One of the most common questions we are asked is about our leather wear – “where is this made?”
A fair enough question, but for some reason the resulting answer seems to have more of an impact in the equestrian world than if you asked where an item was made at your local appliance or clothing store.
There are a number of reasons in my opinion why this is, but I won’t elaborate for fear of offending people. Suffice to say there are certainly a few common misconceptions out there regarding where some of the well-known branded equestrian products that you buy are actually manufactured.
Up to 90% of Equestrian leather products are made in India – sorry, but it’s a fact of life. English leather is still predominantly made in Indian tanneries and India is now the leading manufacturer for leather products with some of the most sophisticated tanneries in the world. The Kanpur region in the northeast of India is an absolute hub for equestrian leather wear and equestrian products. In fact, it is known as the Manchester of the East. The British brought textile and leather manufacturing to this area towards the end of the 19th century and still run many of the tanneries based there. In fact the world renowned English leather manufacturer - J E Sedgwick and Co supplies it's leather for distribution to Indian tanneries.
It is important though to understand just what the difference is between Indian and English leather.
The term “Indian leather” doesn’t necessarily refer to leather made in India but refers to the origin of the hide used to produce the leather. Indian leather is generally sourced from animal hides from across Asia but these days there is also a large amount of leather sourced from European producers.
There was a time (approximately 10-15 years ago) when Indian leather was very poor quality and the tannery process was not as modern as it is now. The hides were often thinner and of a lower quality due to the animals being ‘undernourished’. At the same time English leather was usually from higher quality animal hides that were imported from Europe, the US or Australia. The hides were thicker and would be classed as a better quality.
A lot has changed in the past few years in the world of leather. So called Indian leather, is now still predominantly farmed in Asia and the quality of the hides are very similar to the English hides.
Leather is given different grades (A, B, C, D, etc.) and if you were to compare Indian and English leather in the same grade, only an expert would detect a difference these days. In fact you would be very hard pushed to find a bridle in your local saddlery store that isn’t made in India.
That’s not to say there aren’t some amazing leather products that are manufactured in the UK, Europe and elsewhere. In fact leather wear is also predominant in Ireland, Italy and even Argentina. It simply all boils down to cost. Many of your favourite brands outsource their manufacturing to places like India and China for 2 reasons – competitive manufacturing costs and ultimately profit margins. Many of these branded leather wear products are made to strict specifications to ensure a certain quality standard, but at the end of the day the cost of manufacture plays a big part in what you end up paying for your final product.
So our suggestion is to not get too hung up about whether the leather product you are looking at is Indian or English leather – check the quality of the overall item that is in your budget range. Our aim is to simply provide you with a choice of price ranges without foregoing the quality.
What has your experience been and what tends to drive your purchase decision regarding leather wear?
Note: This post was updated to clarify that J E Sedgwick and Co does not have a tannery in Kanpur and their English leather hides are from UK and Irish farms and tanned in Germany. Their leather is distributed to supply the Indian market.