Most leather firms dismiss synthetic leather as a sub-cutaneous class unrelated to the real skin. But, in Türkiye, only 10% of tanneries are now operational. One leather luggage and accessories producer has decided to capitalise on branding synthetic school bags and has put leather production business on hold.

Begun in 1934 as a maker of bags, wallets and small leather accessories, Istanbul-based SMS (Saraciye Mamulleri Sanayi) was one of Türkiye’s first leather exporters. In the 1990s, they took advantage of the growing number of Turks travelling abroad to expand their travel goods and luggage business.

Newly graduated with a leather engineering degree from Northampton’s British School of Leather Technology, Aziz Yaygan, grandson of SMS’s founder, planned to set up a tannery and move the firm into the higher profile (and profits) leather fashion business.

Instead, the balance has been tipped in favour of acquiring the exclusive licence to the Warner Brothers brands on bags and luggage in Türkiye – this includes Harry Potter, Spider Man, Powerpuff Girls and other animated icons.

SMS is busy stitching up school bags and backpacks in the thousands for the next school term – all of them in nylon or other synthetic fabrics.

‘Parents can’t say no to kids who want Harry items’, Yaygan noted. This comes at a time when leather professionals are trying to raise the profile of genuine leather and, in fact, are actively drawing negative comparisons with synthetic substitutes that are sold at similar prices to all-leather.

The licensed brand allows a mark-up of about 20%, a figure which SMS believes would be closer to 50% were Türkiye’s economy and domestic spending more robust. (Average mark-ups in the leather sector run at 10-15%). SMS targets sales of over 75,000 branded items just for the August-September run-up to the school term.

All branded and copyright items sold on the Turkish market have recently been strengthened by Istanbul’s tough new Sixth Commercial Court for Patents and Licences. In the past, Turkish pirates and copy cats have proliferated. Now, a second offence brings an automatic jail sentence and corporate lawyers report a significant drop in infringements.

Although licensee and synthetic production have temporarily sidelined leather business for SMS, the lessons learned about global supply chain economics and better product mix will give them sustainable advantages when they eventually return to tannery and leather business.