How Supply Chain Matters in the Leather Industry
The leather industry is an international multi-billion dollar manufacturing industry which produces the finished, processed, and raw materials utilized to produce leather products. Leather products come from animal skin, hair, and hides of different mammals. These resources are then utilized to produce a wide range of consumer products, including shoes, handbags, clothing, and furniture. In addition to the leather products produced, the leather industry also supplies linens, leather bedding, purses, wallets, jewelry, belts, bedspreads, towels, bathrobes, and more.
While animal hides such as cowhide and pigskin provide the raw materials for leather products such as leather shoes and purses, humans are the ones who tan these hides into usable forms. There are two primary types of leather products available in the market today. There are tanned leathers which have had a part of the animal’s hide removed, or tanned hides which haven’t had any part of the animal’s skin removed. Although both are considered to be high in quality, there is often more money available in cheaper leather products which are tanned.
Tanning takes many forms throughout the world, including Indonesia in Borneo, Spain in the Basque region, cattle in India, and hides from cattle in Australia. Today, United States based tanneries still utilize animal skins. India and Spain are the largest sources of domestically produced leather products. In addition to cow hides, bulls, goat, buffalo, rabbit, alligator, turtle, eel, elephant, snake, walrus, seal, and walrus tanned skins are used.
There are three basic types of tanning methods used today. Direct tanning, bonded-lip tanning, and treated hide tanning. Direct tanned leather products come directly from the animal’s skin. Animals are tanned by subjecting their hides to an open flame, often at over 100 degrees Celsius (warm to hot) for short periods of time.
Bonded lipped leather goods require that some moisture is present in the hides prior to applying a coloring agent, usually a coloring bath. The hides must also be thick enough not to split when the dye is applied. Treated hides are prepared by treating them with a bleaching agent and then drying them. Afterward, the dye can be applied using a tool or brush, while the surface is allowed to dry before applying a final gloss or paint.
The leather industry is an ever-growing global business. As the leather products made from various leather hides become more popular globally, the demand for leather has increased. Leather comes in a variety of colors and patterns and can be crafted into everything from shoe outsoles to motorcycle seat covers. In addition to clothing and accessories, leather apparel and accessories have become increasingly popular for use as corporate fashion statements. For instance, high-quality leather blazers that feature authentic leather accents have become quite in vogue for men in recent years. While the leather industry continues to expand, the leather industry supply chain continues to contract.