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Leather Garments


Leather goods and garments are big business all over the world. These are being manufactured and exported by India and the Indian leather industry is poised to take the international markets by storm.

A decade ago fashion in leather garments in India was unheard of. If one wanted a good leather jacket one had to make a trip to the West or Far East. All this has now changed quite drastically. All over the world leather and its products are big business and joining the race are Indian manufacturers of leather garments and goods. Today, the world leather market is phenomenal with countries like Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Turkey, Yugoslavia and countries from South America being major manufacturers and exporters. But in the case of India its share of the total leather market including accessories is a mere 3.5 per cent of the global market to 22 countries like USA, Germany, Switzerland, USSR, France, Italy and Australia although the country has the advantage of affordable labour and an excess of good leather which will help it to capture at least 10 per cent of the world markets by the end of the Eighth Five Year Plan and raise the target for leather garments alone to Rs. 1000 crores.

Leather wear in India is basically for export though a very small quantity is available in the local market mainly in the north where the weather is conducive to leather wear and also in five star hotels where the tourists from all over the world buy leather garments. Most of the garments sold are designed as per international standards and the buyers are mainly foreigners who find the locally made garments very fashionable. The main leather garment centres for manufacture are Bombay, Kanpur, and Madras.

The Indian Export Trade Corporation (IETC)-one of the leading manufacturers of very high fashion leather garments for men’s and women’s wear started its leather business in 1970 with snake skin items. They moved into women’s garments in 1985 and then to men’s wear in 1989. Their turnover of 100 pieces per month of women’s wear and 1500 pieces per month of men’s wear in leather gave them a turnover of Rs. 52,66,000 in 1989/90 to countries like USA. Germany, UAE, Switzerland and in India. “Stylewise, Indians can compete with the rest of the world in design and detailing. WE have the best machines, accessories and leather and our production techniques too are very modern,” informs Pawan Sabharwal of IETC.

There are two treatments for leather that are used in India. One is the chrome tanned leather and the other is with vegetable extracts which has a more rough and tough image. Aniline dyes are used in both cases to obtain a rich look. Leather is sold at per square foot. The approximate price for a top quality full chrome finish leather is at Rs. 33-40 per square foot, for a second quality at Rs. 27-30 per square foot. Wallets, belts etc are made from superior rejection pieces which are priced at Rs. 16-21 per square foot. The aniline finish is very soft leather which is ideal for top quality garments and has an excellent drape and sells at Rs. 39-45 per square foot. The waxy finish with very little pigment and more natural dyeing also sells a the same price.

Fashionwise styles that are popular are the slim line skirts and c and cropped jacket for the Indian market. Besides the pencil skirt the multipanelled skirt fitted at the hips, is the look of the day. The mobike jackets are big hits with the younger generation with their multiple zips and buttons. For the very high fashion minded there are leather trousers but these are only useful in very cold weather like the north of India. Dresses are simple on silhouette but ornate with sequins or appliqués. The oversized poncho or cape coat is “very popular with a soft rolled collar,” adds Sabharwal. The finish of the leather is so soft that it almost resembles fabric from distance. “Also the colours available are mindboggling-right from black and white to red, green, maroon, rust, chocolate, tan, and deep purple. You name it and it is available for garments. “The leather most favoured for garments is sheep or lamb napa in an aniline finish.

Earlier, India was known for its export of finished leather which is now being turned to leather products so that the selling prices are much higher due to the added value on leather. There is a healthy 40 per cent annum growth in the export of leather products. “Unfortunately, for finished leather there is a quota for various countries but as far as finished leather products and garments are concerned it is a lot easier,” says Sabharwal. From export figures one can guage the popularity of leather garments all over the world. The targets set for 1989/90 were Rs. 3000 million but reached Rs. 3328.82 million instead. Germany is one of the best markets for the Indian leather garments and is even bigger than USA. “Since Germany’s standards for import of leather garments are the strictest in the world, once they are accepted then an exporter does not have a problem finding other international markets.” Informs Sabharwal.

While Europe prefers the very high fashion leather garments that are exclusive, USA goes in for medium price jackets and skirts in leather. As far as styling goes, Italy, France and Germany are the countries where leather styles for garments originate. But India is where they are all fabricated. “If a style is created in January in Europe it will be in production in February in India,” informs Sabharwal. Pricewise, leather garments are very competitive with export prices for jackets ranging from Rs 1600/- to 2500/-, for mobike jackets Rs. 1200/- to 1600/- and skirts Rs. 425/- to 750/-.

This is because leather garments attract an incentive of 25 per cent “Even when these garments are sold in India after the 40-45 per cent mark-up on the retail price they are still very affordable compared to foreign standards. With the devaluation of the rupee shopping for leather garments by international buyers had improved giving India’s competitors something to think about. Indian leather products manufacturers frequent international fairs like the International Leather Fair in Hong Kong, International Men’s Fashion Week, Cologne, Germany, Magic Show, Las Vagas, USA; NAMSB Show New York, USA; Buyers-Sellers meet in Japan and South Korea besides taking part in Indian leather fairs in Madras.

The very encouraging performance of the leather industry has persuaded the Leather Council to propose an export target of Rs. 2600/- crores for 1990/1991 as against Rs. 2000/- crores originally proposed in the eighth plan This should be possible since the number of leather goods manufacturers have increased from 3063 in 1988/89 to 3848 in 1989/90 with nearly 100 units all over India manufacturing items.

The future of the leather industry in India is on the upward trend and with careful planning and stringent quality control the Indian manufacturers can give stiff competition to their international rivals.

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