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PrimeAsia’s Journey Toward More Sustainable Leather Production

While some fashion and footwear consumers are exploring leather alternatives, many only want the real deal. So, it’s up to brands using leather to understand the material’s advantages as well as its environmental impacts and reduce the latter wherever possible.

To help, PrimeAsia has started new initiatives to determine which elements contribute to its environmental impacts and to measure, manage and reduce manufacturing and product footprints.

PrimeAsia, the largest full-service footwear tanning group in Asia, created one of the most comprehensive life cycle assessments (LCA) in the leather and footwear industries. The LCA was created in a continuous effort to increase the use of scientific-based approaches in its operations.

In 2019, PrimeAsia started mapping its products, covering 11 different supply chain configurations and collecting over 3,000 data points. This extensive database is now used for continuous and effective environmental management, supporting its journey toward cleaner production approaches and reduced environmental footprint.

“PrimeAsia believes that creativity and innovation will result in continuous improvement, more efficient processes and sustainable products. However, we can only identify areas for improvement if we are measuring our performance to find further opportunities for efficiencies,” said Fernando Bellese, chief sustainability officer at PrimeAsia. “The life cycle assessments allow us to have a very detailed view of our impacts, identify the hot spots and develop suitable projects to address those areas.”

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Recent LCAs performed by PrimeAsia have shown that investments in technology, better raw materials, training and more efficient processes are important steps toward cleaner production. In fact, some of the most recent results have shown that PrimeAsia leathers have a carbon footprint that is around 70 percent lower than the global tanning industry average.

Steps toward creating better products

In a recently published study, leather’s physical properties were tested against nine different material alternatives. The results showed that leather’s strength and resistance are on average 3.8 times higher than other materials, making it a more durable choice in addition to its inherent qualities such as comfort and breathability.

“This is important because when carbon footprint and the lifetime of a product is taken into consideration, leather has shown to have a lower footprint when compared with other alternative materials due to its longevity,” Bellese added. “This comparison shows that natural products can and should be seen as a viable and important replacement to plastic and other synthetic materials.”

Standing out in the industry

Starting as a joint vision between two leading companies from wholly separate industries, PrimeAsia Corporation was created by the Pou Chen Group, the world’s largest branded athletic and casual footwear manufacturer, and Prime Tanning, a globally known leather producer based in the U.S.

What began as a small tannery in Taiwan is now a business entity within the Pou Chen Group, with tanneries in China and Vietnam and marketing and sales offices in Europe, the U.S., India, Indonesia, Taiwan and Thailand, providing great flexibility and service levels to its customers.

“With a global sales, marketing and factory service presence, PrimeAsia provides a peace-of-mind sourcing solution with a focus on quality, delivery, innovation and sustainability,” said Steve Savino, president of global marketing at PrimeAsia. “Our vision is to be the world-class supplier of innovative quality leathers, committed to long-term partnerships with customers, employees, communities, the environment and suppliers.”

Being one of the few tanners with facilities in China and Vietnam, PrimeAsia can provide local-to-local services for two of the largest manufacturing hubs in the world. Additionally, PrimeAsia’s facilities provide customers with a wide range of leathers, including—but not limited to—performance athletic articles, aniline full grains, nubucks, high-performance waterproof leathers and finished splits.

Increasing speed and flexibility

In the current environment, PrimeAsia’s customers are focused on speed to market and flexibility. To address this, PrimeAsia’s expansion plans are heavily focused on adding automation that enables it to improve its throughput times, with an ultimate target of making leather for its customers in one week or less.

“PrimeAsia’s ability to provide quick-to-market leathers in the area of manufacturing consumption will continue to become a bigger part of our customers’ purchasing decisions,” Savino added. “We have addressed our customers’ speed requirements by expanding our facility in Vietnam with plans for additional expansion in the future. PrimeAsia completed an extensive expansion in our Vietnam tannery in 2018, doubling the capacity, and in 2022, we initiated additional expansion in Vietnam with a targeted completion in Q1 2024. This expansion will provide a total of eight million square feet of monthly capacity in Vietnam and 13 million square feet of PrimeAsia global monthly capacity. Additionally, PrimeAsia is considering manufacturing footprints in other regions that our customers have identified as important for their future supply chain needs.”

“PrimeAsia continuously invests in new technologies, capacity expansions across our facilities and more efficient processes, but only by having our suppliers going in the same direction are we able to deliver relevant changes,” Bellese added. “It is very exciting to see this engagement in our supply chain and the result of collaboration as a vector for improvement in areas such as traceability, more responsible and efficient raw materials, and in the development of more sustainable products.”

To learn more about PrimeAsia, click here.