APLF was busy this year

Paul Pearson (right) from the UKLF with the University team at the Corium Club Party
Paul Pearson (right) from the UKLF with the University team at the Corium Club Party

Between a smaller than usual but very successful Corium Club Dinner and the start of a trip by Mark Wilkinson to Latin America this coming week, things have been busy in the world of the British School of Leather Technology.

APLF 2010 was always going to be interesting as the rapid dive into recession appears to have been followed by an equally quick recovery in most sectors. We heard in Shanghai last autumn that the Chinese consumer has much to do with this so Hong Kong is a good place to again check this and see what is happening elsewhere in Asia. For serious industry members, and there clearly has been some consolidation – clearing out of the riff-raff we were told by one our colleagues, trade fairs like Hong Kong have regained their importance after a few years of doubt.

So with hide prices rising to levels at which no trades had been done in finished leather the Fair was also going to be important as it is the moment when buyers from the big brands take private rooms or arrange off-site meetings to work through these matters with their major suppliers. By the end of the show it appeared that bovine tanners could only get about 75% of their needed price rise from the major brands but that those who sell final products that reach the Chinese consumer were able to get their asking price. The Chinese consumer is getting wealthier and consuming more as their family structure means that even at relatively low incomes the disposable percentage is much higher than in the west. And Asian consumers are fussy about the brands they buy. It is in the west we like the counterfeits they make.

Corium Club Hiccups

Dr Wilkinson visiting Joinland Tannery with the Master and Clerk of the Leathersellers Company
Dr Wilkinson visiting Joinland Tannery with the Master and Clerk of the Leathersellers Company

Sadly the Corium Club Reunion has to be classed as a failure. The shortened fair trapped it into the same night as the APLF Awards Cocktail Party and so the two were combined. This was totally unsuccessful and effectively the event was lost. It was a shame as this was to be the soft launch of the new Institute of Creative Leather Technologies, perhaps the most important event in leather education in the last fifty years – drowned out by a dreadful band and a poor sound system. The one thing we can be sure of is that it will never happen again as the essence of the Corium Club event is very well understood.

Otherwise the fair was a big success. With the exception of some not well articulated issues in India tanners seem busy and to be managing the raw prices well. Machinery and Chemical companies had seen the recovery start in the second half of 2009 and while some await a double dip recession they are all feeling better now. It was the first time at the fair we have had a significant group of students interested to spend time on our stand and work as ambassadors. As a consequence some actual recruitment took place – about as rare at a fair as a tannery taking an order, and the stand became the fulcrum for some excellent meetings. Issues from research in China to repairing upholstery in England were discussed and sometimes resolved.

The Master and new Clerk from the Guild of Leathersellers joined the BSLT team on some tannery visits in a rather cold Taiwan and the beautiful seashore Zhuhai. We were shown round by two alumni Richard Pai and George Huang. These impressive plants will be well known to many Corium Club members and friends as being typical of the large high quality plants which are now to be found throughout Asia. Those old multi-storey mills to be found in Europe and the USA built in the late 19th and early 20th century seem a long way away.

Mike Redwood

13 April 2010