Synthetics holding market share in footwear

The Seaward Blog
Published:  07 October, 2015
Andy Seaward

As I write this, I am in the middle of meeting brands and tanners, looking at developments for Spring/Summer '17. I know the fairs are stuck in A/W'16, but that's another story. Most major brands are well into their S/S'17 timetable.

One of the things that has struck me is that, even with the major drop in leather prices, interest in changing back to leather is somewhat muted. I assumed that I would see the brands reverting to leather as the prices decrease but I do not see this happening. I am hearing that the change into synthetics has been successful in the main and the need to move back into leather has not materialised.

I am talking here about mid price and volume brands. I assume the higher end of the market has stayed with leather although here the reason for limited leather usage has more to do with lack of sales. Although price is still a major factor, I feel that lack of leather knowledge within brands and shoe factories, together with limited cutting skills, is having a major effect at last. It is much easier to load a sheet of synthetic on to a cutting press and cut through six thick, than taking on an aniline natural skin of leather, or even a South American hide with an array of natural defects.

Here I am speaking as someone who has worked in leather and products using leather all my working life, so I understand the positives of using leather both technically and aesthetically. However, I fear this feeling is not understood or felt by many within the brands.

I am afraid it will come back to the tanner once again to give the full package, not only developing and selling the leather but also being fully involved in the technical aspects of how the leather is cut and used. Without this, I fear the move to synthetics will gain pace. There will always be a place for leather but, as I was told and warned over the years, leather will become a niche material only used in high end products if we are not careful.

The volatility of pricing will always be a factor in leather purchasing, but I believe this lack of knowledge within shoe-factories and brands is at last becoming a major factor as well. I think it will be the tanners who need to react and fully encourage the brands back into leather by helping them to understand not only the positives of using leather, but how to cut and successfully use leather in production.

Andy Seaward

Director, Seaward Material Solutions

andy@internationalleathermaker.com

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