According to Mrs Pranee Kuruvelukorn, president of the Thai Tanning Industry Association (TTIA), ‘making leather is a tough job where art and science have to meet. From raw materials to the finished product the tanner adds a large amount of value.’ She states that people should be conscious of the added value and start to pay higher prices for leather.’

The Bangkok leather fair will take place from September 27-29 and Kuruvelukorn believes that the fair will show the potential of the leather industry in Asia. Her aim is to attract more international exhibitors to add to the 550 already participating. She feels that as APLF gets smaller, the Bangkok fair offers a unique platform for co-operation as it attracts both buyers and manufacturers. The TTIA has 133 member tanneries, 19 of whom participated in the Thai pavilion at this year’s APLF. The nation’s leather producers are uniting for strength, as has been the strategy in many countries. They are now focusing on making new, specialised and unique leathers, rather than large volumes.

Presidency of the association is for a term of two years and Kuruvelukorn has now been president for one year. The association’s focus for the last year has been on the environment. Government policy places important emphasis on environmental issues. Further projects have included participation in a number of international fairs to promote the companies represented by the TTIA, as well as educating a new generation of tanners and organising technical seminars.

Kuruvelukorn told Leather International that the Thai sector is moving toward providing the end product: ‘Some companies make finished products such the Chung Wang brothers who produce footwear and a number of other end-products such as furniture and sofas. Chung Wang also have the capacity to develop car seat leather and other tanneries already produce cut-and-sewn car seat covers. A further example is Chai Watana in Samutprakan who are active in the entire leather manufacturing process from raw to completed end product.’

The Department of Export Promotion helped the Thai tanners break into the Japanese market for the first time last year, as well as export to Vietnam. Last year the Thai Tanning Industry Association began looking for foreign investors in their sector. According to Kuruvelukorn, the association have had meetings with international investors regarding joint ventures. All that remains to be done is to consolidate rules and policy.

Care of the environment is an important part of this. Investment will be used to further develop water treatment and improve environmental regulations. Kuruvelukorn believes that foreign investment will also bring with it new technology.

According to Peter Boonsermsuwong, Leather O, one of the highlights of the Bangkok fair in September will be the showcase featuring the many finished leathergoods Thailand produces. He told Leather International that designs are constantly coming out for footwear and bags. Many companies have now begun to concentrate on trying to develop their own brand identity as a focus for business.

A further direction for the sector is toward automotive leathers, he added. The nation has a growing automobile industry with companies such as BMW, Toyota, Nissan, and Honda all manufacturing in Thailand, so there is a huge demand for automotive leathers.

Boonsermsuwong observed that this is a very demanding market which needs highly qualified suppliers. Thailand’s tanners are developing and upgrading systems with a view to securing a greater share of this market.

The Thai leather industry is a focus for government support. Boonsermsuwong said: ‘The government has contributed US$4million to help the leather industry increase competitiveness. The tanners and finished product manufacturers as well as others in the production chain have come together to grow their business and improve quality and there are further initiatives underway to improve factory management and technical skills.’ He added that the government has also established training programmes and hired consultants from the European leather and footwear sectors to train Thai tanners on fashion and design.

Boonsermsuwong”s ”Leather O’ is an example of a leather maker concentrating on a brand identity. Slip Sang Far tannery company develop, manufacture and produce finished leathers that are marketed under the Leather O brand name. The tannery processes 350 sq ft per month, mostly full grain items. They have been in business for 45 years creating fashion leathers for shoes and bags. Their main market is Japan. Leather O also supply finished upholstery for Italian brand Driade. In addition, the company custom-make upholstery leathers which are inspired by buyers’ designers from countries such as France and Japan.

The Thai industry began to contract in 1997 as a result of the Asian crisis. However, since the advent of the Chinese import tax on hides and skins, which came into force in January 2006, Sutham Chusoipin, assistant manager of Allied Chemicals, has noticed a revival in the Thai sectors fortunes and believes that they should focus on becoming a niche player.

The Thai government is waging a campaign which will continue into the coming year to make Bangkok an Asian Capital of Fashion. David Chiu, president of the Thai leathergoods association, believes that a focus on fashion is of the utmost importance. Chiu said: ‘Most people, particularly in Europe, get tired of Chinese mass production as the articles all look alike. Many Europeans come to Thailand to seek something different. Buyers from many other countries consider Thailand to have the strongest tradition in leather products and tanneries of the region.’

He continued: ‘We have good tanneries, offer good workmanship and can create almost any article or effect here in Thailand. However, we currently rely on Italian design consultants to be able to sell our products in European countries. Thai people are very creative, we don’t just want to copy, this is what marks us out from other countries.’

According to Chiu, to date, export volume of leathergoods has been very small, amounting to US$300-400 million. However, he is confident that this figure will rise in the near future.

Allied Chemicals were among the first companies to manufacture nano-pigments. The company place high priority on research and development within their own facility and out of a total staff of 26, four are dedicated to R&D.

Pigments with a very fine particle size are the company’s speciality. Allied also supply chemicals for the full range of leather making processes from beamhouse to finishing with a good capacity for fatliquors. The company carry out their own sulfonation and sulfitation processes. Their total capacity is of 8-10,000 tonnes per day, 90% of which is for export. Allied have been exporting since 1979 and their current market stretches from Pakistan to Taiwan.

According to Sutham Chusoipin, assistant manager, Vietnam is a growing market for the company. Hs company continuously focus on the five Ms, ‘manpower, management, manufacturing, marketing and money (prices, costings and investment). He states that ‘with the internet the world is flat, thus providing a level playing field for companies all over the world, in spite of their geographical location. The keys to survival, in order of importance, are quality, price, service, and communication.’

Kongsiri tannery

Founded in 1980, Kongsiri have developed into one of the leading suppliers of top quality cow and buffalo hides in Thailand. Located in Paknam, 30km from Bangkok, the company have two divisions employing a total of 250 people; one producing premium quality leather to the upholstery sector (90% of operations) and a further division cutting, sewing and matching different grades of hides.

Kongsiri specialise in oil and wax full grain leathers, with a very natural finish featuring visible growth lines. They currently produce one million sq ft of leather per month and business is growing. The majority of the company’s export business (60-70%) is to the United States. Other markets include England, France and Asia.

Kongsiri are determined in their mission to develop new finishes for an ever-growing client list as well as expanding their share of the top-end market, and all without sacrificing stringent standards of quality control. In order to achieve this goal, Kongsiri will be expanding capacity by 20% in the coming years. This year, they plan to purchase a new Bergi reverse roller coater machine to increase production and allow them to create new products.

The company’s products fall into the mid-to-high quality range. Sales manager Tanida Subpiamlarp told Leather International that the company does not use corrected grain as they cannot compete with China on the lower end of the market. R&D constantly creates new articles (approximately 300-400 per year) so that customers can choose from the selection.

As fashion is a major focus for the business, Kongsiri aim to do something different with the design of their booth. This year, fifteen of their leathers were featured in the trend selection area at APLF, attracting large numbers of visitors to their stand. According to Subpiamlarp, it is investment in the latest technological advances that allows them to create these attractive and innovative leathers.