It is a show that has swept past its 30-year anniversary being first used to give a worried industry access to Asia and China at a moment of extreme fear and ignorance through to the time when it was going to die at the hands of a determined Shanghai fair. What it has shown is that the leather industry is truly global. The U.S. still gives us the best volume of highly consistent quality hides, the Italians never gave up making large quantities of beautiful leather, and, to counterbalance Asia, Brazil has developed a big industry that is as confusing as its politics with some of the best marketing which cannot be overlooked. China moves from maker to consumer and all the world wants a part in it, not least Africa which looks like it may be on the rise.

Out of all this, Hong Kong remains the crossroads where traders, tanners, cobblers, saddlers and peddlers still meet up to find out what is going on. So far this year we have not learned too much, other than more of the same. Trade continues for many at a mediocre disappointing level, raw material quality appears to continue to erode and even the historic bright spots in the market are looking less certain. Perhaps not quite life and death, but out of these small tremors tsunamis are made.

Leather is better than plastic, but no one has told consumers

The market came down from its high a little while ago and leather has not regained the strength in one sector after another that it has been used to. We are reminded that unlike even 34 years ago when APLF began there is no not one market segment where leather has a monopolistic position. The consumer has a choice, and a much bigger and better variety of options than ever before. We know that leather is better than plastic, but no one has told consumers.

When we began Leather Naturally this was foreseen. The attacks being made on leather were not being made because someone wanted leather to fail and leave a void in one market after another. It was because they had alternates to fill it and, like so much of business, modern ethics matter little in the battle for profit and market share.

When we fought to get Leather Naturally started a few years ago we were told time and again that marketing leather was wrong, that it would only raise the price and narrow the margins because the supply was inelastic. It was a flawed argument then and it is a flawed argument now. The leather market is weak because we have not been speaking to our customers, and to their customers while others have been shouting.

So, while you are in Hong Kong next week, be sure to attend the Leather Naturally breakfast on Thursday and help us do the shouting for the industry. It may be late, but there is still time (March 15, 9am -10.30am, Room N206-208). Click here for more detail.

Oh, and when talking about ethics, the leather industry has not lost its ethics. Quite the reverse. We promote responsibly made leather and want to push all of industry into that corner. While we do so we will shout about leather with claims that are honest and supportable.

Dr Mike Redwood

March 5, 2018

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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