The shoe industry is ever evolving. What was fact last year, is not this year and won’t be next year. What I mean by that (and this is something that I have mentioned before) is that one can no longer say, ‘the best this is from here and the best that is from there.’ These concepts no longer hold true. Sure, some of the best shoes come from England, but that no longer means that all shoes that come from England are good shoes. Same with Italy. And this is quickly becoming the same truth within the leather industry. Typically speaking, good leather was known for coming from France, Italy and Germany. Suede was famous in England and Cordovan from America. As with shoes, it’s not to say that French calfskin is not the best, but rather that all shoes that use French calfskin from one of the famous tanneries, does not equate to good leather being used. Allow me to explain…
In recent years there have been a lot of rumors and talks about the leather industry. There has been said to be a decrease in leather supply due to the increasing popularity of vegetarianism (which is directly related whether you believe it or not), a constant fight for leather with the amount of new shoe brands that are popping up left and right, and worst of all, the fact that the big conglomerates are now purchasing up the tanneries. This is not to mention the surge of new shoe manufactures in Asia that are popping up with deep pockets, willing to pay double the price of the leather, just to get the top grade and thus make a name for themselves…. A money hungry tannery is going to gladly take that attractive offer. Whether or not any of these are facts is not for me to say, but it all sounds realistic and practical when you are on the inside seeing the incosistent quality of leather that you are now receiving from a tannery whose consistency was once unquestionable and is now sending you sub-par leather on a regular basis. It makes you wonder….
I was recently having a talk about this with Swedish shoe blogger, Jesper Ingevaldsson of Shoegazing, as many companies have been complaining about it. You see, Hermes bought one of the famous French tanneries, JM Weston purchased another and Gucci Group the last. They all have vested interests to protect before they start supplying the masses you see and it’s also said that the French will first supply fellow French shoe brands before dishing out the rest (this last point is HERESAY but it would not surprise me). That being, as a new shoe designer who uses French calfskin, Jesper asked me if I was concerned about this issue at hand. I said no, because most problems tend to sort themselves out in the long run and I believe that new tanneries will sprout up, or that existing ones will start making better leather. I will just have to work harder to find them. But what we need to do however is educate the end consumer, so here I am to tell you about this issue in the hopes to shed some light on the leather industry and know that things are going to change and what you thought might have been the best leather, just might not be in 5-10 years time.
So, when I said that Germany was ‘known’ for making good leather, this was true when a tannery called Freudenberg was producing some of the best black leather the world has ever seen (read history here). I don’t know the particulars but for some reason they stopped making leather and the concept was sold (and from what I hear production of the leather itself moved to Poland), of which they are now producing top quality leather under the trade name of Weinheimer (which was the name of the town Freudenberg was founded). I won’t name names, but many of the top brands use Weinheimer leather already and after having received too many inconsistent orders of leather from a certain factory in France will I also now look to start using them. And this is not the only Polish factory that is making good leather. So you see, while France loses trade from supplying sub-par leather, other tanneries will come out of the wood-works looking to take that trade. And if they can produce a good leather, then who really cares what country it comes from??
Where a product originates means nothing to me anymore. It’s all about how good the end product is. This is something that I am seeing more and more. Countries that supposedly make great things are either starting to lose it or shifting their priorities elsewhere and other countries that people would not have touched with a 10 foot pole are now starting to produce good quality products. So do yourself a favor and don’t turn your nose up to something just because of it’s origin. Turn your nose up to it if it lacks quality, even if it comes from your own country!!
This post is not to say that French leather is not good, because it is in fact very good (when they actually supply you the good stuff), just that everything that is coming out of France is not good, as one might naively think.
Pictures have nothing to do with post, just something to look at. And everything written in this post is opinion, NOT fact.