Getting the leather industry back in action
Mike Redwood | 13 February 2020

2020 always looked like a difficult year but who would have expected as December ended that the year was going to be dominated by another event like SARS 17 years ago. It panicked the world and led to the postponement of the APLF fair in Hong Kong.

With rising labour costs in China and new perspectives on sustainability global supply chains had already started to be redesigned some years ago. Layered on top of that came tariff battles with the USA and before we could make sense of the medium and long term implications we have this outbreak of the corona virus that has brought China to a halt. Given the relatively fragile state of the leather industry this is the last thing we want. It is hard to contemplate the fact that the world’s second largest economy has been largely closed for business. 

Despite all the changes of the last few years China remains integrated into a huge proportion of global supply networks. 
With so many factories in China still shut and travel to and from China disrupted the seasonal timetable is being impacted , with developers not even able to work and samples not being produced. If ever there was a time to find ways to do things differently, and remotely, now is that time.

APLF a vital leather industry meeting point 
Trade shows have also been hit with Shanghai shows for February all postponed including the influential yarn show Spinexpo. More significant for leather is the postponement by American Events of both the NE Materials Show and the NW Materials Show. The first three months of the year are important ones for trade shows in our industry with a wide variety of major events around the world; some like Lineapelle and APLF are leather industry meeting points and others more related to the market place. 

The note sent out to stakeholders by PrimeAsia Leather Company is the most stabilising and clarifying document so far, and gives us all a reason to believe that with good management, clear thinking and transparent communications the leather industry will successfully come through this situation. 

Clarity and transparency from PrimeAsia
I am not sure their note is for public dissemination but I am sure they will not object that they explain the situation in detail and how they have been staying in touch with their workforce and management throughout to ascertain exactly where they stand and monitor the risks. Their large plant in Vietnam is fully operational with some of their staff who have been overseas now working there for the time being while their Chinese plant has also restarted using the workforce which is resident locally having adopted all and more of the precautions suggested by the Chinese government.

The decision to postpone APLF until June fits well with this thought pattern. Lineapelle, which is viable without Asian or American visitors, is still going ahead but it is less of a focus on global strategic discussions than APLF. For three decades APLF Hong Kong has provided that moment in the year when industry leaders have congregated to assess the situation and decide how to move forward. 

So at this moment of change and threats the leather industry cannot afford to lose APLF from the calendar. The June date works well in terms of giving time for the medical situation to come under better control and for science to take a lead role rather than politics and false rumours. Given the changing industrial situation it is perhaps for 2020 the best moment to have a full international trade fair, not only for strategic discussions but for all the elements of selling, public relations, customer discussions and education that make trade shows so important. Given a fair wind we can go on holiday this summer feeling much more positive than we did on January 1st, before we had ever heard of the new Corona Virus. 

A June APLF comes at the perfect moment 
Finding ways to exploit channels that are not impacted by China, new ways of virtually developing articles and exciting customers ahead of the situation being fully resolved are all required. With this in mind we should remember that most of the plastic that calls itself “synthetic leather” comes from China and while China does produce a lot of leather it does not dominate tanning itself in the way it does so many other sectors. Countries like Italy and India refused to concede market share as the Chinese tanning sector grew. Now is the moment to flex some muscle and regain market share for leather.

A June APLF becomes the perfect moment to develop and implement some of these progressive moves to balance the reality on the ground and developments we would wish to see in the future.