The co-owner of UK leather supplier GH Leathers speaks to Marie Davies about increased fashion demand for suede and shearling.
How has the leather business started in 2011?
There is so much going on in our market at the moment, factors the industry has never seen before. We are in extremely interesting and worrying times.
Such as? The combination of a shortage of skins and a massive demand for skins. It is a very volatile market and, because skins are a by-product of the farming industry, changes in the farming industry directly affect our supply.
What are some of the shortage issues?
During the recession, people cut back on eating out and buying meat. This decreased the demand for meat and as a consequence farmers have not been breeding as many animals. Floods in places such as South America have also affected cattle numbers, and skins from the Middle East are more difficult to export because of the current political issues.
What trends have you seen increasing demand?
The Burberry Prorsum aviator jacket pushed demand for sheepskin in autumn 10, along with the success of the Ugg sheepskin boot.
How are you combating these challenges?
Retailers normally give us their orders between March and the end of April. This year we have warned customers to get their orders in early.
Have you seen prices increase on shearling?
Shearling prices have risen approximately 40% over the past year because there is not enough supply to fulfil demand, and the high street will see the knock-on effect of that next season.
When do you think supply will increase again?
It’s difficult to predict. Hopefully it will pick-up once people start going back to restaurants and eating more expensive foods. But we will never see pigs, lambs and cows bred solely for skins in the way fur is.
What trends are you seeing in terms of skins for autumn 11?
Sheepskin is still everywhere. Shearling will be massive again and we are seeing a move away from camel towards tan and mushroom colours, along with different effects such as cracked finishes.
How did you get into this industry?
I began working for UK-based lamb tannery Strong and Fisher in 1991 but the company closed down in 1997. My business partner Ian Garley and I had an opportunity to use our experience and open GH Leathers in Higham Ferrers in Northamptonshire.
How have you seen the industry change?
In the early 2000s the demand from smaller designers and brands wanting lower quantities began to kick in. As a consequence we set up a large stock holding programme in the UK so we could fulfil their orders the next day. Fast-forward to today and we are seeing more retailers wanting to come back and manufacture in the UK - which we can cater for. If retailers give a 500-quantity order to Chinese factories it is likely they will be at the back of the queue, but we are now large enough to fulfil that sort of quantity in the UK.
Which is the biggest-selling leather for autumn 11?
Lots of sampling has been black (Versace pictured). Grey took over for a bit but black is now stronger than it’s been for a while.
Where do you source your skins from?
All over South America, South Korea, Japan and Italy.
What’s your favourite aspect of your job?
The opportunity to meet and work with such a wide range of people from all walks of life.
Which UK retailers and designers do you work with?
Jigsaw, Reiss (pictured) and Jasper Conran.
Amos Hill is co-owner of leather, suede and shearling supplier GH Leathers