Gorgeous handcrafted leather and upcycled options in the market that follow stringent sustainability guidelines leads to us to explore how Chennai is back as a viable global destination for leather
Chennai-based luxury leather brands
It all began with us enamoured with gorgeous floral printed leather clutches at a pop-up and cooing over woven bags of exceptional finish at another boutique. When it comes to leather, often there is a hesitant expression of admiration and a near apology when enjoying a weathered, beautiful top grade leather bag that is getting better with age like wine. We felt the fragrance of leather, new and old, was back in the market. As we caught the launch of a bunch of new brands in town this year, we decided to not hide but seek the beauty of handcrafted leather and upcycled options by exploring new players and new collections in the market that follow international sustainability guidelines, putting Chennai back on the global map as a viable destination for manufacturing and retailing. We rope in market leaders to weigh in on the phenomenon.
Shoe & tell
A chat with Bachi Pullela, co-founder of Language shoes, confirms that you can’t talk leather without understanding the shoe market. The brand straddles the reasonable price point and offers elegant aesthetics and world class quality. With nearly 35 years of experience in leather manufacturing under his belt, Bachi started the brand along with Akber and Akther Hussain, and tells us that the shift in the leather business is bigger than the local retail market. “Post-pandemic, the world is looking at us not just as a reliable manufacturing base with a large workforce. But the other big attraction is that the billion plus population offers a strong buying market too,” says the businessman, adding that the the pandemic had caused big companies to now rethink the risk-profiling of countries like Vietnam and China. The supply chain issues have also encouraged the concept of ‘local for local’. Home brands have learnt the lesson the hard way during the pandemic and are now looking at the domestic market with renewed respect and interest. In fact, a clear nod to the revival of the footwear industry is the recent five memoranda of understanding (MoUs) signed by the Tamil Nadu government for an investment worth `2,250 crore in the footwear and leather sector as part of the Tamil Nadu Footwear and Leather Products Policy 2022.
Manish Kawlra, the managing partner of The Sac & Satchel Company also started with Shoeline, a company that has been manufacturing and exporting footwear for the past two decades. “Several years ago, I had decided to diversify into leather accessories, particularly for domestic retail and had set up The Sac & Satchel Company, shares Manish, adding that he felt there was space to provide the Indian consumer with a well-curated international range of high-quality leather accessories, at affordable prices. That’s when he launched Töhl literally meaning skin in Tamil, in the Indian Market towards the end of 2018 through their webstore. The entrepreneur further shares that although the brand is positioned in the luxury segment; the strategy was to keep products at affordable price points, whilst ensuring high quality.” The discerning customer will always choose leather due to its natural and sustainable characteristics,” he adds.
Talking about a discerning customer base, we have Kripesh Ram, founder and director of Urai, who brings to the table a strong sustainability factor and busts some myths surrounding leather products. “To start with, animals are not killed for the leather industry. They are killed for the meat industry and the skin is literally a waste product of that market,” says Kripesh whose brand up-cycles and recycles scrap leather and defective finished leather skins into interesting and functional leather products. Kripesh explains how a well-made, good quality leather bag can last for more than 25 years, making it a low-waste investment.
Reminiscent of the vintage basket weave, the recently launched leather accessory brand Veev has aesthetics that exude a charming resort vibe. We chat with Prakash Venkatesan, CEO of the company to ask him how the domestic market was responding to the price point. “We are a family business with over three generations since 1927. My personal experience has been since the late ’80s. The market has evolved quite a bit over time and even within the life-cycle of Veev which is 12 years. Brand awareness has increased quite a bit, dominated, of course, by famous international brands. However, price sensitivity is high in purchase patterns and trends supersede the innate quality of the products. Purchasing power has to increase more to appreciate the nuances of high quality and this is bound to happen as the economy grows,” he promises.
Meanwhile, Mudassir Khateeb of Wool & Rabbit who has been manufactur – ing and exporting leather footwear and garments for 20 years now, tells us that their exports are most – ly to European brands from countries like Italy, Spain and France. “Now India is becoming a good market for leather footwear and leather products in general, as people now have developed a taste for it and are much better educated about leather properties, the process and its value. Two main reasons being, everyone is now aware of what is trending globally and, of course, there is a better spending power,” says Mudassir, who adds that they are planning to launch a customisable option in shoes — where clients can pick the colour of the leather and get themselves a bespoke pair.
Hide & seek
Belonging to a leather family of 40 years and three generations, Imran Pasha learnt the ropes in the tanneries and wet blue markets of Kolkata and Ranipet and honed his tanning technique in the family business for 20 years. With the launch of their new brand, Myo:n (Kashmiri for mine), they introduced a new line of youthful, fresh, edgy and experimental leather prod – ucts into the market. “We are excited to offer finishes that are often first movers for the Indian market, straight off the international runways of Milan and next-season colours of Mode Europe. Our competitors are in equal measure the best in the business in India and the niche local suppliers of Europe,” says Imran. He further says that they cater to those who value the timeless and decadent luxury of genuine leather — who need no convincing that ‘faux leather,’ leatherette, PU are no substitutes over this natural and recycled byproduct. “All Myo:n products are hand crafted from 100 per cent pure leathers. Our philosophy imbibes sustainability at its core. We educate customers about leather facilitating the reuse of natural raw hides which are a by-product of the meat industry and will exist as a by-product until the meat industry exists. Re-using animal hides is up-cycling a natural waste product. At Myo:n, we stand firmly against exotic skins — croc, ostrich, deer and others,” says Imran, reiterating Kripesh’s explanation.
We also catch up with celebrity designer Chaitanya Rao, the only couturier with an association with the leather show in Chennai and for the longest time. On luxury leather garments, he says, “The domestic market would usually mean clients from the colder climes up north. However, with more people travelling and acquiring an appreciation for the material — the leather garments are sought after for their travel wardrobe.” Talking about luxury goods, Bachi offers, “Luxury leather products will always cater to a niche and discerning market. With the emphasis on sustainability, certification and ratings — the amount of leather in the market is going to be controlled and hence, the material will always be premium and coveted!”
– Sabrina Rajan
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