India has always been known as a country sharing a close and intimate relationship with leather. Today, it accounts for close to 13% of the world’s leather production, ranking second in the world. Leather has marked itself as an indispensable industry for India, emerging as one of the top five foreign exchange contributors in our country. One of the main reasons for this is the abundance of natural resources, with India possessing 20% of the world’s cattle and 11% of the world’s goat/sheep. However, such gargantuan production would not be possible if India didn’t have a long and colorful history with leather.
The first mentions of leather come in 3000 BC, seen in the Rig Veda. The Aryans would make water carrying apparatus using animal skin at the time. Leather has always had a universal appeal throughout all periods of history, forming the basis of industrial empires. Even during the age of discovery, India was ubiquitously associated with leather. Journals of Marco Polo depict Gujarat’s primary industries at the time to be curing of hides and manufacturing of leather.
In fact, two of the states most prolific in leather production today (Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu) have storied histories involving it. Tamil Nadu was considered the core location for facilitating the leather trade between India and the ancient Greek and Roman empires. During the 16th century, Uttar Pradesh was the production center of finely crafted leather footwear, or ‘joothis’, for elite members of the Mughal empire. These states, in addition to West Bengal, form the bedrock of our country’s leather production.
Leather is considered one of the main industries under the Make In India initiative because of the schematics of its workforce. 55% of the employees involved in leather production are below 35 years old, making it a very youth-centric industry. The leather footwear vertical primarily employs women and is destined to undergo a major boom, making it a key driver in empowering women located in economically backward sections of our society.
Overall, leather is a product completely symbiotic with the growth of our economy. Not only does it have an integral position in our history, it is also earmarked as a major factor for our country’s future growth. It wouldn’t be surprising if we continue our romance with leather forever.