Perrine Ardouin, director of APLF Ltd.

For over twenty years Perrine Ardouin has dealt with leather and leather products fairs held in Hong Kong and Shanghai; together with director Michael Duck, she is responsible for the development of what have become real international platforms for business promotion of our sectors. An observer who is sensitive and attentive to the evolution of the market but also of fashion and society, whom we have asked to help us interpret the delicate socio-political situation in Hong Kong, where street protests have been underway for months.
The chat then moves on to the latest news of the next edition where APLF will present itself with a completely new layout. Great changes have been announced for next year’s edition, starting from the date, which has been moved forward by two weeks, exactly from 31 March to 2 April 2020. But above all for the complete reorganisation of the exhibition spaces which envisage a sort of revolution: from next year the leather fair will in fact move from the current level 1 of the exhibition centre to level 3 where it will have a larger exhibition area, while the areas dedicated to Materials+, Fashion Access and the Cashmere World will be relocated to level 1 where to date the leather fair has been taking place.

The protests in Hong Kong do not seem destined to stop spontaneously. Are you worried about what’s happening, fear repercussions on the business?

“In reality, these protests are much more peaceful than they appear on television. They alternate between violent incidents and peaceful marches and assemblies in shopping malls where people sing their new hymn, ‘Glory to Hong Kong’. Those activities are held mostly over the week end and at night… but during week days the city is back to normal, business as usual and you would never imagine what took place the night before. Incidents have been taking place in very specific locations away from our Convention & Exhibition Centre in Wanchai. My colleagues who have been running trade shows earlier this month had implemented contingency plans to ensure alternative transportation which would  allow buyers and exhibitors to reach the exhibition centre should the subway be affected by strikes. Overall the trade shows took place as usual and business on site was better than expected. APLF is ranked as the number 1 leather trade fair in the world, making it a must attend event, still 6 month away from now”.

Let’s get to APLF news. The next edition will see a complete overturning of the exhibition offer between the first and third level of the exhibition centre. How does the space allocation proceed?

“Very well, the leather pavilion is already fully booked also because many exhibitors have booked larger stands than in the past. The new configuration of the spaces on level 3 will allow us to set up a broader and more orderly leather fair in terms of merchandise, with clearly delimited sections that will bring together chemists, suppliers of machines, raw hides and finished leathers, in order to facilitate the visit of the buyers. Previously you could see the suppliers of raw hides near the tanneries, but this will not happen again. Now the precise offer will be structured, so much that some countries like Brazil, France, Germany, Italy,  Spain and Turkey will have two separate pavillions, one that brings together suppliers of machines or raw hides and one of finished leathers. For the next edition we also have an important new entry: Australia (which so far had a pavilion only at ACLE Shanghai), which we had to place on the Concourse (the entrance corridor)”.

What are the news about Fashion Access?

“In addition to moving to level 1 of the exhibition centre, in March 2020, Fashion Access will offer an area called Sustainable World to bring together companies that produce according to strict Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), an increasingly important topic on the market that will also be possible to discuss deeper in dedicated lounges. We are also developing a new area, called the Licensing Zone, dedicated to companies interested in producing under license for major brands. Another novelty concerns the section dedicated to synthetics and components, which has become a separate trade fair, namely Materials+, also transferred to level 1, it will host a new section dedicated to the technological innovations of this sector”.

The fairs of the finished product do not have an easy life these days…

“The business has changed and even trade shows have to adapt themselves to changes. To be successful, today trade fair organisers must offer many more services, creating increasingly more networking opportunities among operators. On our part we are multiplying our efforts in this direction. We started ten years ago by creating an online platform to ensure that every exhibitor, in addition to the three days of the fair, had 365 days of online visibility, with virtual stands just as useful as physical ones. Now we are going further, organising new opportunities for meetings between producers and buyers, setting up B2B and even B2C events in certain markets. For example, we recently started pop up events in Tokyo, Singapore, Manila and Offenbach where some shoe and bag companies were able to meet new buyers and other pop up special sales opportunities directly in department stores. The participating companies have made a very useful experience to understand what does and does not work in those markets. Soon we will be organsing other events in Bangkok, Singapore and Bali and we also would like to be able to give the opportunity to some brands to participate in local fashion shows, for example in Indonesia”.

Turning to the Shanghai fair that was held in September, it cannot be denied that ACLE is losing points in terms of international exhibition presence…

“There are many explanations related to this trend, all due to the complexity of the Chinese market where a concentration process of tanneries is underway. But there are also natural causes, such as the fact that many international exhibitors have organised themselves over time relying on local agents who are now exhibiting in the Chinese domestic part of the fair. And then we must consider that in China business is radically changing. ACLE has always been very focused in the sourcing of tannery supplies, in particular for those tanneries that operate in the automotive and upholstery sectors which do not shine at the moment. On our part we are making all possible efforts to promote the fair in every possible direction and the 9.4% increase in visitors registered on the first day of the fair gives us reason to believe in our commitment. Before this edition, in July, we organised a roadshow bringing a small group of exhibitors (from Brazil, Italy and the United States) to visit the tanning district of Wuji in Hebei province, an important opportunity to meet local tanners which was considered very interesting. We will continue on this path as well as on the education of designers through workshops and seminars. For us who support the Leather Naturally initiative, promoting the knowledge of the unique characteristics of leather is another fundamental mission”.