More than 80 people from all parts of the leather industry supply chain supported the BLC event in Hong Kong which preceded APLF. The key presentations related to the important issues in the leathergoods supply chain: mould, fakes, where to produce – China or India – and meeting RSL requirements.

In the morning session, Dr Victoria Addy, BLC Leather Technology Centre Ltd, spoke about the effect of heat and humidity on leather and leather products. Many leather products are being manufactured in tropical climate areas (South China, India, South East Asia) and the heat and humid atmosphere have many adverse effects on leather.

Dr Addy explained that leathergoods in transit from humid conditions can become mouldy, experience colour migration, become spued, metallic parts can corrode and finish adhesion issues can arise.

In order to prevent such problems the leathergoods producers should ensure their goods are chemically protected against mould, packed so that the leather is not excessively damp and ensure that the packaging can breath – so that excess moisture cannot build up and create the perfect conditions for mould.

Mould control through the use of leather aftercare products was the subject for André Hofer, Multimaster Uniters Group, one of the conference sponsors. Mr Hofer supported the points made by Dr Addy. His presentation focused on the history of mould and its treatment. Leathermaster (a division of Multimaster Uniters Group) are able to supply materials than can prevent mould and also assist in removing mould from articles that have become mouldy.

Anti-counterfeiting and supply chain investigations in the PRC were dealt with by Adrian Charles, Joseph Lee & Associates. Counterfeiting is always an interesting topic – especially when one links it to the large Asian markets, the source of many counterfeit products.

Adrian Charles opened his presentation with the statement: ‘Counterfeit product in the marketplace is good for brand exposure’ (source Pentland Group). This was followed up with the challenge: ‘A Trademark is only worth the same amount of money that you are prepared to spend in order to protect it’.

The scale of production in Asia can be ‘mind-boggling’ and the scale of counterfeiting can be just as amazing. Between June and October 2006 in Hamburg, Antwerp Bremerhaven and Croatia over 190 containers were detained containing footwear from several well known sportswear brands. Some useful guidance as to how and when to intervene were given.

A simple piece of advice was to know your supply chain very well, who is making product for you? Who are his suppliers? Carry out some due diligence before the issue of counterfeiting becomes real. If you cannot trust them, then counterfeiting may well occur.

When seeking solutions, as well as using experienced personnel, some advice was given, one quirky suggestion was to ask the counterfeiters competitors for help! They may willingly offer useful advice to damage their competitor. The internet and government sources can also be useful. Although a word of warning: when investigating counterfeiting organisations, be protected by military personnel, which seemed good advice.

India and China – The reality beyond the hype was tackled by Tony Cotterell, Deloitte. This presentation was a lively background to the issues relating to the development of China and India. Clearly both are important economies in the leather making market and different forces are at work in each place. Tony has agreed to submit a longer article on his presentation for a later issue.

Managing the Supply Chain, by Barry Wood, BLC, was a simple presentation with a simple message. Know the supply and through good communication keep it under control. Today’s chain is managed in different time zones, in different languages and more than ever with people who have limited or no knowledge of the product ‘leather’.

The case was made for clearly specifying what product one wants, ensuring a specification exists and then keeping to it. There were some rather unnerving anecdotes put in front of the audience, eg ‘We have $250,000 worth of re-makes per month’ and ‘Head office issued us with specifications – but we cannot meet them – so made our own!’. These types of issues are all too common and Barry made the point that at least it keeps him in business.

Container movement worldwide was explained by Roger Winkworth, JAG-UFS Group, another conference sponsor. JAG-UFS Group specialise in containerisation issues. Roger gave a practical hands on lecture relating to the simple issues of how to manage containerisation of goods. He picked up on some of the issues presented earlier and supported the idea of audit and checking that everything was to specification.

When it came to mould prevention, there were some simple tips, make sure the container is dry. The floor is often made of wood and it is important that this is dry. The moisture level should be <14%. Ensure the ventilation is open and working so that air is not trapped and so create a micro-climate. The use of corrugated cardboard on both the floor and the top of the goods acts as a water absorber and can assist with mould prevention.

We will be reporting further on the conference in later editions.