Consumers have developed a predilection towardsgenuine leather products and producers are doing their utmost to keep pace.
--BY MUNA SUNUWAR
The recent years have been a glorious period for Nepali leather goods producers as leather apparel that are perennially popular in clothing and renowned for durability have found way into the wardrobes of many Nepalis.
Along with the increase in import of readymade clothing, the rise of customers seeking authentic leather products is undeniable. On the other hand, synthetic leather goods, that have a significant presence in the Nepali market, have influenced the sales of authentic leather products. A universal commodity, consumers all around the world are well aware of the durability and authenticity of genuine leather products. Leather goods producers, however, say that Nepal’s domestic market is more inclined towards synthetic non-leather polyurethane (PU) due to its affordable pricing, although people are starting to show interest in genuine materials. Both the products look alike but PU products do not have an organic skin inbuilt to provide protection from heat and flames.Bilal Ahmed Shah, founder of Latido Leathers, a Lalitpur-based leather goods store shares, “When we started five years ago, people were not aware of authentic leather products. Now, there is a trend of wearing leather apparel as a style statement.” Nepali leather goods producers like Latido Leathers offer customisation options to their consumers.
Leather remains a handmade product, which makes it expensive. The inception of production and distribution of leather goods in Nepal is a positive step for the leather industry. Shah claims that while production may be of low volume, they have maintained a high quality. “The products are made according to the order received from the customers after which, designing and manufacturing take place in Nepal,” he says, adding that leather jackets are the most popular product of Latido Leathers. The apparel market in Nepal has seen a drastic change in terms of demand. Ahmed Dulla, founder and shoe designer at The Factory Team, says he has found a vast change in the attitude of customers, who are now equipped with knowledge regarding the type and finishing of leather products. “Nepali customers have become conscious about the products they own and now they seem to have the understanding of the value of leather,” he observes. The producers of leather goods are encouraged by the fact that Nepali consumers are starting to prefer genuine leather items when provided with the right quality and appropriate price.
Arsalan Akhter, founder of Today’s Telegram, a startup dealing in pure leather bags and other creative non-leather and eco-friendly products says, “We have been motivated by the out-of-valley customers preferring and trusting Nepali made brands.” Akhter’s company has been focusing on both the Nepali and international market by displaying its products in different kinds of business fairs and exhibitions around the world. Similarly, The Factory Team is planning to expand its business in the international market by entering countries like Australia, United Kingdom and India. Latido leather jackets can cost Rs 13,000 to Rs 15,000 and the price may go up according to the type of design and the leather used in the product. The company ships products to countries such as Australia, USA, Japan and Korea. Today’s Telegram products have a minimum price of Rs 150 for pure leather earrings and a maximum price of Rs 12,500 for a pure leather punching bag. “I think we can be one the brightest countries on the map in the near future if our young minds are ignited by the right sources,” Akhter opines. Shah says the Nepali diaspora are the major clients from other countries. The Factory Team sees the greatest inflow of customers during the wedding season because of which Dulla is planning to launch a completely new collection of formal shoes targeting the wedding season. Gents boots are the bestselling products of the company.Nepali leather goods producers source raw materials from India and all over Nepal. According to Akhter, buffalo skins and high altitude grazing goats from Nepal are highly sought after in the international market.
According to Akhter, leather goods from Nepal are exported to many major countries like Australia, China, and Malaysia. However, producers only receive a mere two percent in cash subsidy on export. “In such a scenario, it becomes hard for Nepali manufacturers to compete and penetrate the international market,” he explains. While companies are making a remarkable improvement in terms of their presence in the national market, the producers aim for systematised production and distribution. “Though problems in the system, skilled workforce and production exist, we dream of penetrating the international market by minimising them,” mentions Shah. Akhter claims his company has been persistent in trickling into the global market as an online brand dealing in leather products, creative products and eco-friendly fabrics. The products need to reach out to customers with authenticity and right pricing for better results and companies like Today’s Telegram are aiming to penetrate the global market by 2020.
Leather products in Nepal are still not produced for mass distribution. Shah says there is a lack of manpower in the leather industry. “It has posed challenges in the production of leather goods,” he adds. Dulla has likewise felt the lack of skilled labour in Nepal’s leather industry. He says, “Despite the growing market of leather goods in Nepal, skilled manpower is still hard to find and retain in Nepal.” Nepali leather goods producers have been exploring into segments like leather jackets, shoes, belts, bags, wallets, purses and other accessories. Earning the goodwill of customers, companies like Latido Leathers, Today are Telegram, The Factory Team, Human Fit Craft and Nepal Leather Craft have been providing Nepal-made leather goods and revising the concept of leather goods in the Nepali market. They have adopted strategies to penetrate the modern market by integrating the material into trendy goods.
With minimum production and consumption of leather products in the Nepali market, the government’s support is mandatory. Nepal, as a least developed country (LDC), enjoys zero tariffs to the United States and some other countries while exporting leather goods. This is a bright opportunity for Nepali entrepreneurs focused on leather goods.
Akhter mentions the possibilities the Nepali government can explore, including revising the cash incentive plans for exports, which could help Nepal compete with other countries. The government should focus on organising business conferences for buyers and sellers to meet to enhance the trade of products made in Nepal.