Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Indian leather industry and the myth about designer brands

When you think of leather, what are the first three words come to your mind? In my mind I got : Expensive, Designer, Italian. Almost everyone in India thinks that leather goods are made in Italy are best, and they are super expensive. But the matter of fact is that most of the international designer brands are manufactured in India, and only the branding is done in Italy. Before I make a deep dive in today's leather goods' market scenario, lets just have a look at history of leather processing, tanning and final products' manufacturing.

Old painting of leather processing units in Europe
Leather tanning is without a doubt one of the oldest human activities.  In the beginning, skins obtained from hunting and livestock breeding could be used for clothing or tents, but they became stiff at low temperatures, while they rotted with heat.  It was probably then that attempts were made to render them more flexible and stronger by rubbing in animal fats. Another process was smoking, which almost certainly started by accident, and which later became formaldehyde tanning. Vegetable tanning was also known in very ancient times although it is not clear how the tanning action of the tannin contained in the bark of some plants (especially oak) was discovered. Another method known since the earliest times is tanning, based on the use of alum, a mineral which is fairly widespread in nature, particularly in volcanic areas. 

These methods, which gradually became more refined and efficient, allowed skins to be used in the ancient world and continued to do so for century after century up to the present day.  That the use of these techniques was widespread is witnessed by numerous written documents and paintings as well as archaeological finds.  In Mesopotamia between the fifth and the third millennium B.C., for example, the Sumerians used skins for long dresses and diadems for ladies. The Assyrians used leather for footwear but also for liquid containers and as inflated floats for rafts.  

Tanning process - to give different shades to leather
The ancient Indian civilization first processed the type of leather known as the "Morocco" today. The age old tradition of leather craft in India is proved by ancient sages and ascetics, who used to sit on deerskin for meditation and other such works. In the past, leather was not only used in making clothes and footwear but also in making caps, bags, saddles, armor etc. India is famous world wide for its leather products. In the rural areas of India, hide from cattle and camel is locally cured and after tanning, it is used to make different items. Different regions of India have different leather products to offer.

Today, The Leather Industry holds a prominent place in the Indian economy. This sector is known for its consistency in high export earnings and it is among the top ten foreign exchange earners for the country. The leather industry is an employment intensive sector, providing job to about 2.5 million people, mostly from the weaker sections of the society. Women employment is predominant in leather products sector with about 30% share. India is the second largest producer of footwear and leather garments in the world.

Lets have a look at some of the world known brands which are sourced from India-

Leather Garments
Leather Goods / Accessories
Acme, Ann Taylor, Bally, Charter Club, Clarks, Coach, Colehann, Daniel Hector, Deichmann, DKNY, Double H, Ecco, Elefanten, Etienneaigner, Florsheim, Gabor, Geoffrey Beene, Guess, Harrods, Hasley, Hush Puppies, Kenneth Cole, Liz Claiborne, Marks & Spencer, Nautica, Next, Nike, Cole Haan, Nunn Bush, Pierre Cardin, Reebok, Rockport, Salamander, Stacy Adams, Tommy Hilfiger, Tony Lama, Versace, Yves St. Laurent, Zara, Johnston & Murphy, Docksteps, Timberland, Armani, Geox, Diesel, Ted Baker, Lacoste, Kickers, Calvin Klein, Sioux, Brasher, Zegna, Massimu Dutti, Buggatti, Lloyd, Christian Dier, Salamander, Camper, Bata, Espirit, French Connection, Legero, Mercedez, H & M and many more famous brandsArmani, Zegna, Abercrombie & Fitch, Marco Polo, Mango, Colehaan, Andre
Maarc, Guess Pierre Cardin, Tommy Hilfiger, Versace, DKNY, Liz Claiborne, Ann Taylor, Nautica, Kenneth Cole, Charter Club, Daniel Hector
Coach, Liz Claiborne, Harrods, Yves St, Laurent, Tommy Hilfiger, Etienne Aigner, Geoffrey Beene,
Marks & Spencer, Guess, Next, Pierre Cardin, Prada, GAP, Levis, H & M, British Home Stores, Banana Republic, Furla, American Eagle Outfitters, Bracciliani, Walmart etc.

One of the handmade product of Rajasthan
As you can see many international brands are using Indian leather, but the same leather products are not available to indian consumers. Also, the families which are in this business for generations are not getting proportionate share of what the final products earn. If you buy the same product in indian market (without the branding of course), you will get it in at least 1/5th price you pay for luxury brands. At the same time, you are helping the family run business to thrive and make their own livelihood instead of them being dependent upon middleman. If the final product can be as good as this image (on right), why do we even need a luxury brand. Ending the blog with this thought to ponder over. Thanks for reading.


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