Two simple questions: no simple answer

Redwood Comment
Published:  24 August, 2016
Mike Redwood

Next week the end to the holidays is marked by a series of trade fairs put together in a way that ignores completely the fact that the task of the tanner is, first and foremost, to produce leather. We start as ever with the All China Leather Exhibition in its usual slot at the end of August. International visitors who attend this show have steadily filtered down to those with a specific interest in China and the surrounding Pacific and Asian countries. They travel to Shanghai with clear objectives. 

So it is interesting that the show is accompanied by two seminars asking two quite different questions: What will the tannery of the future look like? and The status of leathermaking in China.

Either question could have been asked any time over the last twenty-five years and produced a lively debate, but why are they both being asked now, in 2016, and together? Looking at these two separate questions at this time is fascinating as the two are intrinsically linked.

We know that China's leather industry has now passed the maturity stage. Yet, its position is so dominant in so many aspects of leather production and usage that any change in China impacts other parts of our tightly interconnected global industry. At the same time during the last twenty-five years, the 1.4 billion people in China have moved from being cheap labour into current and future consumers with a 2015 GDP per capita income of nearly US$8000; putting it firmly in the upper middle income bracket (according to the World Bank) alongside Brazil, Russia and Turkey. Miles ahead of the Indian subcontinent.

These consumers in China, in particular the 400,000 better off urbanised segment, are our new consumers. Young, self-assured and in a hurry, they have grown up trusting and using the Internet and so expect to find, and to buy, articles through quite different routes than the leather industry is accustomed to. These new expectations were well explained by Jon Clark at our LeatherNaturally! session in APLF Hong Kong, and no doubt the scary implications of a "right now" society will be further elaborated on next week.

But, have no doubt about it, the tannery of the future will be different in part because China is changing fast, and how the leather industry in China will look cannot escape the implications of process, product and supply chain, that are moving across the world leather industry. Technology, supply networks and sustainability are working together to feed new approaches. "We live in interesting times" never had greater implications for us all.

Mike Redwood

24th August 2016

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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