Tanning a fortune

Until now, raw hides produced in Kashmir were exported directly to tanneries outside the state, and then imported back as finished leather. Now, a tannery unit in Kashmir is changing the picture for good. Haroon Mirani reports.

Sameer AzadRaw hides are available in Kashmir in plenty, so is the demand for leather and its products. But just a year ago, it was not possible in Kashmir to turn raw hides into raw leather.

As a result, the hides were sold out at dirt cheap to tanneries outside the state, which made its way back as finished leather for use by leather goods manufacturers.

It was to stop this loss of revenue to state and harness the potential business that Reem Tannery came up in Srinagar. It is not just the only tannery in Kashmir that processes raw leather into wet blue, but a state of art factory (manufacturing unit) that packages the processed leather into branded goods.  Animal skins and hides produced in Kashmir are valued for their high quality.

“Because of its climate Kashmir provides one of the best hides in entire world and definitely the best in India. We also treat our animals gently so the leather doesn’t have any scratches” says Sameer Azad, Managing Director

Reem Tannery Private Ltd, and chairman of Kashmir Kaiser Mart, a leading export house in Kashmir.
“The technical selection of animal hides and skins is done on the basis of presence of aniline grade leather in it,” said Azad. “In animal hides procured from India, the aniline grade is just 15-20 per cent but in Kashmir it is about 45 per cent, which is the highest.”

Aniline leather is also referred as pure, naked, or natural leather. With slight hue aniline leather grows in beauty with time. Pure aniline products are buttery soft and preferred for their natural look and temperature changing abilities. Also known as the premium hides this type of leather is the most expensive.

“The leather produced here is best for shoes, jackets, purse, fashion accessories and almost any leather product to name,” Azad said.

Azad developed his interest in leather sector after an Indian businessman friend asked him to arrange raw leather from Kashmir. “I came to know how much better quality stuff we produce and how much this sector could be developed for prosperity” recalls Azad.

After negotiating through cumbersome documentation process the plant was finally commissioned in 2007.
“In market I have found that around 70 per cent of leather products available in Kashmir are of inferior or fake type and only 30 per cent is genuine,” said Azad. “Most of the people don’t even know that what original leather looks like.”

With a view to introduce genuine leather products in Kashmir, the company under the brand Reem leather, is coming up with full length aniline leather jackets, laptop bags, ladies purse, travelling bags, wallets, belts and other items. From next year the company hopes to add ladies sandals and chappals to its kitty.  The company experiments with new products after research and expert consultation.

“We are engaging designers from Chennai some of whom are also working with top designers of NIFT to design our products,” said Azad.

They have recently succeeded in designing first leather camouflage jacket, which according to many is the first of its type in entire India.  “This jacket took us eight months to design and we had to solicit the help of Italian designers,” Azad disclosed.

The samples were sent to police, and have evoked good response. Special Jackets exclusively for journalists are also in line. The company plans to launch its products into market from next month. “We are hopefully going to inaugurate our showroom at Rajbagh on October 1, 2009 where our wide range of products would be available,” said Azad. “At least people will be able to get leather products that would be of assured genuine leather not a synthetic type.”

Apart from selling branded leather products customers will also have the option to order customised products.
Reem Leathers is also in talks with international brands like UK based Zara leathers, French Mont and another Spanish brand. “We have sent them samples of our products and consultation is going on between the two sides,” said Azad. “They have liked our products and hopefully we may be exporting our products to Europe too.”

Potential

On an average Kashmir exports 35000 cow hides and 1.5 lakh hides of goats and sheep to outside market. The hides and skins go to places like Jalandhar, Madras and Kanpur where it is turned into finished leather. In the absence of a tannery Kashmir would loose revenue worth crores of rupees per day to outside states.

“You won’t find any such unit in Kashmir,” said Azad. “It has the capacity to process 12000 – 13000 hides and skins per month, which is almost equal to half of our total raw material production.”

Spread over an area of 11 kanals the Reem Tannery has been built at the cost of around 2.75 crore rupees. The unit provides an employment of around 38 people. Azad says that there is a huge potential of leather industry in Kashmir. “If entire process of converting raw leather into finished products is done here, it can easily generate revenue of around 500 crore rupees and employ 15000 people” said Azad.

Currently Reem tannery converts raw leather into wet leather. The wet leather is later sent to outside for a special process that converts it into finished leather ready to be used for product manufacturing. If everything goes well, Reem may also set up a mega plant in Kashmir to complete the entire process in the state alone. “That needs a huge investment of about Rs. Eight crore” says Azad.

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