PR Aqeel Ahmed, chairman of India’s Council  for Leather Exports (CLE), said at a press conference to kick off the India International Leather Fair (IILF) in Chennai in early February that India predicts that up to 30% of total leather exports from China will be displaced in the near future by other exporting markets.

“India, given its natural strength in terms of skill, availability of raw material, technology innovation as well as huge cost advantage, is naturally positioned to cash in, which will in turn help the industry to export in a big way,” he said.

Given that the average labour cost in India is  $150 a month, as opposed to $450 a month in China, where labour costs have significantly increased over the past few years, it is a manufacturing flight that is upending the industry.

China’s 2017 ranking among world importers of footwear.
Source: World Footwear

However, if any country understands resilience it is China, and optimism, industry strength and innovation will all be on display at the 35th incarnation of APLF Leather and Materials+, held at the soaring Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, which commands sweeping views outside of Kowloon. The view on the inside, on the other hand, is more global and expansive, in a figurative sense. To crunch some numbers, and to no great surprise, 2019 began with lingering trade issues between the US and China still unresolved and tariff deadlines pushed to 1 March, despite an initial round of talks completed between respective trade representatives.

“Just as Chinese customers wanted delivery of hides before the previous potential tariffs on  1 January, they were looking for deliveries after the Chinese New Year but before 1 March,” commented Vera Dordick from Hidenet.

In the overall picture, despite the closing of numerous tanneries due to breaches of evolving environmental regulations, as well as labour costs, China imported 72.480 million kilograms of whole hides over 16kg for a value of $85.827 million in November 2018, an increase of 15% in volume  and 10% in value from the October totals.

Value of whole hides imported by China in November 2018.

“Of this total, hides from the US in this category accounted for 30.071 million kilograms, or 42% of the total, and the value of these hides was $41.261 million, for an average of $1.37/kg,” added Dordick.

And if space is anything to go by in terms of how this show is attended and valued, then it is reassuring to know that from next year, the leather space on Level 1 will move to Level 3 to accommodate more exhibitors. Visitors to the past couple of editions of APLF will remember that the main concourse had to double up as exhibitor spaces in addition to areas for Focus Country pavilions, trend areas and the Leather Naturally zone.

However, logistically, exhibitors will still feel the pinch of having to rush their materials and samples to Hong Kong so soon after Tanning Tech and Lineapelle in Milan in late February. This was the case last year, so hopefully people will have learned from the experience in order to make the process as smooth as possible.

The average labour cost per month in India compared with $450 a month in China.
India's Council of Leather Exports

Promoting sustainability

APLF organisers are putting increased effort into establishing the event as the pre-eminent sustainable ourcing platform in Asia-Pacific. A growing number of designers and brand development teams are desperately looking for sustainable products and materials producers, and to complement the aim of increasing sustainability and facilitating the location of suitable products for design and manufacturing purposes, a sustainable sourcing platform is required in Asia-Pacific, where most products are manufactured.

It stands to reason, therefore, that as the leading international raw materials fair in the region, APLF is ideally and strategically positioned to take the lead in enhancing the ability of China and the Asia-Pacific region to become the first sustainable supplier to the world. After all, there is mounting pressure to produce more environmentally conscious fashion in Asia due to international brands wanting to continue producing at the lowest cost possible, the growing middle class market, which is more brand-savvy, and increasing efforts aimed at making China a leader in domestic upcycling and recycling.

APLF is well positioned geographically to take the lead in this revolution by creating the best sustainable sourcing platform for, in particular, the leather, footwear and accessories sectors. To bring sustainable sourcing to the forefront, the following areas will be developed as part of the a special platform for Asia-Pacific: 

  • Sustainable Sourcing Platform: sustainable materials and products from the four APLF fairs will be on display in the APLF Materials+ hall on Level 3 to enhance the synergy between all four events.
  • Sustainable Fashion Conference: topics on sustainability will encompass materials, cashmere, leather goods and sustainable fashion in general, and will complement the Sustainability in the Leather Supply Chain Conference held in the afternoon of the same day.
  • APLF Materials+ Community: a programme of identification and recognition of sustainable exhibitors to enhance the APLF ‘Moving Toward Sustainability’ programme, and help promote those exhibitors to buyers.
  • Feel Green: a digital activation campaign to promote sustainable exhibitors at all APLF fairs and develop a green community for the industries served by APLF. 

“As the move towards sustainability grows and polluting fashion loses its place in the manufacturing and supply chain, then we are truly speaking about a fashion revolution,” organisers stated.