The footwear manufacturing industry continues to be an economic powerhouse, even through the events of the recent depression. According to the statistics site Statisticbrain.com, the annual revenue of the footwear industry as a whole (including suppliers of the material to make footwear) topped $48 billion, with U.S. consumers spending $20 billion.
Of the revenue recorded on the Statistic Brain site, 13% of the market share for footwear was directly tied to women’s dress shoes, 6% was attributed to men’s dress shoes, and fully 25% of the market share was listed as “other styles.” That means, according to these percentages, U.S. consumers spent $2.6 billion on women’s dress shoes, $1.2 billion on men’s dress shoes, and $5 billion on specialty footwear that did not fit into the other categories of casual or athletic footwear.
Leather footwear products are a significant part of that multi-billion dollar industry. Within the leather footwear industry, however, there are traditional cowhide leather items, which can go for $200 a pair, and then there are items made from exotic leather, which can go for thousands of dollars per pair.
Crocodilian skins remain one of the most popular alternatives to plain cow hide when it comes to making high-fashion footwear. While there are 23 distinct species of crocodile, there are three which are most often used for their skins: the American alligator, the Nile crocodile, and the caiman crocodile.
Today, we’ll talk about how to make footwear from caiman skins.
Acquiring Caiman Leather for Footwear
For fashion designers who want to have an authentic, exotic material with a look that will be markedly different from standard leather, but don’t want to spend too much on acquiring a more expensive crocodile hide, caiman skin is the way to go.
With caiman skin, ordering from distributors is usually a very simple process, as many distributors who carry caiman skin will have a wide variety of colors and finishes in stock at any given time. Caiman skin is more often stocked in colors than alligator skin and Nile crocodile skin because it costs a lot less.
When making an order for caiman skin, keep in mind that the hide’s measurements will be based on the outer edges at the widest point of the belly. Because of this, when you order caiman skins, the ideal size for a caiman skin to be used in smaller shoes and boots would be 30 to 34 cm, while larger shoe sizes typically require skins that measure 35+ cm. You usually don’t have to spring for grade I skins for shoes as long as the defects on the grade II skins are at the top, bottom or outer edges of the belly. The key is that the defects are not on the panel of the skin where you will cut your vamp.
Whenever you’re planning to make footwear from caiman skin, make sure to order at least two skins to make two pairs of footwear. You’ll want to avoid ordering a single skin because if you do that, then you’ll have to use the belly for one shoe or boot and the tail for the other. Because the scale patterns are different on the belly and the tail, the left and right pieces of the pair would not match properly. By using two skins, you can make two pairs, one from the bellies and one from the tails.
For smaller orders, you are better off buying from the stock of a distributor. If you’re planning to make a large custom order that is not stocked, try to buy directly from a tannery. It should cost less than buying from a distributor and it helps to communicate directly with the tannery so nothing is lost in translation via middleman.
Working with Caiman Leather for Footwear
Now that you know a few tricks to acquiring caiman leather footwear, how about a few tips for working with these skins.
The number one piece of advice for working with caiman skin is to keep in mind that it is very bony when compared to the other crocodilian skins. This boniness makes caiman skin more difficult to work with than Nile crocodile or American alligator skin, which is a part of the reason why it is less expensive.
However, this very boniness makes for a tougher, more rigid toe and heel than the other skins, which can be an advantage.
When preparing to sew a caiman skin onto a shoe or boot sole, prepare a sewing line using a dremel or other tool to thin out the bony parts of the hide where you’ll be sewing. This will save your sewing machine’s needles a lot of wear and tear that would otherwise ruin them.
Because of its rigidity, caiman leather is much more prone to showing creases than alligator skin or Nile crocodile hide. If you’re worried about the rigidity of caiman skin in your footwear product, consider using strips of other materials for parts of the shoe or boot that are meant to flex. Alternatively, using special leather chemical treatments on the final product and leaving detailed care instructions can help end users keep their leather footwear looking like new for longer.
If you’re looking for a reasonably-priced exotic skin and aren’t afraid of a little extra work getting it made, caiman skin can be a great material for your next high-fashion footwear project. For more tips and tricks to acquiring and making items from this and other exotic leathers, contact Pan American Leathers today!