Rich potential - Leatherworld Middle East

11 May 2017

The third outing for Leatherworld Middle East attracted a somewhat diminished crowd but displayed the makings of a worthwhile addition to the luxury sector’s event calendar. Leather International reports from the Dubai show, which took place from 30 April to 2 May.

In terms of numbers, the third edition of Leatherworld Middle East (LWME), based in Dubai, took a bit of a hit from last year, with 2,221 visitors from 64 countries and a steep drop in exhibitor retention. But the immediate differences this year were the show’s reduced size and the fact that it had been moved from a prominent position in the main hall of the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre to its farthest recesses. Organiser Messe Frankfurt was able to make it look like a bustling, boutique event, however.

The broad consensus was that the show still needed to find its footing. This region is still all about finished products and big brands, so the companies that represented this end of the value chain were buoyed by the event. Take, for example, Corbeau from Cape Town, South Africa, which specialises in ostrich and crocodile bags and wallets. Its premium, finished products mesh well with the high standards of quality of this region, and CEO Llewellyn Whitfield said the show had been successful, as far as he was concerned. It’s “horses for courses” he said, summarising that the right product will only succeed at the right show.

On the other hand, Australia’s Boyle Industries, which specialises in hair-on rugs from Brazil, had difficulties finding retailers, and mostly had ‘tyre kickers’ visiting its stand. There were only a couple of regional tanneries, including Joudi International, which produces wet-blue from its facility in Baghdad; and Abu Dhabi-based Al Khaznah, a founding sponsor of the show and the Middle East’s only tanner of biodegradable, metal-free camel hides. While France had ten tanneries here in 2016, it fielded only three this year.

Yet sharing centre stage with Al Khaznah Tannery was Afriwest, a supplier of high-end leather and leather care products for the automotive and interior industries.

“The regional market is developing, and there’s more awareness of leather and its varied uses,” said an optimistic Anita Ahiadormey, business development manager at Afriwest General Trading. “There will be more avenues for revenue outside of the interior industries, which has been the main focus so far.”

Cultural dynamism

Despite strong international backing from the French Hides Association, the French Federation of Tanners, South African Footwear and Leather Export Council, the Indonesian Footwear Association, and the Egypt Expo and Convention Authority, the feeling was that there wasn’t enough overall support from stakeholders and exhibitors to sustain a dedicated leather industry trade show for raw materials, production and finished goods.

This is a very culturally dynamic show with high-quality products, but if the investment and market can’t support it in its current form, its days might be winding down, irrespective of a region that traded $2.9 billion-worth of leather goods, services, and materials in 2016.

As a result, the rumour mill was working overtime with talk that this was going to be the last LWME, and organisers were going to bolster its internationally established show for fabrics, trims and accessories – Texworld in Paris in September – with a new leather offering in a month already busy with Première Vision Paris and Lineapelle.

Still, the show had plenty of flash and awe, including a great unveiling of a women’s shoe collection on the first day in the Trend Forum. It was the focal point of the global launch of gold-embossed, diamond-encrusted pumps from Italian designer Antonio Vietri.

A Turin native, Vietri said the high-end heels could cost as much as €30,000, but the price includes delivery by helicopter. “My latest women’s collection also features silk pumps embossed with gold or silver and buyers can customise them with pearls, Swarovski crystals or diamonds,” he stated. “Gulf customers and retailers love luxury and this is something that they’ve never seen before.”

The potential exists for a successful dedicated leather show in the Middle East. According to Euromonitor International, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) last year imported $2.6-million worth of raw hides, skins, furs and leather articles like saddlery and harnesses, travel goods, handbags and wallets, apparel and accessories.

Exports were valued at $345 million. Also, the UAE was a key regional player, importing leather goods worth $1.2 billion in 2016, while exports added up to $263 million. Based on this, it’s understandable that Ahmed Pauwels, CEO of Messe Frankfurt Middle East, the organiser of LWME, said that the show was “the embodiment of luxury and exclusivity”, and this was “evident the moment one walks through the entrance”.

Look to luxury

Other high-end European tanneries were looking to further their presence in the Middle East market here, with Remy Carriat, Sovos Grosjean and Tanneries Du Puy making up the French contingent, and Italy’s Italhide returning for the second consecutive year, launching its 2018 exotic skin collection for shoes, bags, garments, and interior design.

“Italhide is looking to meet designers, architects or manufacturers that are after the finest quality of exotic leathers that have the best touches from an Italian tannery recognised as among the world’s best,” commented Silvio Rognoni, export manager for Italhide. “The company’s soft crocodile and unique wool pythonskins, as well as its diamond-dusted skins, will surprise everyone.

This year’s show also featured other key highlights such as the Shoe Box, a dedicated section for mid to high-end leather footwear, and the Fashion Avenue, where the UAE’s most talented designers from ESMOD Dubai presented their unique creative flair with an inspiring array of leather garments, bags and accessories. With so much to offer, and so much potential to work from, the show sounds like an automatic success on paper. But by any other measure, its fate hangs in the balance.

A more select gathering gave this year’s event the feel of a bustling, boutique event.
Companies dealing in premium finished products were particularly suited to this year’s show.
High-end shows are a natural fit for Dubai.
LWME has all the ingredients for a lucrative future; time will tell if the potential is eventually realised.

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