Behind this seems to be a trend that is catching markets and tanners out. The tradition in countries such as Japan, all the way through to some of the former Soviet countries and now in the EU, was for both men and women to buy a classic leather jacket at the start of the winter. This is a routine that appears to be ending as quilted, padded or puffer textile items take their place. In those European countries where traditional purchasing is clinging on with the Zara brands switching to plastic, leather is still losing its place.

Countries like India are getting squeezed

The very top end is returning to be tanned and made up in Europe as imported prices increase and shorter, more transparent supply lines are preferred. Yet, at the same time, the middle volumes are being lost to alternate materials. Consequently, it looks like the loss of both top and middle priced garments from some countries such as India is creating a vacuum as they cannot, and should not, drop prices to meet the low prices coming out of other origins.

Some European stores like Marks and Spencer retain neat looking leather items at fair prices, but in quite a number of cases hedge their “risk” by also stocking a similar “faux leather” article at about 20% of the genuine leather price.

The battle lines are certainly drawn in this area for our small skins industry. The problems we heard about selling raw sheepskins during the ACLE in Shanghai earlier this year are no more than a reflection of an incredibly difficult market.

It looks like it is time for an assault at every level. Replacing leather with plastic makes no sense whatsoever. That is an argument that needs to be shouted loud to brands and retailers not only about plastic copies of leather, but also about synthetic textile coats that discard plastic particles every time they are washed. Retailers that tell us they have “no plan B” need to find a better narrative for their “plan A”, and as tanners we have to help them.

Are we happy making only classic leathers in terms of both aesthetics and performance? How much have we tried to up our game and fit the true market requirements? Have we really tried to consider modern consumer attitudes? Millennials have been such an easy bracket to put all young people in but are we really accepting that in this fast moving world – geopolitically, financially, technologically – younger millennials are identical to older ones. Retailers might think they are, but in developing new leathers tanners should not. There is a huge difference between the under and lower 30s, and other segments exist. We need to be offering designers more to work with: more that builds on all the positives we want to reinforce about leather.

An asset not a liability

In the women’s sector, the luxury brands are also suggesting full length trench coats but certainly in the UK the everyday must-have coat for the young, and quite a few older, consumers is a copy in bright PVC being offered at around US$100. It might look good on Instagram, but once that moment is past the consumer is owning a liability. Leather offers a long lasting asset instead.

Dr Mike Redwood

November 7, 2018

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter@michaelredwood

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