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There Aren't Enough Pampered Cattle to Produce Luxury Leather

Photographer: Sam Hodgson/Bloomberg

There may not be enough coddled animals to supply booming markets for luxury leather.

There’s strong demand for the best leather as there are more people with extreme wealth in the world that want luxury goods, said Don Ohsman, publisher of Hidenet, which reports on leather markets. But not many animals have hides that are good enough to turn into an expensive handbag.

French luxury brand Hermes International has already started complaining about the lack of quality hides. The company uses the leather for its Birkin and Kelly handbags, known for their five- and six-figure price tags.

Even while beef production is increasing, it’s not any hide that can be turned into high-quality leather. Many European luxury bagmakers use calfskins, and people aren’t eating much veal these days, Ohsman said.

“A calf is raised in a pen and never goes outside, so its skin is blemish-free,” he said.

Other animals are raised indoors where they’re not exposed to the elements and can’t rub against fences or get scratched or bitten up by bugs, said Ken Maxfield, president of the Maxfield Report, a hide-market publication. Japanese cattle that famously receive massages could be turned into a luxury hide, for example. Only a small percentage of U.S. hides go into luxury markets because those cattle are mostly raised outdoors.

Buyers of luxury leather are “so selective, and it’s such a critical process -- not many hides can qualify into that,” Maxfield said.

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