Leather International: For this edition of Leatherworld Middle East, what kind of momentum did you create after last year’s show and how have you built upon it to make this year bigger and better?

Ahmed Pauwels: During Leatherworld Middle East 2015, we were able to gauge the regional leather industry and the underlying factors that make it tick. The aim was, and still is, to create a show that spans the entire value chain of the leather industry, from the tanneries that prepare the semi-finished and finished leather hide, and to the machinery and chemical suppliers that treat the leather, right through to the manufacturer of the end product and the designer behind it.

What was interesting at Leatherworld Middle East 2015 was the varied visitor types that the show attracted, which accurately reflected what exhibitors were looking for – from regional leather manufacturers looking for suppliers of hides, machinery and chemicals, to retailers and distributors, and especially a lot of designers, whether for interiors, furniture or fashion, which was really interesting.

There are only a handful of high-quality leather exhibitions around the world, and our long-term goal for Leatherworld Middle East is to be among this group.

Looking ahead to Leatherworld Middle East 2016, it’s not necessarily a matter of making the show better as such, but building on what we’ve already established. A measure of success in a trade show is not just building on existing markets, but creating entirely new ones through new ideas and innovation that are a spin-off of bringing tanneries, suppliers, designers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers together from around the world under one roof.

You mentioned that one of the biggest challenges was to get the Italian and French fashion associations involved. Now that they are, and big names like Dani are returning and Conceria Superior is coming for the first time, what is the long-term plan for Leatherworld Middle East? Where do you see the show in five years?

There are only a handful of high-quality leather exhibitions around the world, and our long-term goal for Leatherworld Middle East is to be among this group. Our vision is to be an incubator of innovations and to present a knowledge-sharing platform that will be the focal point of the region’s leather industry growth.

We’re seeing Turkey struggle right now as Russian sanctions cripple its leather industry and, last November, IDF paled in comparison with the 2014 edition. Are there similar geopolitical struggles or problems that the GCC is facing that will challenge Leatherworld Middle East’s growth?

There are geopolitical and macro-economic pressures that are presenting challenges across all industries, not just the leather industry. Having said that, the GCC region has always been a haven of economic stability in the wider Middle East region, and we can now add Iran to the mix following the lifting of economic sanctions earlier this year.

Is the Middle East still overlooked as a region compared with China, Europe and India? What are its unique strengths that warrant a show of Leatherworld Middle East’s profile? How can the Middle East compete on a global scale in terms of raw materials, cutting-edge tannery technology and finished leather products?

I don’t think the Middle East is overlooked at all as a growth market – to the contrary, it should be firmly in the sights of international leather players as China scrambles to stimulate a slowing economy, and the eurozone battles with deflation and stagnant growth.

The first thing that stood out when entering the halls at Leatherworld Middle East last year was the melting pot of languages, dialects and accents spoken in front of such an impressive and varied leather landscape. This is reflective of Dubai’s strategic location as the focal point where the East meets West, connecting Europe with The Middle East, Africa and Asia – therein lies Leatherworld Middle East’s unique strength.

We had a lot of Middle East visitors come out of the woodwork that were absolutely delighted to hear of a leather show in their region, saving them a lot of time and money travelling to other international shows, while our feedback from European exhibitors in particular was that this was the first time they had direct access to GCC buyers, which was a big deal for them.

The Middle East also doesn’t need to compete in terms of raw materials, cutting-edge tannery technology, finished leather products and so on. Rather, the region can enhance this on a global scale. The UAE is already home to some of the world’s most technologically advanced tanneries, such as Al Khaznah Tannery, which is one of the few that recycles its water in production, and also uses no chemicals in preserving the hides, thereby producing skins that are 100% biodegradable, yet ultra-versatile.

What ongoing PR mission does Leatherworld Middle East have in terms of maintaining and attracting visitors and exhibitors?
We’re creating value for our exhibitors and visitors: value in terms of bringing suppliers and buyers together under one roof, and value in terms of presenting a platform that showcases the latest trends and developments of the global and regional leather industry.

The calendar is already bursting with leather fairs and expos. What are people saying about how another fair, like this one in Dubai, can be justified when people have to fly themselves and their products to yet another international destination? Are the logistical complexities worth the benefits when more attention is focused on Lineapelle/Tanning Tech, APLF and ACLE? What is the business case for Leatherworld Middle East?

Dubai hosts more than 500 events spanning almost every conceivable industry, and attracts nearly 2.5 million trade visitors every year. Evidently, the prospects of doing business in the Middle East and Africa region far outweigh any logistical challenge that may come with exhibiting at one of these exhibitions.

Dubai acts as a crossroads between international leather suppliers and manufacturers, and Middle East, African and Asian buyers. Leatherworld Middle East cuts out the travel to dozens of destinations across three different continents to meet potential business partners. Instead, exhibitors can meet them all at the same time over three days under one roof in one of the most commerce-friendly environments in the world.

For many exhibitors, the Middle East is an unexplored market that they’ve, up till now, had difficulty getting access to. Leatherworld Middle East offers them greater exposure in this new and developing market, while regional buyers can gain a better understanding of the viable options for leather sourcing in the local market.

In addition to added exhibitors, what other features will add dimension to the show, like the Trend Area and the Shoe Box?

Leatherworld Middle East 2016 will return with all the popular features of the inaugural show, headed by the Trend Zone, which will again take centre stage, showcasing leather colours, textures, types, design innovations and eco-leather.

Other features include The Leather Production Zone featuring tanneries and leather dealers from France, Italy, Germany, and Spain, while The Fashion Avenue and The Shoe Box are dedicated sections entirely for footwear and fashion items respectively.

The Designers’ Area will also put the spotlight on some of the region’s most promising up-and-coming fashion design talent. We’ve partnered again with ESMOD Dubai, a French school and one of the world’s leading fashion design institutes. ESMOD will showcase its top students’ garments crafted using leather supplied by Leatherworld Middle East 2016 exhibitors.

Other new areas include The Leather Production Zone, featuring tanneries and leather dealers from France, Italy, Germany and Spain, while The Fashion Avenue and The Shoe Box are dedicated sections entirely for footwear and fashion items respectively.

Lineapelle and Tanning Tech at the end of February were deemed relative successes, despite stumbling hide and oil prices, changing consumer attitudes and tightening regulations, for example, which signals a possible turnaround for the rest of the year. Can you gauge the mood of the industry in the Middle East and what do you think is the best possible outcome of this year’s Leatherworld Middle East?

The mood is a mixture of excitement and expectation. This year, we have exhibitors from all over the world, from Italy, Spain and Germany, to Turkey, Thailand, Iran, and even as far away as Trinidad and Tobago, and Colombia. Many are new to the market and eager to test the waters, while some, such as Al Khaznah, have been around for many years and are keen to grow their business interests, not only in the Middle East, but further afield. If Leatherworld Middle East can go some way to meet these expectations, then we’ll have another strong building block to add to the show’s foundation.