From past to present in one easy move

Sadly I will miss another SLTC Council Meeting in Northampton on Wednesday as after my accident and back operation I am still strictly limited in how much I can travel and how many hours I am allowed on my feet. Hopefully back in full action soon.

Tuscan Tanners design with leather
Tuscan Tanners design with leather

I did make one quick trip to Northampton last week with special permission from the surgeon – who ever imagined you would be submitting your travel plan to a surgeon and seeking approval of all the dates in your diary – in order to meet with a US shoe maker. It was exciting to be able to show them the changes in the last year in the BSLT tannery and to discuss the further refurbishment planned. Even some of the staff who have been with us longest are finding it hard to credit after some 30 years of, well, zero. But now there is certainly a buzz about the place when you go in and a credible dynamic which makes each trip more enjoyable. So if you are in the area do make a point to visit and of course as the centenary continues the July weekend would make a good occasion to stop by. The new staff all appear well integrated and adding to the development very positively. A few years ago it would be very hard to describe the BSLT as either “exciting” or “dynamic”. “Venerable” and “traditional” would have been the best you could have gone to.

Back to business in Bologna

Open spaces in the Trend section
Open spaces in the Trend section

Lineapelle was good but certainly could not be called “exciting” or “dynamic”, and it is not quite old enough to be venerable or traditional either. I understand it was very quiet on the first and last days and at its busiest during the four hours of the middle day that I was allowed on my feet. Even then it was quieter than I ever remember as the photo shows. Travel budgets are being curtailed so no time is being wasted, albeit this means a lot of slack time for exhibitors. Nevertheless all the main brands and buyers were there, including what we might call the BSLT mafia from Coach, and most of the major tanners had a lot of traffic.

After APLF in Hong Kong it was the Chinese tanners who were happiest as the orders for footwear came in but now the Indian tanners have started to see their orders arrive. Footwear and leathergoods are the strong sectors now and even some of the Europeans are doing OK. Everyone is 20% down and you can always find misery just below the surface but generally things have stabilised with a few positive elements here and there.

Getting serious about #BrandLeather

Key now is for the industry to retain the integrity of #BrandLeather and not let the consumer get confused by false representation or poor value for money. Leather has a real chance to increase its market share while prices are low and no reason to play games with quality or the value of Brand Leather. And if you think Brand Leather does not need defending in all its aspects just read this:

Driving Hell for Leather by James May (20 Apr 2009)

So where is the ICT or the UKLF or COTANCE fighting for the integrity of our product? Someone will have to start doing it. In just the last few months leather has been blamed for everything from toxic furniture to methane producing climate changing cows, quite forgetting synthetic producers whose marketing claims skirt on the illegal and tanners who still make leather like plastic instead of the fine product it should be. Some mention was made of this at APLF in Hong Kong and let us hope it is followed up.


26th September 2009, SLTC Conference, Redwood Hotel, Bristol

Mike Redwood

28 April 2009

Spring in Hong Kong

PLF was again a successful show, although with the world economic meltdown continuing expectations were not too high. They were high,though, for the centenary of leather Corium Club event and there is no doubt that this was the must attend event of the fair and enjoyed by all. Holding to its tradition of balanced informality and leaving time for those who want to make their dinner appointment the party added a small fashion show from the UON Fashion School, demonstrating that leather in Northampton has become properly integrated into across campus thinking rather than an elite ivory tower declining in the sunset of leaky wooden drums. And of course this latter aspect is now very much history and the updated tannery is already working much better for teaching and training with its sleek modern stainless steel and polypropylene drums.

The fair itself was not celebrating 100 years but still a mighty 25, during which the trade and the show has changed a great deal. The Fair remains dynamic and vibrant, but has new additions alongside with MM&T, Prime Source, Fashion Access and the popular seminars. In discussing the last 25 years some interesting figures were presented on the changes in trade over the period:

More People:

  • 1984 – the global population was approx 4.5 billion
  • 2007 – the global population was approx 6.6 billion

More Shoes:

  • 1984 – global footwear production approx 8 billion pairs
  • 2007 – global footwear production approx 15 – 16 billion pairs

More Finished Leather:

  • 1984 – top producers of bovine finished leather were India, Argentina, Brazil, France & Pakistan
  • 2007 – top producers of finished leather (all sorts) in order were China, Italy, Brazil, Russia, Korea & India

More Raw Material:

  • 1984 – 12.5 billion ft2
  • 2007 – 23 billion ft2

More Raw Material – More Locations:

  • 1984 – approx 40% from the developing world
  • 2007 – approx 60% from the developing world

No one pretends that the 25th APLF was a huge turning point for the leather trade but as we wait for reports there is no doubt that we are learning to live with the issues and starting to see some positives. The leather industry was badly caught out by the speed of the decline with hide dealers and chemical companies being hit very fast at the end of last year as tanneries stopped buying and indeed tried to start returning goods. Difficult for chemical companies who almost universally had just managed to raise prices after many years of trying to recover some of the costs of rising raw material and energy costs, and also for those hide producers who had given up their salting capability and had no where to put unsalable raw hides. And regardless of trade everyone wanted to reduce inventory.

Most of the things I said in Chennai in February (download or read my talk from the link on the front page at seem to be working out; not least the $1 trillion reduction in US consumer spending as the US consumer returns to saving before spending rather than borrowing to spend. Yet there are pointers to some security and growth. Hides are trading again, people are buying small indulgences which increasingly involve leather, and a return to more formal clothing suited to the economic times has helped the footwear industry.

Bob and Diana Higham
Bob and Diana Higham

The End of the Long March

Back in the UK Bob Higham (Leathersellers 1959) dropped by on the last leg of his long walk from the tip of Scotland to the south west of England – five days to complete Lands End to the The Lizard. I have mentioned this every year since these writings began and he and his colleague Clive were well down into the South West of England at that time so it just reminds us that they have been at this for years to support Bob’s Indian charities (part of which reside in an old tanning area in Chennai) ( Bob is pictured with his wife Diana as they set off for their base on The Lizard where all of Bob’s extended family will be joining them during the week to celebrate the successful end to a wonderful venture. Many congratulations.

5th April 2009