There are a lot of pigs in the world and they are more important in the leather chain than we think, especially since we have to take seriously the land use issues which are implied in the complaints by Greenpeace that tanners are in part responsible for the damage of the Amazon rain forest. The Chinese have even postponed some re-forestation since they want to reserve land for crops for people (not for animal feed or energy).
At the moment pigs make up just over ten per cent of the leather making raw material. Remember that this means about 2.5 billion square feet. Pigs breed quite quickly but generally the guess is that there are about 700,000 million in the world and they produce about 1.2 billion skins a year. Of course we eat a lot of them and the skins are not removed from the carcases. Back in the 1960s and 1970s when we were worried that demand for leather would grow much faster than it did some companies such as the Booth Group had serious long term projects with pigs. I remember Jim Jackman who ran Booth’s central technical services working with Walls on ways to remove at least the bulk of the skin to make it available for tanning, as there process of scalding lost the skin to the leather trade.
Of course pig skin is very difficult to process and Wolverine did an excellent job to make a business out of it, essentially based on a suede product. Their US pig tannery closed earlier this year and so now most production is in China. It is hard to know what is happening in the Central and Eastern European countries which used to have both big supplies and leading technology as it appears the structured slaughter system they had has disintegrated and I have been unable to get much data about the tanning side.
Before the Wolverine suede pig was popular in leathergoods and gloves, known as peccary, with a preference for wild pig, boar and carpincho.
La peau de porc
Talking recently with a French leathergoods maker we were reminded that when we were young “there were beautiful leathergoods articles made from it. Bags, wallets, etc. Most of the skins came from the east countries (Poland, etc.) and the best was the “British pig skin”. There is still a leather-goods retail shop in Paris called “La peau de porc”, specialized in pig skin articles. I remember the decline started in 1980 and I do not know really why. Later, some pigskin -grain or split- was still used for lining and also for garments (“velours” suede tanned and soft) but it was a limited use. My idea is that it is related to the way pork are slaughtered and eaten: we French people eat the skin so that it is not available for leathergoods.”
These old leather goods covered all things from shoe horns to brief cases and were in a very distinct tan colour. Many of those I remember were the dust gathering corporate gifts given to my father by the then very rich leather chemicals industry. But the brief cases and the gloves had a lot of character. Would it not be good to see this market develop again?