In recent years, the leather industry has faced many challenges. After the health crisis, the war in Ukraine and its inflationary consequences, the cost of raw materials and energy has increased considerably. It remains resilient, and this, in particular thanks to luxury exports, with an ever-growing appetite of consumers for French products, especially leather goods.
The leather industry is no exception to the rule. It has been strongly impacted by the health crisis, the containment and the closure of international borders. But since the beginning of 2021, it has been able to move forward again, thanks in particular to the Chinese market. This is one of the lessons of the economic report that the National Leather Council has just published.
By 2021, French imports of the leather industry had almost returned to the pre-covid level and exports had exceeded the 2019 level by 11%. A growth that can be explained in part by the consumption of luxury customers, who have a weakness for leather goods and French know-how. The proof is in the pudding: the selling price of French bags and shoes, exported from France to China and the United States, rose sharply in 2022 and not just because of inflation.
The French leather industry in a few figures
By 2020, French leather industry imports had fallen 15% to 9.65 billion euros, according to the CNC. In 2021, they have rebounded by 14% to 11 billion euros.
On the other hand, French exports of the sector had fallen by 9% to 11.9 billion euros in 2020, with a decline for all sectors, including -12% for shoes and -7% for leather goods. After this complicated year, they increased in 2021 by 23% to 14.7 billion euros, including + 15% for footwear and + 27% for leather goods.
This fervor is due to an ever-increasing demand for French luxury goods. French companies have been able to make a difference on the international market and win over more and more customers around the world. Thanks to the increase in international exports, such as to Asia, Europe and the United States, the decline in 2020 has largely been made up for. If we compare the figures for 2021 with those of 2019, the leather industry’s exports are up by 11%.
The French market, China’s favorite
In 2021, China and the United States have become the top two customers of the French leather industry. They are particularly interested in French luxury accessories, especially handbags and shoes.
France has become China’s third largest supplier, behind Vietnam and Italy. Conversely, in 2021, China has become the first export customer of the French leather industry with an increase of + 162% to 2.5 billion euros.
In terms of imports and exports, the two countries do not play in the same court, but have almost reached a balance in value with French exports (very high-end) to China of 2.5 billion euros for French imports (low-end) from China of 2.7 billion euros).
Leather goods represent 91% of Chinese imports from France. China is its leading customer for bags, ahead of the United States, Singapore and Hong Kong. Even though the health crisis has had a strong impact on consumption, Chinese customers have not lost their taste for French luxury, more specifically bags, the nec plus ultra for them.
In 2019, sales of French leather goods in China were 0.4 billion euros, 0.8 billion in 2020 and 2.2 billion in 2021. Last year, of those 2.2 billion euros in exports, handbag sales accounted for 1.5 billion euros, or 68% of the total.
The United States is also a fan
The United States has become in three years the second customer of the French leather industry, after China. In 2019 and 2020, they were third behind Italy and Hong Kong.
Even if the country of all possibilities remains one of the main customers of French leather, trade is not really the same in terms of import-export. The import represents only 70 million euros against 1.8 billion euros in exports. The French buy almost nothing in this sector from the Americans.
France is Uncle Sam’s 6th largest supplier behind certain Asian countries and Italy. Once again, leather goods and shoes are the two main French exports to the US. And it is handbags that are in first place on the podium.
Leather handbags are the most popular with 1.3 million models sold. They represent 72% of sales in volume, compared to 28% for handbags made of other materials.
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Featured photo : © Press