The nature of luxury sheepskin

Worldwide
Published:  11 March, 2021

At Bowron Sheepskins we are proud of our 100 year history as international brand. Arriving in the new colony of New Zealand, two brothers, George and William Bowron, master tanners of Yorkshire, started a new life and a journey to realise their personal dream – to start a tannery of their own.

Bowron Brothers Tannery was established in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1879. It was engaged in fellmongering and pickling sheepskins and lambskins for export to the UK and tanning cattle hide leathers for the local trade.

George Bowron, one of the founding brothers, was a prominent Christchurch and New Zealand businessman, active in negotiations with workers’ unions and with the local and central governments of the day. He was involved in setting up the Canterbury Employers’ Association in 1890 and served on its executive board from 1890 until 1910. He initiated the founding of the New Zealand Tanners Association in 1906 and was its President from 1906 until 1911. G L Bowron continued as a small tannery through the depression years, remaining in the Bowron family ownership. In 1928, George’s sons F L Bowron and S G Bowron took up management.

After World War II, the immediate post-war years, woolly sheepskins were produced for floor coverings and for making into sheepskin slipper footwear. Employee numbers were 30 – 40 at that time. The company dabbled in many types of leather. Chamois leathers and skivers for shoe linings were produced from pickled sheepskins. Deerskins, kangaroo, pigskins and light cattle hides were tried at various times in an endeavour to find the best way forward. Gradually, the company specialised in fashion leathers for the footwear industry whilst maintaining its production of sheepskins for footwear. It became the market leader in high quality calfskins for women’s shoe uppers and lining leathers made from imported raw materials. The company continued to be focused on the premium quality end of the market.

This focus on high quality required investment in technology, the need to be innovative and to be at the leading edge of process development. New methods were developed for the preservation of calfskins and the early stages of processing to ensure consistently high-quality products.

In 1988, G L Bowron was acquired by a the luxury bedding company Maruhachi Mawata of Japan. High quality lambskins for the production of luxury woolskin bed underlays (‘Furtons”) were a critical supply line for their business. The policy was for G L Bowron to continue to operate autonomously, supplying its traditional markets and to increase supply on an arm’s length basis to Maruhachi Mawata to support the rapidly growing underlay market in Japan.

For the next decade (the 90’s), development of products and markets continued. The stable and supportive ownership provided by Maruhachi Mawata gave confidence that the inevitable ups and downs of the various markets the company was active in could be managed. Maruhachi Mawata’s own business in woolskin underlays was growing well.
Years of excellent growth and development in the international market saw exports rise to 95% of total sales. Products for the Japanese bedding markets were sewn in Thailand and Vietnam, where sheepskin sewing plants had been established. Sales of high quality bedding products in Japan were doing well.

In the late 1990s, G L Bowron was the largest woolskin tannery in the world. It had access to the world’s best quality raw material supplies (from Australia and New Zealand). It maintained its leading position through continued investment in research, developing leading edge processes that kept its quality and productivity ahead of its worldwide competitors. Its process development had concentrated on maximum recycling to reduce the environmental impact of its activity.

In 2009, Akira Saito was appointed as CEO and remained as managing director until 2017, when the company was sold to present owners Rich Developments Ltd, part of the Henan Prosper Group.

Carl Alsweiller took the leadership role in 2017. The role G L Bowron currently serves is a purchasing and tanning facility to Henan Prosper Group. However, the target for G L Bowron is much higher than it has even been. Since Henan Prosper & Colomer Munmany Group has been in control of Bowron, it has been looking to develop the name of G L Bowron into a luxury homecare brand in China and abroad.

Drawing from the expertise it has accumulated throughout the history of G L Bowron, the plan is to build a luxury brand that focuses on contemporary interior design and classical luxury of leather and sheepskin products. The product line will range from items that are traditional to G L Bowron, such as sheepskin rugs, pillows and carpets. In addition, hide and nappa based products will also be added to provide more depth to the G L Bowron name. Michael Lyu says: “Looking back at G L Bowron’s long history, the story is something that is really interesting. It is only right that we develop the brand to its full potential; it can be one of the best brands in the luxury interior market.”

*This article is an advertorial provided by Henan Prosper.