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I was delighted to be asked by APLF to interview Mr Su Chaoying while we were at the All China Leather Exhibition (ACLE) last week. Mr Su has been part of the China Leather Industry Association (CLIA) for about 3 decades, with the last five years as Chairman and he has just moved to the more relaxed role of Honorary Chairman.
He is recognised as having greatly aided the good image that internationally exists of the Chinese leather industry through his very straightforward explanations of changes ongoing, and a willingness to directly answer all questions, however opinionated those questions might be.
In our interview, we were talking about the current transition in China from a producer nation to a consumer one; a transition that Su has long forecast. The last 25 years has seen the China leather industry grow and develop at an unprecedented pace establishing itself as the dominant force in the industry. Its leather production is level at just over 25% of the world total, while its production of footwear and most other things made of leather is up nearer two thirds or more of the world production.
It has been a remarkable journey. Initially, there was a love of our industry since it provided masses of the sorts of jobs that pulled people out of poverty, then, there was a concern that, in haste, effluent treatment plants were not being built, or corruption led to them not being used to save costs. Allied to this was the fact that China wanted to make higher added value out of manufacturing and now has robotics, and advanced materials, in its top ten industry list.
So the leather industry will have to change in China. Given its current size and strength, it will never revert to being a small industry but it will increasingly be serving one of the most advanced and significant consumer groups in the world. China leads in Internet buying and we heard at ACLE about the market just starting to open up for leisure time pursuits such as hill walking. Chinese middle class Millennials now have discretionary money to spend - but huge demands on that money because of the costs of housing in particular, but also health and education.
While the demands on the Chinese consumer sometimes look extreme, they are very similar to those the younger generations are facing all round the world. If we, as an industry, are going to succeed with the new generations of consumers then there is no better place to start than trying to understand the Chinese children born in the 80s.
6th September 2016
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