One experienced trader commented to theSauerReport following discussions with colleagues in the hide business who were complaining about the market situation. “Go and work in the ovine skin market for a while and then you will really see how bad the market is.”

If Lineapelle offered no obvious improvements for the bovine hide business, then it was more of the same misery for sheepskins and we now have many parts of the world which are simply throwing skins away as it is not economical to process them. Frankly, it’s a crazy situation when you have a perfectly useable by-product from another industry (meat) being discarded while at the same time more and more people are being marketed and sold plastic sneakers and our oceans and rivers are choking in non-biodegradable, fossil fuel derived, manmade materials. Materials that crack, peel or wear out after a relatively short period compared with most genuine leather uppers.

On this topic, another trader was surprised by the amount of non-leather footwear worn by visitors and indeed some exhibitors at the fair. “We are going through troublesome times. Business is bad, and it looks as if it is not going to get considerably better within the next 24 hours, 24 days or 24 weeks. Many reports are written, many forecasts are made, and many concerns are uttered. But what I am missing, what I never read and what I do not understand is that many of the people who are shedding tears are partly to blame themselves. Can somebody in his or her right mind explain to me why on one hand everybody claims that one of the major reasons for the bad situation we are having right now is the lack of business in the shoe industry, while on the other hand you see half of the people at trade fairs wearing the same type of sneakers which they blame for causing our current bad trade? If we are killing our own industry rather than promoting it who are we to cry?”

Marketing synthetic leather

Inside the textiles and synthetics hall (hall 9) at Lineapelle last week there were a number of exhibitors openly marketing products as “synthetic leather” or “pu leather”. What is worrying for many who have built their livelihoods around genuine leather is why UNIC (the Italian Tanners’ Association), who essentially organise Lineapelle, do not crack down on the misleading labelling by some exhibitors at a pro-leather industry fair? All the major international leather industry fairs are the same, so it would be wrong to single out Lineapelle, although this is a major showpiece fair for the leather industry and Italy is the world leader for fashion leather. Lineapelle is a trend-setter and is a leading showcase of what the industry can offer.

Nobody is suggesting that competing materials should not be allowed to exhibit, but at least a leather industry show run by important and influential elements of the industry should tighten up on misleading descriptions of what are really plastics often derived from fossil fuels.

Returning to the comments made above about the current state of the sheepskin business and the fact that nappa leather appears very much out of fashion. What worries many people in the leather business is what happens if the same thing starts happening more and more to end-uses for cattle hides (it is already beginning to happen in some places where the hides are of poor quality or heavily damaged).

Even if the number of globally available hides falls as the global kill reduces in the future, the difference with the current market situation and the usual cyclical supply and demand market is that ‘leather’ has lost its foothold in the low/medium and even higher end footwear upper segments to other materials. A market share that it seems unable to recover, despite much lower raw materials and therefore, finished leather prices.

Many tanners in Milan last week are probably very happy to have an abundant offer of raw materials at ever lower prices. But just imagine that as the millennial and generation-z consumers learn to live without leather in their products; then, the following generations may follow suit until leather becomes a niche material for some special items and then the majority of hides/skins are simply thrown away or are converted into another protein source…

Many people are waking up to the fact that the whole leather supply chain needs to put aside their personal business interests and work for the common shared good of the industry or it could face a gradual and terminal decline.

Lineapelle 95 was yet another wake-up call.

Martin Ricker, Content Director, International Leather Maker.