1 July 2003
Showing Some Skin(HKTDC Fashion - Leather Goods & Bags, Vol 03,2003)
Tat Lee Leather Fty
Exotic skins are a specialty of Tat Lee Leather Fty, which produces a wide range of items including (from left) ostrich leather wallets, goat leather flowers and goat leather meshed belts
Its speciality is the handling of exotic skins. A high level of expertise in this area has allowed Tat Lee to develop from its origins as a simple supplier of snakeskin to shoe factories - back in 1979 when the company was established - into an internationally recognised manufacturer of an ever-growing range of high quality fashionable leather products.
Today Tat Lee has two factories and a tannery on the Chinese mainland employing more than 1,400 people, many of them highly skilled in the intricate craft of making the company's trademark mesh leather bags.
According to director Sandy Ng, however, Tat Lee is able to produce virtually any kind of bag from nylon rucksacks upwards and has also moved into footwear, making shoe uppers. However, high quality skins - mostly made into bags - remain the heart of the business.
"As far as skins are concerned, you name it we can do it," claims Ng. "Snakeskin accounts for about 12% of our production and we also use goat leather, lambskin and some cow leather. Ostrich skin currently accounts for about 6% to 8% of what we do, and that's obviously more expensive."
FOB Hong Kong prices for Tat Lee bags start from about US$0.60 for simple PVC bags, rising to around US$100 for a superbly crafted ornate ostrich skin handbag. Prices are determined by both the quality of the leather and the intricacy of the workmanship.
"The main material in one bag may be an ornamental element in another - the aim is for one material to complement the other," says Ng. "We can dye bags into any colour and produce just about any design."
Minimum orders for leather bags are 100 pieces or 2,000 for items made from synthetic materials such as PVC. Delivery generally takes 30-60 days. "We are always diversifying and looking for new sources of skins, but unfortunately the prices of our materials are always going up," Ng explains.
He says that Tat Lee buys from "anywhere in the world" where it can get a good price. "Ostrich leather, for example, might come from the mainland or from South America," Ng notes. "If you have a good long-term relationship with suppliers you can sometimes get better prices on hides, but for us quality is the issue."
The company's quality consciousness is reflected in the success of its bags in the challenging Japanese market and also in Taiwan, Singapore, Europe and North America. One factory concentrates solely on production for the Hong Kong and Greater China markets.
Plans have been developed to establish Tat Lee's own fashion brand, but difficult economic conditions have deferred the launch. Creative design however is very much a part of its service to customers.
Ng adds that Tat Lee is constantly generating its own designs and sometimes gets ideas from customers. "We can work with them to develop designs that are appropriate for their needs, and for the leather they have chosen," he says. "The trends at the moment are colourful and sporty, so generally we go for quite bright colours."
In terms of style Tat Lee is able to make bags of classic elegance or more modern innovative designs - often with an element of humour. Recently Ng has been experimenting with fruit motifs, and one bag in dyed leather is a scale replica of a slice of watermelon.
Other "more serious" bags combine black mesh leather with rabbit fur, and one particularly intricate piece of workmanship combines the textures and dyed colours of goatskin, snakeskin and ostrich skin. "People recognise quality," says Ng simply. "We have many competitors but customers keep coming back to us."
WRITTEN BY ROBERT PIERCE
Tat Lee Leather Fty
No 6, 2/F, Man Wah Bldg,
6 Man Wui St, Kowloon, Hong Kong
|Hong Kong Buyers Request Form||Overseas Buyers Request Form||More Publications|