Eco-friendly leather: a niche to be exploited
RMM Leather Industries, an eco-friendly leather maker, aims to tap the growing prospects of green products in global markets.
The company that started exporting eco-friendly leathers in 2005 has received warm responses from foreign buyers.
“Eco-friendly products are a niche market for us to exploit, especially in the European and Japanese markets due to higher demand,” said Aniruddha Roy, managing director of the company.
The local leather industry can increase exports significantly if exporters focus on environment-friendly products, Roy said.
An increased number of companies are using eco-friendly leathers to make car seats, children's shoes, handbags, covers for electronic gadgets and aircraft seats, he said.
As the first Bangladeshi company, RMM Leather was awarded at the Asia Pacific Leather Fair in Hong Kong recently for making environment-friendly leather. The company exported Tk 68 crore of eco-friendly leather last year, up from Tk 57 crore in 2012.
RMM processes leather with vegetable- and syntan-based tanning materials, instead of chromium, Roy said. Syntans are synthetic tanning agents which are used in leather processing.
RMM Leather that uses 35 percent of its monthly capacity of one million square feet to make eco-friendly leather is now exporting such products to leading tanners in Italy.
The prices of green products are almost double the conventional ones, Roy said. RMM Leather charges $3 for per square foot of environment-friendly leather, he added.
Currently, the global demand for leather goods is around $110 billion, of which 35 percent is produced by China, Roy said.
The demand for Bangladeshi leather will soar when the country can complete relocation of hazardous tanneries from the capital's Hazaribagh to Savar, he added.
M Abu Taher, chairman of Bangladesh Finished Leather, Leathergoods and Footwear Exporters' Association, said the Savar Leather Estate will ensure environment-friendly processing of rawhides because of a central effluent treatment plant.
Industries Minister Amir Hossain Amu has already asked tannery owners to complete relocation of their factories by March next year.
The leather industry has set records for exports that surged 32.12 percent year-on-year to $1.29 billion last fiscal year, according to Export Promotion Bureau.
Exports of leather goods rose 48.55 percent to $240.09 million during the period, leather grew 26.47 percent to $505.54 million, and footwear 31.19 percent to $550.11 million.
Of the total exports from the leather industry, 60 percent go to the EU, 30 percent to Japan and 10 percent to the rest of the world, according to industry insiders.The industry, which has grown on local raw materials, has now emerged as the second largest export earner after garments. Exports from the leather industry account for 4.29 percent of the country's total exports of $30.17 billion in fiscal 2013-14.
Bangladesh could earn around $16 billion in exports from leather, leather goods and footwear over the next decade if it can properly address the sector's health, environment and compliance issues, analysts said.