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Running for the train
Mike Redwood | 21 March 2018

As exhibitors and visitors left the platform heading to the airport at the end of the 38th APLF show there were rather too many non leather sneakers on display. A measure that even amongst our industry the commitment to leather footwear, never mind leather soled footwear, has diminished. Just that one fact should be enough to underline the importance of the APLF as a truly global meeting point for every aspect of the leather network.

The event had a steady stream walking the corridors all three days, with stands getting busy about an hour after opening on day one. There were the usual “tyre kickers” around for the outing, and suggesting demand was below the reality, but a very solid core of key players talking seriously about new programmes. 

It may have been the earlier timing but the number of exhibitors from China and Italy was high. Also noticeable was the long, busy corridors of stands from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. APLF at this time works well for them and their customers. 

Also busier than normal were the few Ethiopian stands where interest was created by Dr Arkebe Oqubay, who attended as an invited guest after greatly impressing a conference in Hong Kong earlier in the year. Dr.Oqubay is a Minister and Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, but is best known for the awards he has been given for his transformative period as mayor of Addis Ababa during 2003 – 2005. He gave a number of talks about the potential of Ethiopia highlighting the powerful growth in recent years built on a mix of improvements in infrastructure, government understanding of the industry and large domestic raw material supply. 

There is no doubt that the leather industry worldwide is alive and well despite the many challenges of a changing retail and consumer landscape. After all it’s been changing for thousands of years and all that time tanners have adapted their leathers to fit. Leather was after all the mainstay of shipping at the start with coracles and sails, then leather was needed to carry and store wine, and was for over a thousand years a primary component of horse transportation. So many uses have been eliminated or immensely reduced yet leather still drives forward; and in a wide variety of areas remains a perfect contemporary material. 

Talking about this takes time and APLF is as important with events taking place in and around event. Cocktail parties and reunions allow networks to be strengthened and extended. Seminars disseminate new knowledge and creativity. Meetings and AGMs allow organisations to move forward and stay relevant without the need for additional travel costs for members. The ICT, LWG, LN, CLIA and GLCC were typical and the Tannery of The Year (TOTY) a major feature of the Fair.

Leather Naturally’s (LN) well attended breakfast meeting was one of the more significant as global trends have pushed all parts of the industry towards a better understanding of both the need and value of marketing; a major cultural shift for our industry. One delegate stated in a powerful speech that “ consumer attitude and passion drive decisions” so that public sentiment not just the brands decide the value of leather. Tanners have not been getting the message out while chemists have been creating ever improved alternatives. In the light of this “we now need the whole industry to come together to force change” said Jon Clark, CEO OF prime ASIA. “Participate with us” was his impassioned plea. Fitting that this should be said at an APLF given that the concept of LN started here and has been strongly maintained by the Fair and its directors. 

As exhibitors and delegates travelled an international newspaper headline was identified saying “Driver finds expensive 'leather' Mercedes seat is actually plastic” and only confirmed his suspicions by having it tested. 

Consequently conversations being held amongst departing executives on the way to the airport were overwhelmingly positive. The Fair had widely been seen as exceptionally useful; underlining the value of this “platform” as the organisers had described it at the start. The fact that the industry is now determined to promote the material that gives it life as a huge bonus to takeaway.