Despite the doldrums and tannery closures, a clutch of Turkish leather producers, both garment makers and tanners, are spearheading a survival movement. Istanbul-based Harmanli Deri were an early supporter of International Leather Days and their plush stand featured futuristic designer styles. Furthermore, they never lost sight of exceptional leather quality as a competitive tool. Most rivals rallied behind the Russian piper.

‘When quasi-legal Russian trade faded, our market share increased dramatically’, Harmanli’s CEO, Ersin Ozgumus noted.

Harmanli turn out approximately 40,000 high-end women’s doubleface jackets, fur trims and washable lambskin for their 700 global customers. All production is exported to upscale customers in Denmark, Estonia, Japan, Slovakia and Slovenia. Obsession with quality, as far back as 1991, has accounted for much of their success and enabled them to crack tough markets. Harmanli now ride the crest of Russia’s ‘fashonista’ wave but plan a push to fashion pinnacles like Paris and Madrid.

Leathers come finished from Italy and Spain. The back office ‘weapon’ here is plentiful stocks – about two million square feet of ready to cut/stitch leather is always on hand for ‘pronto’ customers. Every item is bar coded with precise origins, date received, colour and size. Integration with suppliers, in-house CAD pattern grading and persistent quality control are rigorous concepts. To this end, some labour intensive processes are retained. The firm employ about 200 people. Turnover is about $15-20 million but new lines are expected to swell this to €15 million.

After thirteen years of growth that relied on a single product, the key to the future is diversification. Exquisite evening bags manufactured in Italy in calf and exotic skins have made their debut. In 2006, ladies’ high-end shoes (fashioned in Romania) will come on stream. Men’s items are being market-tested.

A skillful sales tactic has been an off-season, ultra lightweight lambskin ‘Milan’ collection that captivated fashion-savvy Milanese buyers. Harmanli cites copying (most blatantly by an EU neighbour) as the firm’s number one dilemma. They are evaluating chip technology or digital labelling to minimise intellectual property violations.

It is no exaggeration to state that Harmanli are one of Türkiye’s most proficient and talented leather producers. And will continue to be a hallmark of excellence and style in Turkish leather.