Which are your major markets for footwear, accessories, upholstery, sporting & equestrian goods?
Our main market for sporting & equestrian goods is the United States. The main market for us in leather has consistently been China, followed by Italy and Russia.
What are the latest innovations trending in this industry?
The important innovations are:
1.Processing leather with minimum water usage. It is something that every entity in our region is trying to achieve. They are researching various methods to reducing water usage.
2.Trying to re-use the water to minimise environmental impact of the industry.
3.The other sector growing in parallel with our industry is the automotive industry, i.e., leather for car seats. There are other tanneries in our region that are consistently supplying automotive leather to some important companies across the globe. Automotive is the 'in' thing in the leather industry. All the other product categories like furniture, footwear and leather goods are either stagnant or on a decline.
What are the latest trends in hides for footwear, accessories and upholstery?
The trends are mostly dictated to us by the fashion industry as they have the vision, exposure and know-how to try and incorporate leather into different kinds of fashion wear. We only follow what we are told. We are far from trend forecasting.
However, the demand that is coming from around the world is more towards natural-looking leather. There are times when people just want very coated, plain and heavy-finished leather, which can be mistaken for a piece of plastic. But over the years, especially in the last one and half years, most customers around the world are looking for more natural characteristics of the leather.
Do you have a design team?
In our footwear and belt factories, we have trained personnel who follow global trends and design products accordingly. We also work with designers who periodically keep looking at market trends to create prototypes and designs. We have about 10-12 people in our design team.
What are the challenges that the leather industry in India faces? What would you propose to overcome them?
The biggest challenge is the uncertainty in the international market. The United States and the United Kingdom are our major markets and they have been quite unpredictable. There are times when we cannot meet their demands and there are times when there is actually no demand.
There is a cyclical challenge that we see during the summer months like I mentioned before. The availability of the raw material becomes a big challenge from the onset of spring until the mid of monsoons, i.e., from the beginning of April until the middle of July. The raw material availability really goes for a toss. It becomes challenging to the extent that the pricing of our leather becomes impractical for our customers. There are more aggressive regions like South America, which are very organised and united, who take our share in the market.
Have you been receiving competition from South America?
It wouldn't be right to say that. South America cannot be considered our competitor because the kind of raw material available in that region is completely different from ours. It is slightly superior or what the world considers best; at least that's what our customers tell us. Since, they are 15-20 per cent superior to us in terms of raw materials, they tend to dictate business terms indirectly to us. When they decide to become aggressive with their pricing, we are left with no choice but lower ours to maintain the difference. But the competition is within the industry and we don't actually compete with any country on a global level.
Leather is a highly polluting industry. A lot of tanneries have been banned. Eco-friendly processes cost a lot. What steps are taken to ensure a pollution-free environment in the manufacturing units?
There has been a growing trend of awareness within the industry to produce leather with lesser amount of water and steps are being taken to reuse the water. There have been various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and international groups that have extended support to our industry to try and reduce the environmental impact of processing leather.
A lot of new technologies are helping us to do that. If you compare the industry that was functioning 10 years ago, there has been a massive change. We have examples in Italy and Turkey, which are very advanced and developed countries. Both the nations have a thriving leather industry, yet they ensure that environmental impact is quite less. So, there is a lot of learning, exchange of ideas and technology transverse between these countries and our region. Things are moving well in the right direction.
What are your future plans?
Our future plan is to try and explore possibilities in the automotive sector on a global scale and to keep upgrading our water treatment to ensure that they are in line with international standards.
What would be your concluding thoughts?
With respect to the leather sector, our country has enormous potential in terms of availability of raw material, entrepreneurship and skilled manpower to produce world class products. Still a lot of such potential remains unexplored. I think with favourable policies, procedures and assistance that we are receiving from the government, we will be able to scale good heights. (HO)
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