Byline: Merri Grace McLeroy

While leather apparel has ridden a trend wave for the past two years, the leather industry itself has suffered, from mad cow (BSE) and foot and mouth diseases, along with an influx of lower-quality hides from various international markets, to compensate for the European shortage and price increases.
The lower-end leather sources remain, at least for the time being, but retailers can expect better-quality merchandise this year, as the disease crisis has subsided.
The aftermath of Sept. 11 presented major challenges to leather trade shows, such as the January 2002 Panamerican Leather Fair (PalFair) in Miami, where attendance was down considerably. But industry experts predict a rebound in 2002, especially as the consumer’s love affair with leather remains strong, prices are stabilizing and technological advances increase manufacturing efficiency.
Exhibitors, buyers and organizers at the Miami show said previous industry woes were relatively insignificant compared with those that resulted from the Sept. 11 attacks. Said Charlie Myers, the president of the Leather Industries of America Inc., “There are one billion cattle worldwide. England destroyed 400,000 during the BSE crises, not significant enough to dramatically affect pricing. [Hide] prices increased 55 percent because of panic buying — an artificial scare. Even still, it didn’t translate to huge price increases in leather apparel.
Michael Duck, director of the Asia Pacific Leather Fair (APLF), added, “People panicked. Mad cow alone dropped meat consumption 40 percent in Western Europe overnight, so the quantity of available quality skins plummeted. This led to the increase of lower-quality leathers and increased prices on quality skins. Now that the epidemic is over, quality and prices are stabilizing.”
As a direct consequence of Sept. 11, total attendance at the 2002 show was 40 percent less than in 2001. According to Michael Kasakoff, vice president, CMP Princeton, PalFair organizers, many Europeans were reluctant to travel to the U.S. when the show was being booked.
“In 2001, 60 square meters of Italian tanners exhibited here, but this year, we have none. Furthermore, many exhibitors were denied visas by the State Department,” said Kasakoff.
Ray Bianchi, show manager of PalFair, said his office issued 80 visa letters for the Chinese Pavilion alone, and only 16 of those companies obtained visas, adding “I have never seen one event have such a global impact.”
Organizers, however, have seen an increase in registrations for the upcoming APLF, scheduled for April in Hong Kong. Said Duck, “Bookings for the Hong Kong show are significantly higher than last year, and we expect many buyers and exhibitors who didn’t attend PalFair to be there.”
Regardless of show attendance, exhibitors anticipate new styles, colors and technology in fashion, and a more stable industry to add additional strength to leather’s continuing popularity among fashion consumers.

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