So, you’ve decided that you want to work with exotic leather. Maybe it’s because you want something tougher than standard cowhide—like stingray skin—that can stand up to hard-wearing applications like motorcycle upholstery. Maybe you want something with a refined and easily identifiable texture like alligator or caiman crocodile skin. Perhaps you want a beautiful and striking pattern like what python skin can provide.
Whatever the reason, if you’re interested in exotic leather, it’s important to know where you can go to find it. While PanAm Leathers is one place to get exotic leathers like snake, ostrich, and caimain skin, we’re aware that we aren’t the only option.
When it comes to exotic leather, there are three primary sources you can get it from: Distributors, tanneries, and manufacturers.
Exotic Leather Distributors
Distributors are exactly what they sound like based on the name: they buy skins from tanneries, warehouse them and re-distribute them to other buyers.
The Advantage of Buying from Exotic Leather Distributors
The key advantage of working with a distributor is that they tend to have a large stock of certain exotic leathers available for immediate purchase at any given time. Because they source their leather from a variety of tanneries and other suppliers, distributors often have plenty of stock available for the types and colors of exotic skin that they specialize in.
Disadvantages of Buying from Distributors
While buying from distributors has the advantage of immediacy—the skins they have in stock are available for shipping right away with little to no delay—they also have a few key disadvantages.
- Higher Costs. The distributor is a “middleman” in the exotic leather supply chain. They purchase their skins from tanneries and other sources to warehouse them for when their own clients need them. This means that they pay the tannery’s price, plus the cost of storing the exotic skins they sell, marketing for their services, sales/customer service agents, and other additional overhead. To turn a profit, distributors need to charge a premium above and beyond what they paid the tannery. So, their skin often costs more per inch than it would from a tannery.
- Limited Selection. Distributors have limited space to carry exotic leather in proper storage conditions. To ensure that they can sell the skins they have, they often need to focus on a few specific types and finishes of exotic leather—typically the ones most in demand or that their distribution house is known for. For example, a distributor known for having blue, black, and gray stingray skins in a standard finish may not have other, less popular colors available—like silver, purple, teal, etc. Even if you place a special order, the distributor may not be able to get the skin in stock for a while—negating the benefit of speed that is their main draw.
So, if you need an exotic hide fast, don’t mind a limited selection of colors, and are willing to pay a premium for it, ordering from a distributor might not be a bad fit for your needs.
Exotic Leather Tanneries
A tannery is a location that takes raw animal hide and processes it to turn it into ready-to-use leather for a variety of applications. As demand for exotic leather in the fashion industry is high, many tanneries are either in tight business relationships with (or are outright owned) by major fashion houses.
This can make finding a tannery to work with a bit of a challenge. Thankfully, Pan American Leathers is one of the few independent tanneries in the world—meaning we aren’t owned by a fashion house and are free to work with anyone without the issue of conflicts of interest.
Benefits of Buying Exotic Leather from a Tannery
So, why would you want to work with an independent tannery rather than a distributor? Some of the benefits of working with a tannery directly include:
- Lower Costs. When you work with a tannery, you’re working as closely with the source of your exotic leather as is possible. This means not having to pay a series of middlemen upcharges for the finished hides you need—helping to minimize the cost of acquiring exotic leather. When you place bulk orders for a large amount of skin with the same finish and color, you may even get a bulk processing discount since the tannery can prep more skin with the same process. Of course, this assumes that the tannery is independent. A tannery that is associated with a major fashion house may charge more for the privilege since they have a favored client.
- Customization of Your Exotic Skin Order. One of the biggest reasons to work directly with a tannery is to have the greatest possible freedom of choice for colors and finishes. If you’re looking for a rarely-used, niche color or finish, your chances of getting it from a tannery are much higher than they are at a distributor. Tanneries can make your skin to order—so if you need an unusually-colored caiman crocodile or stingray leather hide to mesh with your overall collection or specific creative vision, you can get it. While there are still limitations, you’ll have far more options working with a tannery than a distributor.
Disadvantages of Working with an Exotic Leather Tannery
So, why wouldn’t you want to work with a tannery if they’re more affordable and offer a better selection of colors and finishes than a distributor?
- Potentially Having to Wait for Exotic Leather. If you’re ordering a custom skin, odds are that it will take a long time for the tannery to fulfill your order. This is because processing a custom exotic leather finish can take a long time. So, if the tannery doesn’t have the specific color and finish you want on hand, they’ll have to make it themselves and that can take days or even weeks depending on the type of exotic hide being processed and the finish you want. If you’re working with a tannery located outside of the USA, this can be exacerbated by long international shipping delays. Thankfully, here at PanAm Leathers, we tan and finish our products within the U.S.—eliminating customs and import delays.
- Finding a Tannery Can Be Difficult. Finding a tannery that handles the specific type of exotic leather you want to purchase can be tough. This is especially true if you’re looking for a U.S.-based tannery for the quicker shipping and added security of a U.S. regulation-compliant leather source. As reported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “There are approximately 111 leather tanning facilities in the United States.” Not all tanneries can process all kinds of hides and many of these tanneries are associated with one of the major fashion houses.
If you’re looking for the best price on your exotic leather, need hard-to-find finishes or colors, and don’t mind waiting for the tannery to process the skins for your custom order, then working with a tannery may be your best choice.
Buying Exotic Leather from a Manufacturer
Are you a designer working with a manufacturer to turn your high-fashion concepts into real-world products? If so, you might be able to have them order the exotic leather your designs need for you.
The Advantage of Ordering Through Your Manufacturer
Odds are that, if you’re working with an experienced manufacturer who has worked on exotic leather products like alligator skin handbags, ostrich skin boots, or caiman skin shoes in the past, they already have a ready source of exotic leather they can lean on to get the skins needed to complete your product.
They may also know exactly what sizes and grades of exotic leather would be best for filling the panels of your leather project—which could help them make a more efficient leather order. This helps remove some of the guesswork and stress from the exotic leather ordering process.
The Disadvantage of Ordering Through a Manufacturer
As with ordering exotic leather from a distributor, when you order through your manufacturer, you’re ordering through a middleman (who may, in turn, be ordering through a distributor). This adds another layer of cost to the process that can increase expenses for your exotic hide projects.
Also, when ordering a finished product from a manufacturer, it’s important to verify that they only order the leather they need for the project. There’s a risk that some manufacturers might overbuy and stick you with the bill for the excess leather. Why might they order too much? It gives them wriggle room on the cutting of leather for panels in case of mistakes. Some extra can be useful, but too much is a waste of your money.
With that said, we respect our competitors very much. They are good at what they do and have been a positive force in our industry for a long time. We simply want YOU to know why we believe we can serve you better.
If you’re interested in any of the benefits of working with Pan American Leathers, please feel free to contact us online or call at 978-741-4150.