Lineapelle 95th edition held at the Milano-Rho fairgrounds.

MILAN — Italian tanneries are adjusting to global markets’ changing demands, as fashion brands are looking for diversified products, sneakers are still having momentum and leather apparel has lost market shares.

Innovative treatments and high-performance leather hides, suitable for different categories of products, were the main takeaways at the 95th edition of the Lineapelle trade show, which closed on Thursday, here.

Held at the Milano-Rho fairgrounds, the trade show, which ran Sept. 25-27, welcomed a number of visitors in line with the February edition, hailing from 105 international countries. Foreign buyers accounted for 49 percent of the total. More than 1,300 companies unveiled their collections for fall 2019 at Lineapelle.

“It’s been a success, considering other trade shows are registering a slowdown and also we were concerned that the alignment with Paris Fashion Week would have penalized us, but it didn’t,” said Fulvia Bacchi, general director of Lineapelle-Unic, the association gathering Italian tanneries. “The fair was upbeat and international, the vast majority of exhibitors felt encouraged,” she added.

According to the latest market insight report released by Unic, the segment as a whole generated 5.1 billion billion euros in 2017, employing 17,746 workers. “The sector is evolving, facing criticism and experiencing several transformations but in the end Italian tanneries are able to deliver products that cannot be found elsewhere, and this is our strength,” Bacchi underscored firmly.

In the first half of the year, the country’s leather production was up 4.6 percent in terms of square meters while decreasing 3.8 percent in terms of value. Exports jumped 12.1 percent in quantity with a contraction of 4 percent in value. Greater China is reporting a slowdown, with a 19 percent decrease in the first half, although the area still represents one of the biggest importers of Italian leather, accounting for 12 percent of sales.

As Gianfranco Dalle Mese, chief executive officer of the Montebello tannery pointed out, “China is slowing down as its role of third-party manufacturer is decreasing year-on-year while the domestic market — which we hoped would grow — is sleeping.”

In line with an ongoing negative trend for the leather footwear segment, undermined by the global success of sneakers, figures for the first half highlighted an 8 percent drop in sales of leather destined to the category. However, just considering exports to European countries for the same sector, sales were up 2 percent, signaling a long-term positive outlook.

“For the time being, the sneaker trend is not eating market shares away; a lot of our clients — luxury brands on top of this list — are still making leather shoes and also using [the material] for high-end sneakers,” noted Giulia Ramponi, a representative of Lombardy-based Conceria Stefania.

Hides destined to accessories such as handbags and small leather goods are performing better, showing a 9 percent increase in the first half compared to one year earlier.

The "Trend Area" at Lineapelle 95th edition held at the Milano-Rho fairgrounds.

The “Trend Area” at Lineapelle 95th edition held at the Milano-Rho fairgrounds.  Courtesy Photo.

In line with the associates’ commitment toward sustainability and innovation, Unic-Lineapelle put both topics under the spotlight during this edition of the fair. Through its Innovation Square space, the trade show organized a series of talks and roundtables on such topics as innovative processes for leather tanning, nanotechnologies, circular economy and the supply chain traceability, among others. “Italian tanneries have been leading the conversation on sustainability for long time, now the time has come for the story to be told, said Bacchi.

As part of this project, Unic and Lineapelle have partnered with Italian fashion house Gucci, Rome’s fashion school Accademia Costume e Moda and a number of Unic’s associates on the “Exploring Italian Leather Sustainability” project. Through the initiative a group of students from the school were invited to conceive new techniques for leather tanning; among them 11 projects were selected and the four finalists created their prototypes at the Gucci ArtLab plant in Scandicci, near Florence.

Among the innovative treatments debuted at Lineapelle, Neapolitan tannery Russo di Casandrino introduced a new version of its “Nappa Ranch” lineup, which includes lambskins tanned with half vegetable and half chrome compounds. “Vegetable-tanned only hides show lower performances,” explained Giuseppe Palmieri, international sales manager at the company. The tanning technique provides leather hides with a brighter finish and enhanced color depth, as well as a drummed grain effect.

In order to broaden its clientele base, Russo di Casandrino also presented at the fair the “Nappa SNK” and “Vitello [Calf] SNK” collections, sold at a lower price point compared to the company’s signature lamb and calfskins. “We decided to diversify and expand to the footwear category to meet a market demand for high-end items at a cheaper price,” Palmieri said.

In line with this approach, the tannery has partnered with Tuscany-based Antiba, to develop a new technique for its “Vitello Étoile” collection, employed for leather goods. The new calf products under this tag, which are named “Matisse” and “Monet,” have a more uniform texture compared to similar products from competitors. Priced at 58 euros per square meter, or 30 percent below other calfskin hides, “the collection is expected to be successful for those markets, including the U.S., which are looking for natural products at a lower price point,” said Palmieri citing the U.S. and China, as among the more complicated markets to address.

Innovation and diversification were key to Montebello, as well. The company, based on the outskirts of Vicenza, Italy, has been a specialist in apparel leather for more than 50 years however, as its executive Dalle Mese noted, “it now represents only 10 percent of our turnover, as [the category] was inflated by [competition from] Indian and Bangladesh-based tanneries.”

At Lineapelle, Montebello introduced its “Performa” collection, comprising three different products. “The collection meets the request for high-performance materials,” noted his daughter Viola Dalle Mese, the company’s marketing and communication director. To this end, all the products from this lineup spotlight a different key feature: the “Waterproof” collection, for instance, along with water-repellent qualities is also obtained without employing the PFAS [fluorosurfactant] coating compound, thus reducing toxicity in the process. The “New Classic” line includes calfskins with a vintage effect but “highly resistant,” while the third range, called “Techno,” comprises a series of doubles including a stretch calfskin for footwear and one in which leather is matched to the patented Thindown fabric for lower-temperature protection,

The company expects to close 2018 in line with the previous year at around 50 million euros.

Innovation was pushed forward at Conceria Stefania in its new range of washables. The company, which launched its washable suede last year — already a bestseller — introduced its washable crust leather. Shimmering effects and shining textures were also repurposed for fall on a range of patent leather hides, such as in the “Force” range, whose color changes when stretched, revealing a varied combination of nuances.

Leather hides with a shimmering finish from Conceria Stefania.

Leather hides with a shimmering finish from Conceria Stefania.  Courtesy Photo.

Shimmering, metallic finishes stood out from Tuscan tannery Dolmen’s collection, as well. The company, which expects to close 2018 with revenues of 30 million euros in line with the previous year, presented a vast range of items including patent leather and animalier patterns on hairy pony skins.

Pietro Giananti, one of the tannery’s five partners, underscored that clients are requesting sustainably tanned leather hides. “It’s been quite some time now that we’ve been working on green processes. Chrome- and metal-free is a thing and by 2020 every company will have to adapt,” he said noting that attention to environmental footprints is “an essential prerequisite to stay on the market.”

The next edition of the fair will run Feb. 20 to 22.