are reaping the benefits of fur’s viral moment, as are alternative material startups and brands with good quality faux fur offerings.

‘Mob wives’ influence

On TikTok, trends can rise and fall within a matter of weeks, if not days, and “mob wife” is no exception. While weekly searches have grown by 21.3 percent year-on-year, data and retail analytics platform Trendalytics anticipates this fad to be short-lived, with an arc of roughly six months.

“Mob wife is more of a reflection of the diminished meaning of trends and aesthetics,” said Mandy Lee, a trend analyst and forecaster. “We seem to be in this endless cycle of nostalgia for trends that were rooted in subcultures, values and context. Today, they are quite literally costumes that people put on and take off everyday.”

Anticipating and preparing for these viral moments can be challenging for brands that don’t already have corresponding products and as fickle consumers are itching to hop on the bandwagon, selling products on a preorder model won’t work, said Lee.

But brands that are at the right place at the right time can expect to earn dividends. In the case of the “mob wife” trend, because so many luxury labels have moved away from fur, it’s more likely to be fast fashion or mass market retailers who benefit. A faux fur jacket from Zara has emerged as one of the leading products benefitting from the trend, with searches and social interest in it and similar products seeing an increase of 212.7 percent in search and social buzz compared to last year, found Trendalytics.

“Even though fur was once synonymous with luxury, fast fashion brands are well-positioned for this moment… selling on points of affordability and as a suitable alternative,” said Kayla Marci, senior retail analyst at Edited analytics.

For those who want the real deal, vintage provides an option. On TikTok, users are encouraging the purchase of secondhand furs over new, making this viral moment key for vintage fur sellers like The Sil or even The RealReal.

“Sales have exploded,” said Matsumoto. “We’ve never sold this many used garments before.”

The future of fur

The mob wife trend may be destined to be short-lived, but the appetite for fur or fur-like materials will likely last. However, as fur’s popularity has shifted, consumers’ values around sustainability largely haven’t, creating an opportunity for next-generation material startups like plant-based fur brand BioFluff and Spiber, a Japanese biotech company using brewed protein-based fiber to create fur alternatives through a process similar to brewing beer. In the coming months, Spiber said they will partner with a number of brands to develop custom fur products.

“We hope to underscore that you can have it both ways,” said Callie Clayton, head of global client relations at Spiber. “The look and feel of fur is possible without the cruelty.”

Still, animal rights advocates aren’t happy with the material’s resurgence, arguing that even if it’s attained sustainably — via plant-based means, for example — the increased visibility of fur will inevitably stoke demand for the real thing.  PJ Smith of the Humane Society of the United States  is hopeful that legislation introduced in the last couple of years is robust enough to curb demand.

“We can already see the end of the tunnel, the fur industry is dying thanks to policies like fur bans,” said Smith in an interview with the Business of Fashion. “Trends like these could lead to higher first sales but it won’t be enough to reverse the trajectory of the industry.”

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