Need to explore niche markets for EI leather

Written by Joseph Vackayil | Chennai, Jan 13 | Updated: Jan 14 2008, 06:12am hrs
Changing fashion trends and environmental awareness of consumers in developed countries have created niche markets for eco-friendly products like vegetable-tanned EI leather. Concentrated in the Trichy, Dindugal regions of Tamil Nadu, this leather produced in the small and cottage sectors could be developed into a branded product with geographical indication, tanners say

According to the secretary of the Tanners Association of Trichy, VRSM Mohideen, joint ventures for production and buy back arrangement for fashion and designer products from eco-friendly and vegetable tanned leather, could be identified to boost Indias leather and leather products exports. It is also in tune with the international fashion trend, which is switching over to fully vegetable tanned and environment-friendly leathers, he said.

The unique technology and craftsmanship to make vegetable tanned EI leather (East India leather, denoting its colonial legacy) is vested with the small-scale tanners and craftsmen in Trichy and Dindugal areas in Tamil Nadu. He said EI leather is being considered for registration as a Geographical Indication product. We have already submitted the application to the registry in Chennai, which is under process. India is the only source available to the world for EI leather supply, Mohiden told FE.

EI leathers dominated Indian leather exports till 1970. After the introduction of chrome-processed finished leather and focus on export of value-added consumer products, it was driven to the background. Now, it accounts for only less than 5% of the finished leather exports. The EI tanners, now facing an uncertain future because of fiscal and policy constraints, believe that world fashion makers will create new value-added products using EI Leather, if we supply them and ensure continuous supplies at a competitive price.

Poor patronage by the Indian mainstream leather industry, 15% duty on exports of EI leather, high cost of environment protection, and pollution control technologies, and import duty on essential ingredients like wattle extracts, have led to the closure of a large number of EI leather tanneries, Mohideen said.

Removal of export duty, liberal imports of essential ingredients for tanning, and government policy support for the promotion of EI leather for world markets, would give a new lease of life for this traditional rural-based industry, Mohideen said.