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 www.mikeredwood.com) 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) (www.littlemistymusic.com/imf/new/trustees.html). 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

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