The Asia-Pacific Leather Fair (APLF) Materials, Manufacturing & Technology (MM&T) is now in its 32nd year, despite 2015 being the 31st edition, and is still considered "the meeting place for the global leather industry", according to its own press.


The pace of the first day was very high, and the gridlock in the show itself was testament to an overall sense of enthusiasm and potential. Away from the rush, however, APLF directors Paul Batigneand, Perrine Ardouin and Michael Duck, whose left arm was in a sling from a tennis injury and his voice strained from celebrating the Hong Kong 7s the night before, began the ceremonies with a press conference to welcome everyone, and illustrate how APLF has had to navigate favourable and challenging economic cycles. Yet, it has proven its resilience by continuing to attract the world’s leading tanneries.


"The fact that APLF is held in Asia’s business hub of Hong Kong, right next door to Mainland China and its booming economic development, has also consolidated its lead and reputation as the place to do business in the leather industry," says Duck.


Hot ticket

Also featured was Frank Boehly, president of the Conseil National du Cuir (CNC), who was there to describe the state of the French leather industry. As the focus country this year, for the first time in 15 years, France boasts some impressive statistics including 8,000 leather businesses employing 70,000 people to produce an annual turnover of €15 billion.


France is also the world’s biggest producer of finished calf and exotic leather, the biggest breeder of bovine hides in Europe and third largest for exports in the world.

"The pace of the first day was very high, and the gridlock in the show itself was testament to an overall sense of enthusiasm and potential."

Boehly also discussed a programme called ‘Beyond Leather’ – or Au Dela du Cuir – created by the CNC to raise the profile of leather and promote the creation of new businesses. The CNC and the Fédération de la Chaussure [Footwear Federation] helped set up the Beyond Leather association as a cross-disciplinary programme to stimulate burgeoning talent in leather craftsmanship and creativity in France.


Boehly then led the ceremonies to open the pavilion located on the concourse outside the main hall – an APLF first. Following the high-spirited Champagne reception (at 10:45am) in its showcase ‘Galerie’, PrimeAsia CEO Jon Clark gave a talk on ‘Beyond Trends’, which centred on adjusting to the steep rise in labour costs, and leaving no margin for error when it comes to quality and adhering to increasing regulations. He says that there’s been a 50% increase in labour costs across the business and that PrimeAsia strives to mitigate as much risk before a new line of products is made.


Natural attraction

Leather Naturally‘s Mike Redwood spoke on the industry’s collective responsibility to use correct terminology in leather. ‘Weasel words’ and ‘green wash’ are obfuscating the industry, and doing a great disservice to the advancement and protection of leather. And they’re not just coming from outside and pressure groups. Even within the industry, people are using wrong or outdated terminology (heavy metal, toxic, organic, sustainable or biodegradable, for example), so it’s the collective responsibility of everyone to do their homework.


A confused consumer is a triumph for pressure groups against leather, Redwood said. And despite incredible improvements in leather, especially in automotive, footwear is in increased competition with plastics, fabrics and textiles, and the vegan-leather campaign must be more heavily scrutinised as it deliberately confuses the consumer.

The morning after

On the second day, Leather International heard a talk from Mark Mangheli, senior director of materials sourcing, footwear, Adidas Group, about how the iconic brand is focusing more on lifestyle rather than performance products, and cementing itself as a ‘fast fashion’ brand.


Despite the shift, the underlying drive comes out of the group’s definition of sustainability, detailed in four components: product (types of materials used and waste analysis); planet (environmental impact and life-cycle approach based on the Higg Index); people (strategies to engage, retain and attract talent); and partnerships (aligning with organisations like Leather Naturally and the Leather Working Group).


One for the road

The third day of the event saw a lot of last-minute business meetings take place amid the clatter of stands being dissembled. During the wrap-up press conference, there was talk of Turkey being the focus country for 2016, but at press time, nothing has been confirmed yet.


Overall, feedback was good, but some people in the massive halls expressed hesitation to make any commitments due to high hide prices, and some sellers, on the other hand, were disappointment with lacklustre sales.


Despite that, there was an overall high standard of visitors, and France especially expressed good visibility and traffic to its pavilion, which bodes well for whichever country is the focus country next year. Turkey or not, this is the proven real estate to set up shop.