How leather inflation was making shoes more expensive

Forty years ago, the price of leather was soaring and that strongly suggested the price of footwear was about to go up, too.

Forty years ago, shoe manufacturers were having to pay more for Canadian-supplied leather

In 1979, The National reports on how "leather inflation" is driving up the price of footwear. 3:15

The price of leather was going up and that strongly suggested the price of footwear was about to go up, too.

Forty years ago, The National was reporting on concerns from shoe manufacturers that the rising price of leather was about to make their widely-worn products much more expensive for consumers.

As the CBC's Ken Colby explained to viewers, the price of cattle had risen sharply following several years of lower yields for the farmers who raised them.

Many farmers were also in the midst of building up herds of cattle and Colby said that process would likely limit supply for another year and a half.

'They've doubled leather prices'

As a result, shoe manufacturers were left buying leather when it was in limited supply and rising in price.

A worker is seen inside Winnipeg's Dominion Tanners in 1979. (The National/CBC Archives)

"In one year, [cow] hide prices have gone from $0.45 a pound to $1.30," said Colby. "In turn, the tanneries pass it on — they've doubled leather prices in the last year."

They were also competing against shoe manufacturers from other countries, who Colby said were buying up 70 per cent of Canadian-produced cow hides.

Con Riley Jr. of Winnipeg's Dominion Tanners argued that in allowing the exporting of hides, Canada was in effect exporting jobs.

'It doesn't seem to make sense'

"We have a renewable natural resource, which we insist on exporting 70 per cent of, thereby creating jobs in other countries," said Riley, using the resource terminology as a euphemism for the cows whose hides were being processed.

The National reported that government policy that limited the number of shoes that could be imported into Canada seemed to be having a positive impact on job creation. (The National/CBC Archives)

"So, we're suffering from the inflationary impact, but at the same time, we're exporting jobs. It doesn't seem to make sense."

To provide some counterbalance, Ottawa had set quotas on the number of shoes that could be imported into Canada. From what Colby reported, the approach seemed to be paying off.

"It works — in the last year and a half, the shoe industry has struggled back onto its feet," said Colby. "Four thousand jobs have been created."

Yet, Colby said domestic shoe manufacturers still feared the impact of those soaring leather prices — in the form of a drop in sales, or a shift in consumer preferences to non-leather shoes.

There was also concern that the United States could ban the export of its own cow hides, meaning international buyers would have even more interest in the Canadian-derived product.