When Lisa Preto started trapping, she sold most of her furs online to wealthy buyers in Texas. She didn’t like it, but it was pretty much the only way to make her business sustainable.
In 2013, a raw beaver pelt fetched $13 on the global market — the same price trappers would have received in the 1930s.
“As an artist, you need to make money,” she said. “But then then there’s a point where I don’t want to send furs where they won’t be used for the right reason. People are buying them for status, and not because it’s cold outside.”
It’s a problem trappers and artists in the territory have dealt with since the global fur trade reached the territory almost 400 years ago and one the Yukon-based Fur Real Project is hoping to change, said Misha Donohoe, a Fur Real member.
The project aims to support Yukoners working with fur by developing a local market in the territory. Headed by Kelly Milner, Fur Real will launch a new marketing venture with the $60,000 Yukon Innovation Prize awarded on June 29th. Preto is also heavily involved in the project.
Judges cited the project’s rural focus, revival of traditional economies, and its potential to disrupt the existing fur market as reasons behind their decision. Twenty-nine projects applied for the grant. Of those, four were shortlisted based on their potential for societal impact, sustainability, and economic viability.
The finalists each received $10,000 to continue developing their ideas.
The Fur Real project will buy furs directly from trappers at a price set significantly higher than auction prices and send pelts away for tanning. When the fur returns, artisans will pay a deposit and take out a fur to work on. The artisans sell their work back to the Fur Real project for a fixed price. Currently, artisans are independently responsible for retailing their products.
“As trappers and crafters, we’re just busy trapping and sewing,” said Preto.
Then, the project will take care of developing a market for fur products in the Yukon. That effort will include pop-up shops, and events promoting fur use in the territory. The team is primarily targeting Yukoners to develop a local market for the furs. The prize money will be used to buy pelts, pay artists, and organize marketing events.
It’s a vision Preto is excited to be a part of.
“We’re looking back at the history of trapping in the Yukon, and we’re looking forward to where we can go from here.”
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