MILAN — Against a backdrop of political turmoil and yet to be achieved post-pandemic recovery, the Italian tanning industry is navigating the harsh times with a cautiously optimistic mood.
The three-day Lineapelle trade show, which closed Feb. 24, drew 13,000 visitors mainly hailing from key European countries and the U.S. Fulvia Bacchi, the fair’s chief executive officer, noted that the absence of Asian buyers dented attendance numbers but not its quality.
While the tanning industry’s performance showed positive signs of recovery year-over-year, with sales jumping more than 20 percent versus 2020, a comparison with pre-pandemic levels shows the industry still lags behind, with revenues down 8 percent compared to 2019.
According to data provided by Unic, the tanners’ association, exports, too, are on the rise but slower than desired, growing in the double-digit range versus 2020 but overall down 10 percent compared to 2019.
Amid pandemic fatigue and economic hangover for the sector, the war at the heart of Europe is further weighing in on tanneries’ capabilities to achieve the rebound originally expected in 2022. Although the Russian invasion of Ukraine will not directly impact the sector’s exports given the country’s business shares are marginal, Bacchi urged caution as fashion brands may feel the pinch.
“Needless to say, this political instability will negatively impact the Eastern Europe market, but we have to expect repercussions on the luxury world, with which we do business,” said Stefano Caponi, CEO of Tuscany-based tannery Superior.
According to Gianfranco Dalle Mese, CEO of the Veneto, Italy-based Montebello tannery, turmoil will also lead to increased manufacturing costs across the supply chain. “We hope for a solution, the impact can already be felt on the prices for raw materials and will expand to travel and the economy in general,” he said. The company has partly recovered in 2021, posting sales up 24 percent versus a year earlier and expects a similar double-digit growth this year.
The increase of energy and logistics costs is weighing in the short-term, while the tanning industry is arguably the only sector in fashion that has already emerged from a period of dramatic price increases for raw materials in early 2021. The trend had plateaued, but according to Dalle Mese, new increases are now on the horizon and will have a ripple effect on business, as also Caponi explained.
Despite the hurdles, leather has been experiencing good momentum having returned front and center in recent runway collections, think Prada’s strong-shouldered leather coats and Bottega Veneta’s cotton- and denim-looking leather tank top and pants for fall 2022.
Bacchi said she’s witnessing “a return of leather products and a general desire to rely on the high-quality material, which is also durable and sustainable, after so many years of tapping into alternative materials,” she said.
Some 960 exhibitors hailing from 70 countries showcased their spring 2023 collection at the fair. They hinged on smooth surfaces, sleek textures and reassuring natural hues flanked by pops of bold colors reflecting the upbeat mood that defined the inception of 2022, before the conflict dampened business confidence.
At Superior, a range of carryover calves in natural hues was flanked by more flamboyant options including calf leather in vitamin shades of lilac, green, blueberry and coral red boasting shiny surfaces and shimmering and metallic styles with brushstrokes of contrasting colors.
In sync with its sustainable commitment, the company is further expanding its range of metal-free calfskins, which are biodegradable and soon to be certified compostable. In January, the company has embarked on a carbon neutrality journey with which it aims to offset its GHD emissions via the acquisition of verified carbon standard credits contributing to safeguard Brazil’s tropical savannah.
Also at Montebello, the spring 2023 collection pivoted on smooth textures with little to none of the grainy options that have been on-trend in the past seasons. Shimmering and vinyl-like effects peppered a palette of bold colors, including magenta and silver, flanked by more restrained nuances including navy and beige.
Shimmering surfaces came out a strong trend for spring. For instance at Conceria Gaiera Giovanni SpA, which was acquired by Chanel in 2020, pastel-hued leather hides were iridescent and treated with pearl-like effects, or boasted a lacquered, wet-look finish. They flanked standout metallic hides and an expanded range of chrome-free leather nodded to the brand’s sustainable journey. As part of the latter, the company is also offering its clients the opportunity to customize their products using pre-consumer recycled materials. Although Lineapelle is mainly known for its leather offering, it has expanded its scope recently by adding the “A New Point of Materials” hub dedicated to high-tech innovations.
Asked about the emergence of alternatives to leather, including mushroom-derived materials, that could undermine its performance, Bacchi said the association is “looking carefully at them, there are many highly innovative and very interesting materials, but they are not really widespread yet or on the broader market at least, so it’s not alarming.”
Among the suppliers of new-gen materials, Italian Converter returned to Lineapelle and introduced a glitter textile crafted from GRS-approved materials and a rubberized jacquard fabric, both suitable for small leather goods.
Flanking the trade show, leather goods association Assopellettieri held the second edition of its Mipel Lab format, a showcase of the best third-party manufacturers in the leather goods sector, which overall generated a turnover of 500 million euros in 2021.
Unlike Mipel, which is running March 13 to 15 and is dedicated to small and medium-sized accessories brands, Mipel Lab aims facilitate strategic partnership and collaborations between manufacturers and fashion brands, especially in the accessible luxury segment.
“Third-party manufacturers are having a great momentum,” said Franco Gabbrielli, president of Assopellettieri. “We believe that there is unexploited potential for brands to produce in Italy and especially for accessible luxury companies,” he offered. The executive noted the U.S. and U.K., as well as China, are the main target market for the initiative. In the Asian country, the emergence of smaller luxury designer brands with ambitions to manufacture in Italy is significant, he said.
Among the 16 participating companies, Tivoli Group CEO Stefano Giacomelli said that after last September’s pilot, the format has proven successful in attracting premium companies looking for “qualified and solid manufacturing partners with artisanal competences but also technical, managerial and financial prowess.”
“This is pivotal especially for international brands and designers coming to Italy to develop and produce their goods and find only SMEs with whom it’s hard to deal with…for many brands, it seems like an opportunity to move production to Italy without having to rely on local facilities,” he offered noting that the group will also take in the Mipel Lab showcase in New York next July.
The trade fair is flanked by a soon-to-be-launched digital platform developed in partnership with consultancy Ernst & Young.