Local alligator leather products make it all the way to Italy
by Patricia C. Ress, Staff Reporter
Imagine for a moment that you are
riding down the romantic canals of Venice, Italy in the back of a
gondola. But you and the other American tourists are screaming as
your gondolier is bravely fighting the canal gators with his wooden
paddle! Now you can wake up from this nightmare! It’s something
you’ll never see. But there’s a lesson here somewhere.
Italy has no domestic supply of
alligator skin. Yet Italian shoe and purse makers have come to
depend on the southern U.S. via French tanners and traders, who are
the world’s main processors. And all of that can add up to big bucks
for those of us in Acadiana, the gator hide ‘mecca’ in all of this!
Alligator skin, a major star in the Italian leather goods industry,
accounts for 60% of Italy’s total raw reptile hide imports, and half
of its total value of tanned reptile hides.
“When you’re talking alligator,
you’re talking about an American product,” said Frank Millican,
director of agro-business for the Louisiana State Department of
Agriculture. “About 90 percent of the alligators come from Louisiana,
the rest are from Florida and other southern states.” In most places
that is known as ‘cornering the market’ and from the looks of things,
Acadiana and Louisiana have done just that.
Many of those tanned hides come
from France, or more specifically, from crocodile tanneries in
Normandy and near Paris. For example, Tannery de Cuirs Indochine et
de Madagascar (TCIM) was founded in 1920 in Beaumont, France. It’s
U.S. subsidiary is Roggwiller Tannery of Louisiana, which is located
“We receive alligator from Texas,
Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, and even some from South Carolina,”
said RTL’s CEO Bernard DeReynies. Since coming to Louisiana in 1994,
RTL has purchased one-fourth of all the hides produced in Louisiana.
A huge 20,000 tons of processed
hides were sent from the company to Europe in just its first year of
operation! “A lot of the skins we tan (the process is actually
called crusting) are sent to TCIM in France for dying and other
treatments,” said De Reynies.
Although a third of the production
is for the domestic market and the company is trying to get U.S.
consumers to think alligator, building that consumer base may take
The European market is a feminine
market with $200 handbags and $75 high-heeled shoes while the U.S.
market is a masculine market dominated by wallets and cowboy boots.
Prices for small items like wallets are generally lower, and, to a
degree, so is the consumer awareness. France imports about 70
percent of its raw hides from the U.S. and ships 63,000 tons of
hides to Italy after tanning. The rest of the raw U.S. hides are
shipped to Singapore, Taiwan, etc.
The Asian economic crisis trimmed
Japanese imports of Italian leather goods, especially for luxury
products such as alligator. However the Chinese market has recently
become more attractive as customer purchasing power expands. And
there is another problem. Some potential customers in the U.S.
mistakenly regard alligators and crocodiles as endangered animals
and thus refrain from buying their products. However U.S. alligators
were removed from the endangered list in 1974 so this argument is no
longer a valid one.
Both U.S. farmers and their French
partners must also worry about the vagaries of style. The top
fashion houses in Milan set the trends that can affect demand for
skin immensely. But while demand fluctuates, overall it has remained
Linda Grene is the owner and CEO
of Louisiana Alligator Leather Company in Baton Rouge. She is a
‘wholesaler’who has been in this business since 1997 and has seen
“A year ago this past September, I
started seeing prices going back to the highs of the early 1980s,”
Grene said. “But they are coming down a bit now. Alligator is the
‘diamond’ of all skins and has gotten out of sight price-wise.”
Because of this Grene has added
‘faux crocodile’to her product lines to make them more affordable
for everyday people. Faux crocodile is printed leather by pressing
alligator into cow hide and is much cheaper leather.
Grene now has recently started a
pet line. She began to start seriously considering it after a trip
to a local pet store to buy a collar for her Hemingway (six-toed)
cat. “I found a collar for $24.95 and it dawned on me that I
couldn’t make a collar for that.” But when some of her business
associates later presented her alligator products to more up-scale
pet stores, some of them became indignant. “I think they were still
thinking that the gators were on the endangered list,” she thought.
Another problem/hurdle Grene faced
was whether or not to let her products be manufactured in China.
After seeing the pet store products at such cheap prices, she began
to wonder about the quality of the products.
“I decided to be U.S.A. MADE. It
would be cheaper to have them manufactured in China, but there is a
language barrier, I wasn’t sure of the quality of the work, and
wasn’t sure that they used the top #1 grade quality I would use,”
she finally concluded. Today her manufacturer is one that also
manufactures products for many hi-end retail outlets.
And she has also retained a wide
range in color choice. There are 18 to choose from in her pet and
belt lines and in many of the other things she produces as well. She
has Teju and Ostrich belts, collars and leashes (matching if
desired), alligator wallets, belts, and specialty items. If you
would like to see products she has available, go to
www.louisianaleather.com or phone 225-928-3569.