It probably isn’t surprising that leather is a byproduct of the beef industry. Well, the American beef industry isn’t as robust as it once was and that’s really messing with people who make leather goods.
According to Bloomberg Business, throughout the 20th century, the leather industry grew as Americans started to eat more American beef. But in the past 20 years or so, “Americans’ appetite for beef” has declined by about 28 percent. This decline, paired with a Midwestern drought that increased feed prices, has made cows more scarce, and more expensive.
To demonstrate how some companies are trying to deal with this price hike, Bloomberg conducted an in-depth interview with Lisa Howlett, owner of Auburn Leather, in Auburn, Ky.
While Howlett’s company has been operating since 1863 (it’s a fifth generation company) Auburn Leather has stayed afloat and found a lot of success by producing small, quality leather goods. Currently, Auburn’s company is known as “the uncontested global leader in the leather shoelace industry,” reports Bloomberg.
“Howlett sold 50 million laces in 2013. For a sense of the scale of her operation, look at your feet, or those of the strangers on your next commute: If they’re shod in Ugg, Sperry Top-Sider, L.L.Bean, or Timberland, the leather laces probably came from Howlett’s factory.”
Howlett is still feeling the pinch of increasing prices (Howlett explains that two years ago a hide was priced at $50, but now is priced at $112). Her company is, essentially, the middleman between cattle ranchers, and has a limited ability to pass along rising costs, reports Bloomberg. “Auburn’s sales have begun to decline, to $19 million in 2014 from $20 million the year before, and net profit has been cut in half.”
However, Bloomberg reports that Howlett has figured out how to help buoy her company in the face of increasing prices: she’s doing more with less. She’s succeeding by filling leather accessory orders.
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Leather image from Shutterstock