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We have frequently talked about the positioning of leather in the market place. The fact that leather has been over distributed into the automobile and upholstery sectors during the last 25 years is now generally undisputed. In automobiles it has led to putting pricing for most segments under pressure by changing the balance of power in the relationships and in furniture leather quickly became looked at as a commodity. Both confused the consumer and could be considered as self-inflicted damage.
During 2014 there was evidence that an improved positioning had returned but at the same time leather continued to lose market share against other materials in footwear. In just a few decades we have seen the percentage of the leather we tan going into footwear drop from over 75% down to around 50% today. That 25% has been redirected into leather goods along with the automobile and furniture markets. Yet is this a direction we wish to see continue? I am not so sure.
Looking at the footwear market almost without exception where leather has been replaced by other materials there has been a dramatic loss in durability. The replacements may be cheaper but they have moved footwear into the disposable society and increased the amount of landfill that we create each year. Eight pairs per capita in the USA, six in the EU and now three in China each year all of which have declining longevity and a faster gallop to the dump.
On the other hand rising raw prices have created the two-tier leather industry we had feared with some tanners struggling to place lower grades. It has always been accepted that innovation is key here and perhaps more of that innovation should be targeted at making great leathers for footwear.
Leather by its very nature gives footwear greater longevity than other materials, and if pitched at its proper price can help footwear into that category where consumers look after them and get them repaired. It is felt that this implies a retail price of €100 or more, but this is good value if calculated over a number of years rather than a single season.
I left ECCO over ten years ago yet with proper rotation and maintenance many pairs of shoes I bought when employed by them are still in good condition. My leather soled welted shoes from Northampton, apart from a new suede pair I bought last year, are even older and have all been resoled multiple times. Now that is value for you.
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