The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) estimated its leather trade to be valued at just over $4 billion in 2014 with large-scale tanneries, manufacturers and designers expressing increasing interest in the regional market.


The inaugural Leatherworld Middle East was a boutique-style fair, in comparison to Lineapelle, APLF and ACLE, and that came as a surprise to no one. Organiser Messe Frankfurt Middle East envisioned it that way with an intimate gathering of companies to help raise the profile of hides, machinery, leather products and accessories in this expanding market.


Running for three days, the fair began as the GCC figures were released by Euromonitor International (EMI), further illustrating that this is a leather manufacturing hub that warrants the attention of other big markets around the world.


This was good news to many top international tanneries at Leatherworld Middle East’s dedicated leather production area, where Abu-Dabhi-based Al Khaznah Tannery was front and centre among 15 French and eight Italian tanneries making their first inroads into the Middle East. Among these was exotic leather tanner Faggioli, with its new collection of hand-painted python skins.


Support network

With support from a founding sponsor, Al Khaznah Tannery, which specialises in 100% biodegradable metal-free camel hides, official show supporter ESMOD Dubai, the French Federation of Tanners, the French Skins and Hides Syndicate, and the National Tanning Industry Union from Italy, Leatherworld Middle East had the backing to succeed as the region’s first and only dedicated trade event covering the entire value chain of the global leather industry.


The ‘Trend Area’ at the centre of the exhibition floor is a show highlight, where innovative leather products were displayed, from 100% biodegradable camel hide, from Al Khaznah, to leather clutches with built-in power packs that recharge smart phones. Other big names in the ‘Fashion Avenue’ are Smith and Canova from the UK, and Anna Bags from the US.


Meanwhile, the ‘Designers’ Area’ was headlined by Swiss designer Martina Wyss and UK brand Kausar, which is introducing a range of handbags inspired by Islamic art.


When the final day concluded, the overall trade-visitor numbers were 2,439 from 44 countries, which reinforced notions of an upbeat market, and Messe Frankfurt Middle East is further motivated to make this among the world’s top-ten leather trade shows.


"Our presence here is very important because it helps us to interact with a mix of international and local companies under one roof, which enables the exchange of ideas and experience, and ultimately helps us to come up with a leather product that benefits all consumers," commented Mohammed Al Mansoori, general manager of Al Khaznah.


Andreas Lehne, Al Khaznah operations manager, who worked with the 2014 Global Tannery of the Year Wollsdorf Leather, was also optimistic about the longevity of the fair, and a growing, global demand for their 100% biodegradable wet-white camel hides.


"You don’t get as much consistency with the grain on cattle hides as you do with camel," he says. "The grain is more compact all over the hide, rather than the looseness that cattle can have. It doesn’t look good and, on the camel, you can hardly see any. That really impressed me." Yet, camel hide has a PR mission on its hands to get it more in the global leather vernacular. "There’s much more we can do about this," he adds.


One to watch: Al Khaznah Tannery

The showcase of the three-day fair was Al Khaznah’s display of its biodegradable and metal-free camel-hide operation, based in Abu Dhabi.


Al Khaznah uses only natural ingredients to treat its high-end range of camel leather, which has about ten times the fibre structure of cow hides, and is one of the few tanneries worldwide equipped to recycle up to 80% of water required in production.


Owned by the Abu Dhabi Government, Al Khaznah produces about 4.2 million square feet of camel leather annually, and counts leading international fashion houses, designers, airlines, footwear and accessories manufacturers among its clientele. Regular customers include designer shoe manufacturer Pierre Corthay, luxury watchmaker Roger Dubuis, architect Philippe Starck, and superyacht designers Cyrille Bieri and Gulf Craft.


With the fair behind them now, Al Khaznah Tannery is looking to capitalise on partnerships made, and grow its export markets.


One on one: Ahmed Pauwels

As the second day of Leatherworld Middle East began, Leather International sat down with Ahmed Pauwels, CEO of Messe Frankfurt Middle East, to get some insight on the show so far, expectations for the remaining days and plans for the future.


Leather International: What are your thoughts on how the opening day went and what kind of pace did it set for the next two days?
Ahmed Pauwels:
It was good. We expected 700 visitors and we reached 760, and of course it’s not just the quantity that we aim to achieve. We aim to have 2,000 visitors over the three days so we’re on course, and the exhibitors are very happy with the quality of the visitors as well. Big orders have been made already, so there’s a good business buzz.


Do you expect a similar amount of traffic and success today?
I hope so. We’d like to get 800 today and 500 on the last day.


You’re in the midst of the show right now, but are you already looking at next year and ways it can be improved or expanded? What kind of things are being discussed to make this show a regular stop in the leather fair calendar?
If this is now successful, growth will happen. We only had ten months to set up this show when ordinarily you’d need about 16 months to set up a first show. So it’s a nice result so far. The biggest challenge we tackled was to get the Italian and French fashion associations on board, so they’re supporting the show and they will hopefully set up a base for next year. Some things we might add are, for instance, a greater awareness of the conference programme. I had a lot of questions about animal rights yesterday from the media, so I think we have to answer that by setting up a conference next to the show [in 2016].


There are also some environmental topics that are good to have. So, for the growth of the show next year, we will have some educational programmes.


What kind of identity do you want the show to have?
We have the tanneries and the finished goods. Our aim is to have a niche leather show; only the top brands and top designers. Not the mass productions stuff, just the niche market. There’s already quite a lot of leather shows around the world, but nothing in the Middle East. It was attempted about seven years ago, but in the wrong way with all the products, so we really want to have a unique show with its own identity.


Is keeping it international key?
Yes. We already have French, Italian, Turkish and Indian [exhibitors]. I hope to have the Philippines on board; it has some very nice products there also. Only the top [ones] though.


Are you seeing a lot of enthusiasm from these countries rather than just a regional draw?
Yes. There’s good participation. What we’ve seen with the first edition is a lot of companies, as usual, wait and want to see how the first edition goes; they want to see the key players on board, the fashion associations, and they want to see the results after the show. We have a lot of companies that expressed that, but will be a part of it next year.


Next year, the fair will be in the latter months. What was the rationale behind that?
We decided to do the show in the first place based on feasibility and had ten months to put it together, but then saw that it clashes with a show in Hamburg, Germany [Texworld]. So we want to steer clear of other shows and have dates isolated. It was actually a mistake to have it now.


So theoretically, you could have had this show later in the year and given yourself a few more months to prepare?
Theoretically, yes. But it’s okay. We invested a lot. We wanted to give the show a boutique feel and people have noticed, and that’s a statement we wanted to make. We’re looking good, and we’re looking for more niche products for next year and the top buyers.