Leather never really ‘trends’ — for it is always around. Moulded into myriad variations, draped, layered or patched, it is a veritable fashion staple; never really ‘in’ or ‘out’, nor ‘on-trend’ or ‘off’. It is, simply, timeless, classic, a wardrobe favourite that can be worn year after year without getting dated.
There are well-cut leather trench coats that enamour aficionados whenever the weather gets blustery, the pure leather handbag that perpetually epitomises luxury, the edgy ‘cool’ of the black leather jacket and well-tailored leather shoes that symbolise comfort and elegance.
“I think leather is edgy and stands out without being over the top. That’s why it has been a predominant element in my designs for the longest time,” observes designer Shehla Chatoor who has a penchant for unconventionally incorporating leather onto bridal-wear and formals. In Shehla’s collections, leather skirts are worked with hand embellishments, masquerading as modern-day lehengas; a dupatta may be lined with leather and leather lattice may be worked upon sleeves.
Why this versatile and long-lasting material will always be in fashion
Beyond the high-end realms of couture, one sees leather products dotted about the local market: belts, shoes, wallets and an extensive variety of jackets and coats. According to the Pakistan Tanners Association, leather production contributes to five percent of Pakistan’s GDP and 5.4 percent to the overall export earnings of the country.
“Right now, Pakistan is supplying leather uppers for brands like Bali and Massimo Dutti,” says Feri Rawanian, who sources materials and garments for export as GM at Linmark International.
“We also supply finished products like shoes to the mass market in France. Trade could be so much better should the country’s infrastructure be more conducive. Right now, many more orders are sent out to China, Vietnam and Bangladesh because these countries are able to offer more competitive prices.”
Nevertheless, product lines created for export in Pakistan invariably filter out to the local customer at competitive rates. Quality runs the gamut from the mediocre to the well-honed; the leather used may be of the exemplary full-grain or top-grain calibre, which means that its adulteration has been minimal. Or else, it may be genuine leather or corrected grain leather which has been worked upon considerably.
Similarly, the accessories used and finish of the products vary. Amongst a milieu of substandard leather products, the Pakistani market features a small smattering of retailers who specialise in painstakingly created, exemplary leather products.
Standing out particularly in leather’s luxe market is Jafferjees, a brand that has helmed a legacy in leather for more than 130 years now. Starting with a single store in Karachi’s Saddar area back in 1935, the brand has now expanded to 10 stores across the country as well as one in the UAE.
According to Murtaza Ali, who used to be Director at Jafferjees and is now set to launch his own label titled Murtaza Jafferjees, the process of selecting leather for the brand has always been painstaking.
“The leather is ordered from different tanneries, depending on the quality and quantity required,” he describes. “Large tanneries usually only accept large orders while smaller ones are generally flexible. Our goal is to select skins that are relatively unblemished and as natural as possible. Usually, we opt for full-grain leather.”
Stock at Jafferjees tends to be dominated by more austere shades: a wide range of satchels, totes, clutches, bucket bags and boxy shoulder bags in solid leather hues which textures that vary from smooth to grainy. Strewn amidst the classic designs are the more avant-garde innovations; bags that are cross-pleated or decorated with polka dots, multi-coloured tassels or contrasting seams. “The bags that are relatively unconventional tend to be retailed in smaller numbers while most of our stock is dominated by the classic designs and subtle shades that are always in demand,” explains Murtaza.
Similar retail aspirations are shared by HUB Leather, a brand whose leather lineage took root from trading skins and hides, progressing today to become a luxury leather brand with 12 stores countrywide.
“Leather products are expensive which is why focus is placed in retailing products that are in demand,” explains Asfandyar Farrukh, HUB’s Managing Director.
“The men’s briefcase, for instance, has now predominantly been replaced by a baggy leather laptop bag or messenger bag. Women’s bags also generally follow sophisticated lines. There will always be a demand for leather because discerning customers will associate it with durability and elegance.”
The HUB director further adds: “At the same time, I feel that a large segment of the market is now inclined towards fast fashion. Catering to this demand is our high-street brand Hobo where products are not always constructed from pure leather which allows costs to be lower. The designs can, thereby, be trendier because customers find it easier to buy on-trend bags and shoes that are more economical while in the case of the more expensive leather counterparts, they prefer designs that will last longer.”
The comfort provided by supple pure leather is another factor that particularly draws customers. TSM & Co., a shoe brand that was launched in 2011 and currently retails in Karachi’s Zamzama market, specialises in high-quality leather shoes.
According to CEO Hammad Ahmed, customers’ main concern is comfort. “Most of our clients are from the corporate sector and they have to wear their shoes all day long. The shoes have to look good and simultaneously be comfortable,” he says.
“It all comes at a price, of course, but on the other hand, leather lasts longer. Where other fabrics and textures wear and tear, leather develops a patina over time, which is a weathered soft sheen that clients particularly appreciate.”
Thereby, leather remains the material du jour perpetually. The world of fashion may spiral at breakneck speed as it endeavours to harness the worldwide phenomenon of ‘see now, buy now’ and a perpetual sea of trends may go viral and proceed to get hackneyed a few weeks later.
Far from this madding crowd, though, leather’s demand remains, catering to a discerning clientele that prefers quality, above else.
Originally published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 15th, 2017