Leather craftsmanship: India

Leather craftsmanship: India

Over the years, India has transformed from being a mere exporter of raw materials to a supplier of value-added products. For buyers looking for volume and quality leather goods, India offers a range of handcrafted garments, footwear and fashion accessories.

Among the factors that have contributed to India becoming a prominent supplier of value-added leather goods are its large raw material base and skilled workers. The government has also implemented initiatives to encourage the development of supporting industries.

“India is a prominent leather goods supplier to the global market. Last decade was instrumental in the exponential growth of the Indian leather industry,” said Rafeeque Ahmed, president of All India Skin and Hide Tanners and Merchants Association.

The country ranks as the world’s second largest producer of leather shoes and other types of footwear after China, with an annual output of 2.06 billion pairs. It is also the second largest producer of leather garments, capable of manufacturing 16 million pieces each year.

Exports account for approximately 50 percent of the leather industry’s sales. Between April and June 2017, India sent abroad $1.4 billion worth of leather and leather products. During the financial year ending March 2017, exports amounted to $5.7 billion.

The top destinations were the US, Germany, the UK, Italy, Spain, France, Hong Kong, the UAE, mainland China, the Netherlands, Belgium and Poland. These 12 markets together account for more than 70 percent of India’s exports of leather and leather products.

Looking ahead, the industry faces a number of challenges. For one, the cattle slaughter ban in several states continues to hamper the availability of hides, keeping leather costs on an upward trend. Limited design innovation is also an issue, with most makers relying on buyer specifications.

Still, projections remain optimistic. India foresees exports of leather and leather products to reach $9 billion by 2020, up from $5.7 billion in the financial year 2016-2017.

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The India leather advantageDesignersSupplier spotlightMoving forwardPDF download

Leather craftsmanship: India The India leather advantage

The India leather goods industry continues to thrive because of its access to a large raw material base, being one of the world’s largest producers of buffalo hide, cattle hide and goatskin. It also has access to a workforce specifically trained for careers within the sector.

Large raw material base

India is home to a large livestock population, holding about 20 percent of the world’s cattle and buffalo population, and 11 percent of the goats and sheep, according to the website of the Council for Leather Exports, an autonomous nonprofit organization with more than 3,000 members.

Estimates of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) place the number of India’s cattle at 187 million heads in 2014. For goats and sheep, FAO’s estimates were 133 million and 63 million, respectively.

In addition to having a large livestock population, India has more than 2,000 tanneries that transform hides and skins into leather, according to a November 2015 working paper by the Export Import Bank of India.

Leather craftsmanship: India Types of leather

About 50 percent of these facilities are in the state of Tamil Nadu, while 25 percent are in West Bengal. Uttar Pradesh serves as home to approximately 20 percent of India’s tanneries.

The sector can produce more than 2 billion square feet annually, according to the working paper. Leather suppliers grade the skin or hide from A to F, with A being the best quality. Grading is based mainly on the finish of and the absence of marks, according to Arif Ur Rehman, owner of leather goods supplier Valmax.

Ravi Shankar, founder of leather goods maker Collagen Tanners, noted that Indian animals have less fat and more strength compared with those in cold countries.

India has “semi-arid tropics and moderate temperatures, which moderate fat levels,” he said.

Comparing the quality of cows in India and those in New Zealand and Switzerland, Shankar commented that cows in these countries “have so much fat and are of low strength,” which gives India an advantage in providing leather with high durability and strength.

Diverse manufacturing

India’s leather goods industry includes manufacturers of footwear, garments, gloves, handbags, suitcases, trunks, saddlery and harnesses. Micro and small enterprises account for the majority of the sector.

In a working group report for leather and leather products for the Twelfth Five-Year Plan 2012-17, India was reported to have more than 400 makers of leather footwear. The annual production capacity of the sector was estimated to be 909 million pairs.

In addition to having a large livestock population, India has more than 2,000 tanneries that transform hides and skins into leather, according to a November 2015 working paper by the Export Import Bank of India.

About 50 percent of these facilities are in the state of Tamil Nadu, while 25 percent are in West Bengal. Uttar Pradesh serves as home to approximately 20 percent of India’s tanneries.

Leather craftsmanship: India

India sent abroad $2.1 billion worth of leather footwear during the 12-month period ending March 2017, according to an analysis of the export performance of leather and leather products posted on the Council for Leather Exports (CLE) website.

For leather garments, the working group counted over 260 suppliers capable of producing a total of 16 million pieces per annum. Between April 2016 and March 2017, exports of leather garments amounted to $536.6 million.

Manufacturers of saddlery and harnesses were estimated to number more than 180. The sector was reported to have an annual capacity of 2.5 million pieces. During the financial year ending March 2017, it sent abroad about $143.1 million worth of products.

Suppliers of other leather goods, including gloves, bags, belts and other fashion accessories, and upholstery, number more than 840, according to the working group. Exports of this sector during the 12-month period exceeded $1.3 billion.

The major importers of leather and leather products from India were the US, Germany, the UK, Italy and Spain, according to the analysis posted on the CLE website.


Skilled workforce

India’s leather crafts industry dates back centuries. Today, age-old techniques continue to be applied in the making of footwear, bags and other leather goods.

“Most of the other countries have become automated, but in India this craft is still there and thriving,” Gautam Sinha, an alumnus of the National Institute of Fashion Technology and founder of leather goods supplier Nappa Dori, said during an interview with the Hinrich Foundation. He added that “the artisanship, the craftsmanship and handstitching” remains very strong in India.

An indication of this continuing tradition of leather craftsmanship is that throughout India, handcrafted mojaris and juttis are still offered. These traditional leather shoes typically feature elaborate patterns depicted in embroidery or through the use of shells, mirrors, bells, beads and other trims.

About 70 to 80 percent of leather products in India are still handcrafted, according to Sameer Chowdhry, managing director of leather goods company Studio Pelle. Stitching, punching and other steps are usually done manually, especially in small, family-owned workshops, some of which have been operating for more than 50 years.

Besides having artisans who are well-versed in traditional techniques, India has a pool of workers with technical training in design, management and other skills related to the production and sale of leather.

Leather craftsmanship: India

The country’s leather industry currently provides employment to about 3 million people, a report posted on the Make in India website revealed.

Specialized training programs India has several institutions offering training programs or courses in fields related to the leather industry.

Among these is the Footwear Design & Development Institute (FDDI), which was established by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India, in 1986. In August 2017, it was declared an “Institution of National Importance” under the Footwear Design & Development Institute Act.

FDDI’s programs include bachelor’s and master’s degree courses in footwear design and production, and retail and fashion merchandise. The institute, which has 10 campuses, also offers courses on creative design and CAD/CAM, as well as leather goods and accessories design.

The National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) offers a course in leather design, which is meant to provide students the necessary knowledge and skills to pursue careers related to the design, manufacturing and merchandising of leather goods, including garments, footwear and lifestyle accessories. Established in 1986 under the aegis of the Ministry of Textiles, NIFT currently has 15 campuses.

The Central Footwear Training Institute (CFTI), located in the Chennai, Tamil Nadu, offers a one-month course in leather goods making. Other courses offered by the organization tackle matters related to footwear design, manufacturing and technology. Courses take between one month to two years to complete. CFTI is an autonomous organization under the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises.

Leather craftsmanship: India Designers

India is home to designers who are mostly known for merging traditional techniques and current styles to create unique pieces that reflect the country’s distinct art and culture, and readiness to embrace modern international trends.

The three designers featured in this section are Bhimji Koyla of Leder Handcrafted, Abhishek Paul of Love Leather and Gautam Sinha of Nappa Dori.

Click “Inquire Now” to send inquiries to featured suppliers.


Leather craftsmanship: India

Bhimji Koyla

Bhimji Khoyla is the founder and owner of Leder Handcrafted, which produces bags, wallets, footwear and other products made of locally sourced vegetable-tanned leather.

Khoyla obtained his bachelor’s degree from the Indian Institute of Crafts & Design in Jaipur, specializing in fabric and leather. His family has been in the leather business for more than 10 generations, manufacturing functional leather goods at a small scale, but his efforts have helped it shift to the organized sector.

Khoyla founded Leder Handcrafted in 2015. Located in Kutch, a district in the state of Gujarat, the company adopts traditional techniques such as handpunching, thorni work and embroidery. It also uses handwoven textiles such as the Mashru fabric found in Kutch.

“Environment-friendly manufacturing of leather goods is the way forward,” said Khoyla in an interview with the Hinrich Foundation. ”We are giving 100 percent to achieve this.”

Leder Handcrafted’s products, which use vegetable dyes for tanning and locally sourced leather, have been exported the US, Australia and Scotland.

Leather craftsmanship: India

Leder Handcrafted’s leather brogues feature buffalo leather soles and goat leather uppers. The fabric is ajrak handblock painted, made using a 14-stage process, which is practiced in the Kutch region of Gujarat.

Leather craftsmanship: India

Abhishek Paul

Abhishek Paul is the head designer of Love Leather, a New Delhi-based supplier of handcrafted fashion accessories made of leather. Paul studied leather design at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in Kolkata. He graduated in 2009 with an award for best all-around performance.

In 2012, he launched Cecilia’s Leather Artefacts, an original design manufacturer of luxury vintage handbags made of genuine leather.

“Product designing is taking shape toward an anthropological study of the geographic region, their abundant resources and supply. Our designs should evoke indigenous design, irrespective of the region, caste and nativity,” Paul said in an interview with the Hinrich Foundation.

This philosophy was shared by Love Leather, which resulted to a collaboration and Paul’s appointment as the company’s head designer in 2016.

“Our philosophy outreached to a diverse clientele, with products made of non-wood fibers such as bamboo and jute to the aqua culture of ‘Pati-beth’ and ‘Sitalpati’, handwoven canvas of jute fiber,” Paul said.

Leather craftsmanship: India

Inspired by the work of revered painter Jamani Roy, Paul created the Fish Eye Clutch, which is made of cow leather and cotton-jute canvas. The design highlights a traditional handpainting technique of West Bengal, which involves strong hairline strokes to emphasize the object’s outline.

Leather craftsmanship: India

Gautam Sinha

Gautam Sinha in 2010 launched his own brand of leather products called Nappa Dori, which means “leather and thread” in Hindi.

The brand initially covered a collection of colorful trunks with leather trims and printed leather laptop sleeves and messenger bags. Since then, Nappa Dori has expanded its product range to include leather fashion accessories, stationery and pet accessories.

The company has six stores in India and one each in Doha and the Maldives. Its products are also sold through distribution partnerships in the US, Paris, London, Japan and Singapore.

“For us at Nappa Dori, design innovation has been the key and having a strong DNA in terms of what you do, and that’s what sets us apart,” said Sinha in an interview with the Hinrich Foundation. “It’s not that we do something completely different. We just do things which feel right and not going overboard with India in your head.”

Sinha is a graduate of fashion design from the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in Kolkata. He was voted one of the five most creative talents in the Indian scene by the British Council in 2011.

Leather craftsmanship: India

Nappa Dori‘s signature design is this handmade steamer trunk with leather edges and straps. Inspired by old world charm and Indian design influences during the British Raj period, the trunk is made using sheet metal and comes with a beige cotton twill lining and chrome locks and hardware.


Leather craftsmanship: India Supplier spotlight

Featured here are 10 India companies offering leather bags, footwear, garments and other fashion accessories.

Click “Inquire Now” to send inquiries to featured suppliers.


Aisha Leather Products

Leather craftsmanship: India

Model: Leather formal shoes

Descriptions: Cowhide uppers and lining; TPR soles

FOB price: $19 

Delivery time: 25 days for 500 pairs 

 

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Antler Group

Leather craftsmanship: India

Model: 096

Descriptions: Buffalo hide; buckle closure; laptop compartment with zipper closure; 42x38x20cm 

FOB price: $55 

Delivery time: 60 days for 600 bags 

 

Inquire now

Leather craftsmanship: India

Bag House

Leather craftsmanship: India

Model: Ladies’ Handmade Leather Bag

Descriptions: Handmade tote bag; buffalo hide; two compartments; 7x5in 

FOB price: $20 

Delivery time: 25 days 

 

Inquire now

Leather craftsmanship: India 

Hirel Exports

Leather craftsmanship: India

Model: PLGS5045

Descriptions: Burnished calfskin; handmade tunit soles  

FOB price: $20-$25 

Delivery time: 15 days 

 

Inquire now

Leather craftsmanship: India

 

JL Collections

Leather craftsmanship: India

Model: PLGS5045

Descriptions: Burnished calfskin; handmade tunit soles 

FOB price: $20-$25 

Delivery time: 15 days 

Inquire now

Leather craftsmanship: India

Leder Handcrafted

Leather craftsmanship: India

Model: SB#002

Descriptions: Handcrafted shoes; goatskin uppers; buffalo hide soles; Ajrakh print

FOB price: $18.50 

Delivery time: 50 days for 500 pairs 

 

Inquire now

Love Leather

Leather craftsmanship: India

Model: iPad Sleeve

Descriptions: Nappa leather, canvas or jute, handpainted pattern; 8×10.2in 

FOB price: $26 

Delivery time: 30 days 

 

Inquire now

Leather craftsmanship: India

Maven Impex

Leather craftsmanship: India

Model: MIPL 703

Descriptions: Cowhide uppers; Texon insoles  

FOB price: $16.10  

Delivery time: 15 days for 2,000 pairs 

 

Inquire now

Leather craftsmanship: India


Nappa Dori

Leather craftsmanship: India

Model: Steamer Mini Trunk

Descriptions: Handcrafted; sheet metal; leather straps; beige cotton twill lining; 14.5x12x7in 

FOB price: $350 

Delivery time: 30 days 

 

Inquire now

Leather craftsmanship: India

Valmax

Leather craftsmanship: India

Model: MDZ101

Descriptions: Short leather jacket; nappa leather  

FOB price: $45 

Delivery time: 21 days for 100 pieces 

 

Inquire now

Leather craftsmanship: India

Leather craftsmanship: India Moving forward

India leather goods suppliers are working closely with the government and industry associations to boost the industry’s competitiveness through product innovation, skills and technology upgradation and raw material availability.


Challenges

Leather is one of the focus sectors of the government’s Make in India program. The country aims to raise export turnover to $9 billion from $5.85 billion by 2020, according to a November 2016 news release from the Council for Leather Exports (CLE), an autonomous nonprofit organization with more than 3,000 members and functions under the aegis of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

The leather industry, however, faces a number of challenges. Key among these are policy related, namely the restrictions on cattle slaughter and the Goods and Services Tax (GST).

Restrictions on cattle slaughter: Although India has one of the largest populations of cattle in the world, leather production is limited due in large part to stringent laws governing the slaughter of cattle. Currently, 24 of the country’s 29 states impose restrictions or penalties on the slaughter of cows and other types of bovine. This has driven leather goods suppliers to look overseas for raw materials, and imported leather can cost double compared with local versions.

In May 2017, the Government of India banned the trade of cattle for slaughter nationwide, which caused a slowdown in hide production and prompted rates of the material to increase by as much as 25 percent.

The ban applied not only to cows but also to other bovines, including buffalos, bulls and heifers. India’s Supreme Court suspended the law in July 2017, but there is no guarantee on how long the order will be stayed.

The shortage of raw hide will become a grimmer reality if the government does not amend its policy on the ban, according to Rafequee Ahmed, president of the All India Skin and Hide Tanners and Merchants Association (AISHTMA) in Chennai who was interviewed by the Hinrich Foundation before the ban was suspended.

“Currently, we are able to meet the requirement, as the existing stock of raw material will last for some more time. But in the near term, we are most likely to start feeling the impact if the stocks dry out completely and if the supply is not restored,” said Ahmed, who is also chairperson of the Farida Group, one of India’s largest exporters.

“There is no alternative to the Indian buffalo hide that we use,” Ahmed added when asked about using imported buffalo hide as an alternative. “Indian buffalo leather is unique. We cannot get this quality of leather from anywhere in the world.”

Goods and Services Tax: Many suppliers expect leather costs to increase further in coming months due to the GST. Launched in July 2017, the GST is a multistage destination-based tax on the consumption of goods and services. In this scheme, tax will be levied on every value addition.

Leather further prepared after tanning or crusting is subject to rates of up to 12 percent. GST rates for handbags, trunks, suitcases and other bags are up to 28 percent.

Leather craftsmanship: India

Casual shoes from Maven Impex.


For footwear, models having a retail sale price (RSP) not exceeding 500 Indian rupees (about $8) per pair, provided that the RSP is indelibly marked or embossed on the product are subject to a GST rate of 5 percent. The GST rate for more expensive footwear is 18 percent.

For some makers of leather goods, the new GST rates would be more than double what they were paying for under the previous taxation scheme. Some suppliers, however, believe it is too early to tell the actual impact of GST on costs.

Effects on prices, product development: Additional or higher costs are a threat to the price competitiveness of India leather goods. Makers are forced to raise quotes to cover these expenses since most operate on single-digit margins.

Higher production expenses are also hindering most manufacturing from investing in the development of innovative designs and keeping their selections up to date with market trends. Consequently, although there are companies recognized overseas for their collections, the domestic leather goods industry is still known mainly for contract manufacturing.

Exports consist mostly of buyers’ designs, especially those for the US and the UK, according to suppliers interviewed.

“India is very creative, but designs are decided by Italian, Spanish or French designers. It could be a complete idea from here, but the final word is theirs,” said Sameer Chowdhry, managing director of Studio Pelle, a leather garments supplier in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. He added that there is a need for “high-end designers” working in different industries to help innovate and promote designing in the leather industry.

“The National Institute of Fashion Technology and other design academies provide great talent today, so you’ll have very creative products showcased by these youngsters, but we still tend to be fabricators,” said Chowdhry.

Ajit Singh Harsana, founder of Savitri Leathers, pointed out that suppliers need to grasp the idea of the buyers, soak it in and come up with a design that the buyer and the market deem fit. “Nowadays, the market is going for antique and dull-looking products, so manufacturers and companies are innovating by bringing the wrinkle effect and using the dip technique on their products.”

Abhishek Paul, head designer of startup company Love Leather, noted the same trend. “Slow fashion is prevalent in the industry right now. By slow fashion one means producing antique and vintage looking products by using organic, eco-friendly and sustainable materials,” he said.

Paul sees leather tote bags, bowling bags and satchel bags dominating the market, commenting that these products will always be in demand because they are simple and have multiple purposes. “Providing an antique and vintage look in these products is the plus point for any company as the product will look basic and sophisticated.”

Leather craftsmanship: India

Nappa Dori combines leather and wood in its Carpenter sling bag.
The product is made of rubber wood, paired with genuine leather and a vintage-style clasp.

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Outlook and support initiatives

Amid all these challenges, many companies remain optimistic about the future of the leather goods industry, especially in value-added products.

From 2017 to 2022, a total of 2.39 million additional jobs are expected to be created in the industry, according to information on the website of the Leather Sector Skill Council (LSSC), a nonprofit organization formed in 2012 as one of the key sector skill councils approved by the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC).

“We are gradually becoming more conscious about the quality. We are becoming aggressive in marketing our products,” said Ajay Sahai, director general and CEO of the Federation of Indian Export Organizations (FIEO). “India is definitely going to have greater say in the market in years to come.”

ILDP

Gautam Sinha noted that the leather industry’s design sector is evolving quite fast. “At this point, leather products are more traditional, although that is changing. People and their skills sets are evolving,” Nappa Dori’s owner and lead designer said. “The influx of international buyers and even their aesthetic sensibilities are now trickling into smaller exporters and designers, which is helping innovation.”

India’s large domestic market is also expected to benefit the leather goods industry. According to the Make in India website, the domestic market is expected to double in the next five years to reach $18 billion by 2020. International buyers are looking at India as a market rather than just as a supplier, according to Sinha. He added that the trend is getting high quality in India and selling in India, and that Indians are proud to carry locally made goods.

Industry associations and the government are working to increase the competitiveness of the sector, which has been a major contributor to export earnings. Efforts usually focus on encouraging product innovation, upgrading the necessary skills and technology, and ensuring raw material availability. The Indian Leather Development Programme (ILDP) aims to expand the raw material base through the “modernization and technology upgradation of leather units, addressing environmental concerns, human resource development, supporting traditional leather artisans, addressing infrastructure constraints and establishing institutional facilities.”

Leather craftsmanship: India PDF download

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Click on the download button to get a PDF copy of the full report, which contains the following:

The India leather advantage


  • Large raw material base
  • Diverse manufacturing
  • Skilled workforce

Designers


  • Bhimji Koyla
  • Abhishek Paul
  • Gautam Sinha

Supplier spotlight


  • Aisha Leather Products
  • Antler Group
  • Bag House
  • Hirel Exports
  • JL Collections
  • Leder Handcrafted
  • Love Leather
  • Maven Impex
  • Nappa Dori
  • Valmax

Moving forward


  • Challenges
  • Outlook and support initiatives