A business which is building an international reputation for its products and expertise around the restoration of leather will this week present its first trans-Atlantic training summit while also supporting the launch of its first distribution network in South Korea.
Richard Hutchins, co-director with his wife Carolynne of The Leather Repair Company, will welcome the elite of America’s auto detailing industry to his company’s showcase in Melbourne, near Orlando.
Meanwhile the management team at Alito, a fledgling leather restoration business at Cheon An, about 40 miles south of Seoul, are about to begin testing their first shipment of Leather Repair Company products currently on the way to South Korea following a recent mission to Hull.
Richard said: “It’s a leather repair and restoration summit organised by us to help build our network of trainers and distributors across North America. It’s the first of its kind in the industry and we aim to make it an annual event, taking it to Canada next year and to a European venue in 2025.
“We’re also looking at India, where we are talking to a family furniture and detailing business which has some exciting ideas for expansion, and we are supporting the development of Alito, who came to us recently to train with our products and are now making inroads into the fashion industry in South Korea.”
Richard and Carolynne set up the Leather Repair Company in a garden shed at their home in Withernsea , East Yorkshire, in 2007 and now operate from the Argyle Industrial Estate in Hull.
They work on repairing and restoring everything from shoes, garments and bags to car upholstery and household furniture. The current high-profile project is the reconditioning of the once gleaming, now worn and battered, white leather sofa which featured on the cover of George Michael’s “Patience” album.
But about 80 per cent of business now comes from the supply of own-brand specialist leather cleaning and restoration products and from training in how to use them. The products include a range of sprays, creams and dyes for the protection, repair and restoration of leather. Almost all the products are water based with the business having focused on removing solvents from their processes.
In the US and Canada the auto detailing trade is the biggest market. Across Europe there is training demand from people looking to set up their own business restoring furniture, garments and other items.
The immediate market for Alito is the fashion industry, and company owner Jin Soo Yeom and his head manager Danny Kim worked on handbags and footwear during their visit to Hull.
Jin Soo said: “We do the same sort of work as Richard and Carolynne and we have been dreaming about coming here for a long time because we have been looking at their business online.
“We want to use their products and import them to South Korea because we like the products and the way they work so we want to share ideas and skills. Once we have tested the products with our customers at home we plan to return to Hull to talk about what else we can do.”
Richard added: “We have some products that aren’t available in South Korea so we know there will be demand for them, but it’s a two-way street. I’ve learned something from the way they restore shoes and we can add that to the courses that we run.
“Between them the summit in Florida and the partnership with South Korea give an idea of the potential of the leather repair market. From classic cars to favourite jackets and shoes, people love leather and are realising that restoring it is better than replacing it.
“There are benefits in terms of sustainability, cost and authenticity. The client who brought us the sofa from Patience could have just had it re-covered. It would have looked great, but it would no longer have been the leather that George Michael sat on.”