The adventures and musings of an aspiring shoe designer

January – July 09

During my visit to the factory I met with a few leather representatives and ordered my first round of leather.  I needed to order a few different kinds of leather to see what would meet the requirements I had set.  There was a learning curve and I imagine I still have much to learn in regards to leather. 

I learned what a Pro Forma invoice was, this explanation came straight from an email from one of the reps and I think he explains very well so I will leave it exactly as it was written. 

 Keep in mind that the Italians work only on advance payments. If you confirm the following with an order, the tanneries will issue an order confirmation called a “proforma invoice”. You will have to wire transfer the funds in advance for them to begin working on the order. I hope all of these will be in stock, but we won’t know that until we get the order placed and confirmed.

 Here is another excerpt from the same email, I am sharing this because all of this was new and daunting to me at the time and without the help of nice people like this gentlemen I would have been even more lost.

 Sample price is Euro 6.70 sq. ft. at current exchange this works out to about $9.71 sq ft. fob Italy, so add another $1.50 for transport and you are looking at $11.50 per sq. ft.  

When ordering leather be sure to ask the approximate size of skins because size can vary.  

You will also need to have a UPSFedEx or DHL account , check with your shipper, they may not work with all of them.   I found this out by checking on why a shipment wasn’t arriving and long story short FedEx refused to pick up from my tannery.   FedEx didn’t feel it necessary to give me a heads up because I was the receiver not the shipper (although this was being charged to my FedEx account.) 

To get an estimate so you can decide who will be the best price, you’ll need to know the approximate weight, remember Italy uses kilograms.  You will need to know the zip code of the shipper and receiver.  You will also need to know the approximate dimensions of the package.  This is very important as leather is shipped (in small quantities) in rolls similar to how blue prints are stored and shipped in a roll or tube.   The reason this becomes important is that they use dimensional weight for pricing as well as actual weight.  For example if your dimensional weight comes out to be 6 lbs. but the actual weight is 4.8 lbs. they will charge the greater of the two.  Rolls always seem to be heavier in dimensional weight so plan for it.

You also need to think about air or ground and how soon you need your packages, my experience is that shipping is very expensive.  Many times I paid more to ship something than what I paid for the merchandise that was being shipped.  You end up paying almost the same for 20 sq. ft. as you would for 200 sq. ft.  Plan your shipping very carefully as this will increase your costs dramatically.  Until you have some sort of volume you really can’t do much in the way of saving money.

You also need to be aware of some other things I found out along the way.  Understand the customs and traditions of the country where you are sourcing your product.  For example; Italy goes on holiday for the entire month of August,  some claim that it’s not for the entire month but in my experience you aren’t getting anything out of Italy in August. Also December through the first week of January is another Holiday time so make sure you communicate with your suppliers far in advance.  Italians put much more priority on living and enjoying than killing themselves at work.  For us in America it is a little difficult to understand but, typically there is not a sense of urgency in work so just remember this.   We could learn a lot from them and relax and enjoy life more than we do.

Side note, communication can be tricky even if you are working with people who do speak English.  To give an example: I had ordered some sample leather at the end of June, with the dying processes and what not I knew it would be mid July before it shipped.  I knew that I needed to get my order in at that time because the earliest I could order again would be September and that would arrive in October.  Perhaps more important clients get their leather sooner but for me this was reality.  I thought everything was ok when my supplier sent me an email saying “until today FedEx had not come to pick up your package.” Well this was around July 23rd so I figured I’m still alright.  When it didn’t arrive by the 30th I was panicking trying to track it.  Turns out the supplier meant “as of today Fed Ex has not come.”  I learned during this fiasco that FedEx customer service reps were already on holiday as it was already Friday night there. Lucky for me DHL swooped in and saved the day.


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