By Shelby Gonzalez
The most lucrative customer base for exotic hides in marine applications is, of course, high-end clients, who can afford not to fret about durability and are less likely to be affected by the vagaries of the economy. That said, current trends in exotic hides do seem to reflect the country’s economic woes. The “in” material lately is stingray, in all colors. Also popular is caiman, an alligator alternative.
“Stingray is durable and affordable,” says Henry Slaughter, owner of exotic hides supplier Ostrich Market and Alligator Jake’s. “It’s the least expensive of the exotic leathers. We sold less alligator this year than ever before because of the economy. But we sold more caiman this year than we sold in the past three years combined because it’s cheap and looks like alligator.”
Despite its relative affordability, stingray is anything but a poor man’s exotic hide. Jeremiah Kapp of Rojé Leather mentions a Russian billionaire, Andrey Melnichenko, whose 394-foot, Philippe-Starck-designed megayacht “A” flaunts a guest room with walls covered entirely in white stingray.
For outdoor applications like deck chairs, you should stay away from exotic hides, advises “Doc” Bailey, owner of Doc Bailey’s Leather Care Products. “Water will get in the seams. The sun will kill it. Ultraviolet rays are probably the biggest enemy on the boat. Inside, on the sofa or the recliners, that’s more likely where you’d see exotics on a high-end yacht.”
Using exotics doesn’t have to mean covering an entire couch in zebra hide. Inlays are a big trend, according to Kapp, since you don’t have to spend as much on the material. Like Slaughter, he reported selling a lot of stingray.
Exotic hide trends for 2011 and beyond will include metallics, antiqued and varnished looks, and, for budget-minded customers, cowhides and vinyls embossed to resemble exotic hides.
Consider creating sample products, such as barstools upholstered in a range of exotics, to catch the eyes of higher-end customers and inspire customers with high aspirations to consider inlays or faux exotics.