Italian Leather Firms Look to China

BOLOGNA, Italy — Soaring leather prices and competition from Asian countries have been snuffing out Italy’s leather industry, but many producers at the recent Lineapelle show are banking on brighter days ahead.

“This year we registered more orders of made-in-Italy products [compared with the same period the year before], especially from China,” said Guerriero Santori, owner of Santori Pellami, a leather firm near Ascoli Piceno, Marche, that makes half its products abroad and exports half its production.

Santori, who said orders from China reflected customers’ preference for Italian quality despite the price, echoed the view of many factory owners who are betting on improved business for this year.

“We hope that 2010 will be the turning year [in terms of orders],” said Andrea Ghizzanio, president of the genuine Italian vegetable-tanned leather consortium, which includes 25 firms from Tuscany. Ghizzanio was confident that last year the industry reached the bottom in terms of orders.

Hopes were reinforced by the latest edition of leather show Lineapelle, held in Bologna earlier in March.

“The leather industry in 2008 and 2009 faced a sharp fall. It has now stabilized thanks to accessories,” said Carlo Longo, VP of the national Chamber of Commerce Unioncamere.

Italy’s fashion industry, which includes clothing, leather, textiles, tanning and shoes, was pressured in the last two years by the economic crisis and a progressive move of production to other countries, mainly the Far East. That led to a drop in orders of about 30 percent to 40 percent and the closure of 1,900 firms, according to Unioncamere.

Growing customer awareness to labeling and eco-friendly products helped, according to Longo. “They will be the drivers of the Italian leather industry going forward.”

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