Region/Countries: Asia, Japan Industry: Other Date: March 2016

Why this is important to Wisconsin businesses: Opportunities for Wisconsin exporters of leather

Lately, global demand for natural leather has been growing faster than supply. A key driver is increasing demand in China for natural leather, as a result of the Chinese economy’s growth. In this context, makers of custom-made shoes (“bespoke shoes”) using natural leather are becoming more numerous in Japan. While the number of shoe craftsmen in Europe is decreasing, the number of young people in Japan who take up shoe craftsmanship is increasing.

Natural leather has also found its way into such areas as seating in the Shinkansen bullet trains, in luxury cars or in passenger aircraft. This leather has become a marker of luxury due to its excellent durability, flame resistance and superior feel, and demand for it  is expected to continue to increase. Luxury products made of high-quality materials appeal to consumers of all ages, and the legendary “Japanese spirit of craftsmanship” is experiencing a revival. In addition, consumers value natural leather because it is eco-friendly compared to petroleum products, for example.

Natural leather is being manufactured in Japan, but at the very small scale of the individual farm. North America and South America, where livestock farming is thriving, seem to be well placed to contribute to the supply of high-quality natural leather.

Companies wishing to supply leather for Japanese craftsmen should give consideration to environmental concerns in their production methods, for example, devoting attention to the treatment or disposal of water and chemicals used during the manufacturing process. These companies should also keep in mind the material qualities sought after by Japanese craftsmen, such as color and texture of the leather.

According to a survey released in 2015 by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the total value of world exports of natural leather was about $179 billion in 2012, of which the U.S. accounted for 40 percent of the total export value of raw skins and some 10 percent of the total export value of dressed skins. From 2002 through 2012, the total value of world exports in the category increased by 170 percent. World exports of natural leather products are expected to continue increasing, and Wisconsin leather exporters can be part of this trend.