Low pre-fair expectations based on the parlous state of the overall leather sector were soon dispelled as buyers proceeded to enter the main leather hall on 13 March as the 35th Anniversary edition of APLF Leather opened in Hong Kong.
Major trade fairs do tend to reflect market conditions – not foster them.
Any nervous twitches on exhibitor stands vanished as buyers continued to arrive throughout Day 1 with the expected lull at lunchtime as both exhibitors and buyers took a break from the action on the main floor of the fair.
What had been plaguing the leather sector since early 2015 has been the lack of interest in footwear upper and sole leather by both designers and manufacturers who have tended to favour synthetic materials that have fueled the sneaker and athleisure boom.
Historically shoe leather accounted for 54% of production on average and this could have fallen to between 30% - 40% hurting many tanners. Add to this the ample supplies of raw materials stemming from growing red meat demand and the result has been a “perfect storm” of lower volumes, lower prices and declining demand that has squeezed tannery margins to almost zero.
Even the automotive sector has suffered as the sales boom for new vehicles appears to have topped out in China. Nevertheless, APLF showed encouraging signs as visitors thronged in the aisles and many business meetings were observed throughout the fair.
According to the Hidenet reporter on site, Day 2 of APLF was another busy one. Most sales were at steady levels and exhibitors were generally pleased with discussions.
As a business platform and an integral part of the global leather industry, APLF fulfilled its role of bringing buyers and sellers together; enabled new contacts to be made and regular customer relations to be consolidated as well as being a hub for discussions in the aisles and on the stands about the state and outlook for the industry.
In a nutshell there were over 800 exhibitors in the leather hall and 23 national group pavilions from the main tanning countries of the world with approximately 15,000 visitors. The global presence at the fair could be seen as visitors came from 90 countries and regions.
The one issue that had many exhibitors talking was the new layout for the 2020 APLF events with the leather fair moving to Level 3 and its sister events – Fashion Access, Cashmere World and Materials+ - relocating to Level 1 exhibition space that has become too constricting for the many leather exhibitors seeking prime locations.
As was to be expected there were exhibitor voices raised against the relocation of the leather fair but those who were initially against that move but took the trouble to visit Level 3 understood it was a great improvement in terms of better circulation, larger aisles, better lighting and clearer segmentation.
Surviving but not Thriving
This phrase sums up the general state of the leather sector with the exception of high quality leather for luxury bags and fashion accessories. This sector is still prospering according to results published by holdings such as LVMH and Kering.
The question facing the global leather sector is how to stimulate demand so that designers and manufacturers can take advantage of the ruling lower prices and move away from the recent commitment to synthetics and webbing used in the manufacture of many forms of footwear.
The paradox facing the industry and that has not yet been resolved is how lower leather prices have not stimulated demand as they are at their lowest point since the 2009 global financial crisis.
It is not just a question of price but of the environment, sustainability and educating the consumer on the qualities of leather due to its biodegradability, beauty and longevity. The time is ripe to promote these qualities as the mainstream media has suddenly become aware of the dangers posed to the environment, marine life and even human life itself by plastics and synthetics polluting the environment as they never really biodegrade but become part of the “edible plastic soup”.
APLF as Sustainable Sourcing Platform for Asia-Pacific
This year as part of APLF's extensive programme about sustainability, Assomac's Technological Advisor, Roberto Vago talked about the contribution of technologies into sustainable leather treatment processes and about the various steps taken by machinery manufacturers towards sustainable leather production and circulat economy. Among them is the Green Label that quantifies and communicates the impact of machines during working cycles.
The Leather Naturally Breakfast Seminar took place on the morning of Day 2 with a packed room with members being updated on the organisation, membership and crowdfunding for the campaign. There is clear momentum in the activity and the initial target is clearly close to being achieved.
Other meetings on the Leather Naturally Talks stage included presentations from Wollsdorf regarding Leather Innovations, Restoring Antique Leather and an Inward Investment promotion by Ethiopia. The sustainability dominance in industry thinking was maintained with a busy and attentive session labeled the Sustainable Fashion Conference that was well attended on Level 3 of the exhibition centre.
After this initial launch at the fair’s 35th Anniversary edition, sustainability will continue to be a central thread running through the fairs in 2020 as APLF seeks to consolidate its position as the Sustainable Sourcing Platform for Asia-Pacific.
The 2020 fair will take place at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre from 31 March - 2 April 2020 and will continue along similar lines educating designers, fashion students, manufacturers and most importantly end consumers about the qualities of this inimitable material.