Every year now for over three decades the leather industry has met for an introspective look at its self at the Asian Pacific Leather Fair (APLF) in Hong Kong. Initially established to help the industry link into the emergence of China the APLF has evolved into a pivotal location for all those involved in every part of the complex industry of leather to come together and display their wares and discuss industry trends.
For a while this was all about big tanners meeting the huge footwear brands who manufactured in shoe plants in southern China – just a couple of hours down the road – in factories employing 10,000 to 20,000 workers. With the Chinese workforce shrinking today and the cost of making footwear in China accelerating APLF has shifted to be more of total global focus of information transfer.
As a result the big hide traders in the world turned up hoping that the hides they had held back until the fair could be offloaded in Asia at extra high prices and the world would then follow. They were to be disappointed and although raw material prices stayed high they have calmed a little to the delight of all tanners and users of leather.
None were more pleased than the vegetable tanning sector for whom the fair in Hong Kong was a big success. As some volume shoe production leaves China to disperse round the world a new class of leather craftsmen and designers have been developing. APLF was full of such small companies touring round every vegetable tanning tanner who had a stand for leathers to use for a wide range of products from belts, bags and all manner of leather goods.
There was a time when such craft produced objects were the work of low quality hobbyists and tanners could not get excited with such levels of workmanship. No longer. Whether the companies are large or small they are now making quite exquisite products using a mix of contemporary and traditional designs. This is now an important new sector full of innovation and creativity. Some of these businesses will grow to large international brands and some will remain boutique businesses. But to the world of vegetable leather all are very welcome.