Kastoria: Land of the Furs

Kastoria, Greece - Late 17th century European fashion developed a flourish for fur garments. In fact fashion as we know it today was born in Europe at about this time-- and fur played a prominent role. A timeless affair was thus born between fur and fashion. With popularized fashion fueling demand, new localities became Europe’s supply house. In addition, these suppliers became expert in everything fur. Kastoria, Greece, in northern Greece— Alexander the Great region—is located on a lakeside isthmus. With its northern climates and abundant fur-bearing creatures, Kastoria was well situated to capitalize on the growing fur trade.

Additionally, its proximity to the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas provided access to some of the oldest trade routes known to humanity. So with an abundant supply, burgeoning expertise and convenient transport, Kastoria became a major supplier of fashionable furs. Present day Kastoria continues the legacy started over two centuries prior; fur is its primary livelihood.

It is a densely populated town nestled on the shores of Lake Kastoria. Its houses stand in tight, neat rows lining the streets. One would least of all guess this a manufacturing town. But Kastoria is as much fur factory as it is a place to live. Each dwelling is a fur factor; every basement is a shop.

Over 3000 artisans are registered in Kastoria as fur manufacturers. Their facilities for production are part of their homes with shop and storefront at street level and living quarters in the stories above.

These are family-owned and operated businesses with some families tracing their trade back five and six generations. It is slow, meticulous work to craft a fur garment and the unhurried pace of Kastoria, along with its time-honored traditions, is ideally suited to the task. No punch clocks, no lunch whistle; no production manager cracking a whip.

It was in this setting that Leo and Harry Sitilides, co-owners of Connecticut Furs, were first introduced to fur and the fur industry.

"I can remember as a child," says Harry Sitilides, "my brother Leo and me walking to school through the streets of Kastoria."

The two brothers were born and raised in Kastoria. Their route to school each morning took them past the busy fur district.

"On sunny days the individual furriers would cart out their furs to stretch and dry in the sun. The streets became lined with these beautiful, glistening furs….I became enamored."

It seems ironic now," says Leo Sitilides, "that the real, lasting education we received, one that to this day serves us (my brother and I), is the education we received on the way to school."

The two natives Kastorians soon moved to America to pursue their dreams. "It is true," says brother Leo, "we learned the technical aspects of fur fashion while studying in New York."

"But," continues brother Harry, "the passion was discovered in our youth, in the streets of fur-lined Kastoria." Greece does not typically conjure images of fur or fur fashion, yet it is the ‘backstage’ of the high fashion fur industry. The annual International Conference of Furs is held in Kastoria. The conference showcases wholesale fur garments for an international collection of retailers.

So the time-honored tradition of fur making continues in Kastoria, Greece and the traditions of Kastoria are carried on in New Britain, Connecticut.

Connecticut Furs of New Britain was established by the Rubenstein brothers Joe and Sam who were later joined by brother Ben. The Rubensteins developed into the most successful furrier and the most talked about fur salon in the state. Their loyal clientele followed and supported them for many years.

In 1984, Connecticut Furs was sold to George Brothers from New York. Harry Sitilides worked as the designer of George Brothers and was asked to move with the firm to New Britain. When Harry came to New Britain he was fascinated with the facility. He had never seen a factory equipped like that, perfect for manufacturing and producing fur garments, totally different than the tightly squeezed space he was used to back in New York.

The business continued to thrive and, as it was agreed upon, Harry became a partner. In December of 1995, Leo Sitilides joined the company as a partner and as a result, Leo closed his factory in New York and the two brothers (Harry and Leo) took over the whole operation.

 

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