The Rich History of the Indian Leather Industry

  • by Go-Uniq

The leather industry planted roots in India as early as 3000 BC, and now stands as the second largest producer and exporter of leather in the world.


India has a rich history in many regards, from art, to politics, to culture. One piece of this age-old tapestry of cultural heritage is the world of leather and leathermaking. While in the modern world we are used to seeing leather commodities being sold to only the select few who can afford them, there was a time when leather was the average man’s tool.

Today we have shoes, bags, pouches, and so much more, being sold out of malls. But Indian leather is more than just another material. It is a product that dates back to 3,000 BC, with some of the earliest references made in the Vedas. While the modern landscape is dominated by the leather manufacturing and marketing industries, leather has a significant amount of artistry and history.

While the Indian leather industry had humble beginnings as clothing and footwear for people of the Indus Valley civilization, it is now the world's second largest producer of leather. 

 

A Brief Timeline of the Indian Leather Industry

As mentioned previously, some of the earliest records of leather being used in society date back to 3,000 BC and the Indus Valley civilization. However, even earlier sages and saints were known to wear deer skins.

Leather was used to make all kinds of products, such as bags, sacks, straps, bottles, tarps, sails for ships, sheaths for weapons, and so on. As time went on, the leather trade expanded and made its way up the Silk Road.

Keep in mind that most of the leather that was traded along the Silk Road came from North India. On the other hand, southern leather was traded with the Romans and Greeks. Indian leather manufacturers started catering to the global market around the 19th century. And today, it stands as the second largest leather producer after China.


An Overview of the Indian Leather Industry

The modern Indian leather industry has some of the greatest potential to match its size. It is equipped with the potential to offer gainful employment, generate growth and exports, and keep true to traditions, with a pretty price tag of $2 billion in exports.

In the early 2000s, it was realised that India’s meagre 3% share of the global market, was not enough when compared to China’s 20%. As such, on June 30, 2005, the Cabinet Committee of Economic Affairs (CCEA) moved to implement a Rs 2.9 billion scheme to boost the industry, modernise equipment, improve tanneries, and so on.

To provide an idea of how it has grown since, let’s look at some of the numbers. Today, India produces around 700 million pairs of leather footwear per year. This alone accounts for 18% of total leather exports.

According to the Indian Brand Equity Foundation, between 2021 and 2022, India’s leather exports hit $4.87 billion, which was up by 32% from the previous year. Just to put this into perspective, keep in mind that one year prior we were going through a global pandemic, and nearly every industry was hit by it, including leather. The recovery alone is impressive.


What Does the Future Look Like?

As a rule of thumb, it is never a good idea to hedge bets or make predictions as if they were going to be set in stone. Having said that, it looks like the Indian leather industry is thriving and will continue to do so, if the numbers are anything to go by.

One of the new up-and-coming elements in the world of leather is digitization, which is making it easier for businesses to not only operate but reach customers as well. From handling logistics to expanding marketing efforts, modern technology and the digital space are likely to play an ever-increasing and important role in the world of leather manufacturing.


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