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APLF 2017: Full of Strong Positives
Mike Redwood | 04 April 2017

The days before the start of this year’s APLF, Hong Kong bathed in sunshine and blue skies, a rare sight for this city in recent years but one that perhaps signalled three very positive show days ahead at the major global trade show for the leather industry.

It is always aggravating when the “success” or “failure” of a trade show is defined in terms of the state of trade, but it seems to go with the territory of trade show organisation. So the success of this year’s show was not measured in terms of the information exchanges, or knowledge gained but in the clear knowledge that business was done and as a consequence the state of trade is defined is quite good.

Perhaps this was not too big a surprise with economies all round the world showing growth at varying levels and the EU including the UK announcing the best manufacturing growth for quite a few years. What was confusing was how many exhibitors arrived worried, if not downright pessimistic, and viewed the sudden flip into positive territory when the crowds turned up on the second day as a delightful surprise.

Across the halls opinion was favourable everywhere

Across the halls opinion was favourable everywhere. Yet everywhere it was acknowledged that the global ecosystem was complex given the structural changes taking place in China, the issues with meat safety from Brazil, continued delays in the move from Hazaribagh to Savar in Bangladesh, and political changes creating uncertainty in both the US and the EU. These are all before exhibitors started to worry about the demand side in the medium to long term.  

It was on this latter point that the exhibitors split as it seems that there are those who understand the new market segmentation that is evolving, with a different set of needs from leather and its supply than in the past, and those who do not want to change their approach. Standing inside the Halls it was almost possible to feel the difference and a step or two upstairs to Materials+ to see new materials and robotics made the point forcefully. David Shah explained some of the background in his sparkling presentation which was a major highlight of an outstanding set of seminars.

He challenged his audience with a changing world from the very start. Tiger people have no time for wine and chocolate. In a fitness dominated society luxury watches are losing out to smart watches with fitness capabilities. The Chinese woman is no longer seen as frail and fragile with long nails but a fit and healthy outgoing personality. Nike’s dramatic 2016 Da Da Ding advertisement in India with its strong feminist message created an entire movement about the life of women in India from the poorest to the richest. He noted that younger consumers find a different cost structure in society than previous generations with things like houses often out of reach. Consequently they spend their money in a quite different way, just as they live their very unstructured, “always on” lives. In this age of entitlement he was not at all clear where the role for leather would sit. Consumers have been paying a sizeable premium for athleisure but in this leather finds only a niche role; although he did highlight the new value of items that last a long time, can be repaired and even passed on.

Given such a busy second day, with contracts being signed, many of those planning to attend had to stay on their stands making this an unusual event where the seminars, however valuable, had to take second place to working with customers and clients. It seemed that not only were new orders being signed but new longer term contracts and agency agreements were being agreed. 

Our consumers are already changing

Yet with a changing global market place one is left to hope that the real message is taken away amidst all the excitement of the moment and that is that our consumers are already changing. As David Shah put it the “exhibitors are dealing with a primary material base and feel they are a long way from the final consumer, cushioned as they are by manufacturers and retailers along the pipeline. Also, the leather business is a touch behind the fabric textile sector in terms of understanding the importance of having a branded and lifestyle strategy”. 

Leather has the capability to reinvent itself to meet the evolving needs and expectations of consumers. APLF plays its role in helping exhibitors and visitors recognise these developments with an excellent show. Let us hope that as everyone travels home with new orders in hand they have plenty to think about as well.