MILAN — Lineapelle, the exhibition of leather, accessories, components, fabrics and synthetics, said revenues of the Italian tanning industry slid in 2016 due to a sharp drop in exports to China and a decrease in the supply of raw hides.

According to preliminary results, sales slid 2 percent to 5 billion euros, or $5.54 billion.

“People are eating too much sushi and not enough steak,” said Fulvia Bacchi, general manager of the Lineapelle fair. Bacchi explained that Italian tanneries work with hides that come from animals slaughtered for food consumption. “Eating habits are important in this business. It has a direct effect,” he added.

The three-day trade show that ran from Feb. 21 to 23 at the Rho trade fairgrounds here showcased spring 2018 tannery leather trends from 1,198 exhibitors, up from 1,155 a year earlier. The number of foreign exhibitors rose 5 percent compared to February 2016, Lineapelle said. The number of visitors overall rose to 21,800, up 1 percent from last year’s edition.

According to figures released in Lineapelle’s market trends report, turnover of medium to large bovine products slid 3 percent, while sales from sheep and goat products slid 7 percent in value terms.

“The scenario that will affect the manufacturing demand remains as well very uncertain and definitely not bright,” the organization said.

Geographically, sales to domestic customers fell by 2.3 percent, while total exports decreased by 5 percent. Italian leather exports to the U.S. outpaced all other markets, rising 11 percent. The increase marked the seventh consecutive year of growth for North America. France and Vietnam followed, rising 6 percent and 4 percent,
respectively. For the third year in a row, exports to Hong Kong and mainland China fell, last year by 22 percent and 14 percent, respectively. Considerable decreases in export sales were also recorded from Germany, Portugal and South Korea.

The Italian tanning industry satisfies 65 percent of the world’s needs in terms of tanned, finished leather. France produces 5 percent, while Spain fulfills 9 percent of the world’s demand.

Lineapelle renewed its cooperation with the Turkish consortium of leather-makers. The fair hosted a total of 16 companies from Turkey.

Shearling and cavallino specialist Gündüz Kürk is one of the oldest Turkish leather-makers and has taken part in Lineapelle for 12 years in a row.

“Despite what is going on in Russia, Turkey has evolved into a strategic partner for Italy, not a competitor. We are working on synergies and ways to cater to the Far East market,” said Kürk, vice president Ruken Mizrakli, who is also a member of the board of the Leather Exporters Association & Turkish Leather Council. Mizrakli noted that in 2016 Turkish leather exports totaled $1.4 billion, down 5.7 percent versus 2015.

The Istanbul-based firm generates about 30 percent of its sales in Europe. In 2016, Gündüz Kürk posted a slight drop in sales versus 2015, mostly due to the consumer spending slowdown in Russia.

In terms of style, firms unfurled collections that reflected the colors and imagery of summer. After a series of seasons marked by caution, Lineapelle’s creative team opted for a vibrant color palette marked by yellow, blue and green shades.

“The choices are based on the evolution of new colors, where pastel shades sharpen and change direction toward a freshness borrowed from the digital world, while the naturals come in cool tones and materials play with light, shade and iridescence,” Lineapelle said.

In addition to promoting fashion-forward trends, the fair served as a platform for young talent and fresh ideas.

Tessitura Attilio Imperiali, a mill that specializes in footwear fabric, teamed with textile maker Segre & Schieppati to launch a project at Lineapelle called Tele Contemporanee (Contemporary Canvas). The installation involved the work of artists, writers and illustrators, who cast their creativity on fabrics that ranged from cotton to silk.

Tanneries such as Antiba focused on metallic, patent leather hides that are made without chemical solvents.

The Tuscany-based tannery has produced and supplied tanned goat, calf and lamb hides for top fashion houses from its base, also in Santa Croce Sull’Arno, since 1987. Its most requested product has been its Sugar Lux collection — a soft, flexible goat in different weights and finishes such as shiny, metallic, matte, rubber and laminated. The leather is used for its core business of handbags, shoes and small accessories.

“Our consumer is really evolving and there is a lot of attention to becoming a 360 degree sustainable business,” Antiba owner Graziano Balducci said, noting that the company’s sales were stable in 2016.

Manifattura di Domodossola, which specializes in braided leather, unfurled a swathes of woven fabric for bags or shoes that incorporated a mix of materials such as cotton, raffia and copper.

“Our clients are not experiencing any difficulties brought on by globalization and we have been relatively unaffected as our products are hard to re-create,” said chief executive officer Giuseppe Polli, great-grandson of Manifattura di Domodossola’s founder.

In-line with the mission of Italy’s Chamber of Fashion, Lineapelle is also hoping Italy will have a 360-degree sustainable leather industry by 2025.

“In Italy, we have nearly perfected a completely sustainable process — from the dyeing process to the treatment of our leather,” Bacchi said.

In addition to decreasing demand, the industry is facing a challenge in terms of quality. Overall, the quality of leather hides over the decades have declined due to the air, weather conditions and quality of food and grazing lands.

Naples-based Russo di Casandrino SpA is a specialist in eco leather, which means that the tanning process is free of chemicals. In 2016, the company’s sales dropped about 4 percent due to the slowdown in Russia, terrorism’s affect on luxury shopping and rising tariffs on exports to China, Russo di Casandrino owner Gianni Russo said.

Executives said it is difficult to predict what will happen in 2017 due to an uncertain geopolitical outlook for the year.

Nevertheless, with Lineapelle preview editions in cities such as London and New York, executives are determined to raise the fair’s international profile. The next London and New York preview editions will take place July 11 and July 18 to 19, respectively, for the fall winter 2018/19 season.

Lineapelle will also present its “Fashion Sustainability” selection of spring/summer 2018 collections in Paris on March 7, at the Intercontinental Paris Le Grand Hotel.

Dominated by conglomerates like LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Kering, France is the fourth biggest client of the Italian tanning industry. About 220 million euros, or $242 million, in tanned leather was purchased in 2016.

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