Leather and Footwear Industry

Leather and Footwear Industry


a branch of light industry that manufactures soft and stiff leather from animal hides and skins and produces shoes from natural and artificial leather. In addition, leather is used to manufacture clothing and harness, saddle, and haberdashery goods, as well as components for textile and other machines.

The use of industrial production methods in the leather and footwear industry in the developed countries began in the second half of the 19th century. In leather production, the first processes to be mechanized were some of the preparatory and finishing operations, and in the 1880’s and 1890’s an accelerated method of tanning leather with chromium salts was adopted, replacing the primitive method of tanning with vegetable tannins. In the footwear industry the process of mechanization began in the 1850’s, with the use of sewing machines to make uppers. From that time until the end of the 19th century, other special machines were invented that mechanized the process of manufacturing footwear.

In prerevolutionary Russia the leather and footwear industry was backward. Leather was made at low-output, partially domestic enterprises using primitive technology. The process of making leather lasted up to 180 days (today it lasts 20–30 days). Shoes were made basically in artels and handicraft shops and by individual craftsmen. The industrialization of the leather and footwear industry was extremely slow. In 1913, 68 million pairs of leather shoes were produced, including more than 8 million pairs made in factories; 80 percent of the production operations in shoe factories were done by hand. Engineering for the industry did not exist. The equipment and tools for leather and shoe factories were imported, as was a large quantity of finished chrome-tanned leather goods and tannins. The first large leather factories in Russia were built in 1739 in the city of Ostashkov (in present-day Kalinin Oblast) and in 1847 in St. Petersburg (the present-day A. N. Radishchev Factory).

In the USSR the leather and footwear industry has been transformed into a large mechanized branch of industry. Old plants have been reconstructed and enlarged, and new tanning factories have been built in Moscow, Elets, Kuznetsk, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Mogilev, Frunze, and Semipalatinsk. Shoe factories have been constructed in Sverdlovsk, Tbilisi, Kuznetsk, Novosibirsk, and Kiev. Engineering for the leather-goods industry, as well as the production of tanning extracts, chrome-tanned leather goods, and artificial leathers, has been introduced.

After the Great Patriotic War (1941–45), along with the restoration and reconstruction of old plants, new shoe factories were constructed in Shakhty, Voroshilovgrad, and Grodno, leather and footwear combines were put into operation in Dzhambul and Ul’ianovsk, and leather plants were built in Bobruisk, L’vov, Kharkov, Berdichev, Baku, Tashkent, Samarkand, and Dushanbe. The industry has been provided with modern equipment, the technology has been advanced, and production organization has been improved. The successful development of the leather and footwear industry has been made possible by the broad extent of socialist emulation in the industry. The data in Table 1 show the development of the leather and footwear industry.

Table 1. Growth in output of the leather and footwear industry in the USSR
 Stiff leather goods (million sq dm)Chrome-tanned and Russia-leather goods (million sq dm)Leather footwear (million pairs)

In 1970 the leather and footwear industry of the USSR employed about 43,000 engineering and technical workers (including more than 30,000 with higher and secondary specialized education), or 6 percent of all the industrial and manufacturing personnel of that branch of industry.

The USSR holds first place in terms of volume of production of leather footwear (1971). However, it is still behind some developed capitalist countries in per-capita output (2.8 pairs per capita).

Table 2. Output of the leather and footwear industry in the Union republics in 1971
 Stiff leather goods (million sq dm)Chrome-tanned and Russia-leather goods (million sq dm)Leather footwear (million pairs)
Ukrainian SSR8852,209153.4
Byelorussian SSR18765239.0
Uzbek SSR10823719.0
Kazakh SSR15460428.5
Georgian SSR7719012.6
Azerbaijan SSR5716211.0
Lithuanian SSR11824111.1
Moldavian SSR8115512.7
Latvian SSR9819712.6
Kirghiz SSR67989.9
Tadzhik SSR39776.2
Armenian SSR4916010.2
Turkmen SSR411.9
Estonian SSR411247.0
USSR (total)4,36811,261679.2

The use of artificial leathers in shoe manufacture in the USSR is characterized by the following data: in 1971, of a total production of 679.2 million pairs, 62.4 million were made with uppers of artificial leather, and 465.4 million were made with soles made from leather substitutes. Since shoes with uppers and bottoms of natural leather have parts made of artificial leather, the share of artificial leather used in shoe manufacture in the USSR was 42 percent.

In prerevolutionary Russia the leather and footwear industry developed mainly in the northwestern, western, and central regions of Russia. There were virtually no plants in Middle Asia, Kazakhstan, and the eastern regions of Russia. During the years of Soviet power the geographic distribution of the leather and footwear industry has become more even. (See Table 2 for the level of development of the leather and footwear industry in the Union republics.)

The Central Scientific Research Institute of the Leather and Footwear Industry (TsNIIKP) was founded in 1928; the Ukrainian Scientific Research Institute of the Leather and Footwear Industry (UkrNIIKP) was founded in 1930. Technical institutions of higher education (in Moscow and Kiev) and technicums (in various cities) were founded to train specialists. The Scientific Research Institute for Leather Substitutes (now called the All-Union Scientific Research Institute for Laminated Materials and Artificial Leather) was founded in 1939. The Central House of Shoe Models, which is the methodological center of the country for shoe design, was founded in Moscow in 1956.

Among the other socialist countries, Poland, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic, and Hungary have the most developed leather and footwear industries. Czechoslovakia, which has the world’s highest per-capita production of shoes, exports a significant portion of its shoe production to other countries, including the USSR (Table 3).

Table 3. Production of leather footwear in some socialist countries in 1971
 Per capita (pairs)Total (million pairs)
German Democratic Republic4.678

Among the capitalist countries, the most highly developed leather and footwear industries are found in the USA, Italy, Great Britain, France, and the Federal Republic of Germany (Table 4).

Table 4. Production of footwear in some capitalist countries in 1970
 Per capita (pairs)Total (million pairs)
1 1971 data
Great Britain3.2181
Federal Republic of Germany2.6152


Zybin, Iu. P. Tekhnologiia obuvi. Moscow, 1953–55.
Obuvnaia promyshlennost’ kapitalisticheskikh stran. Moscow, 1964.
Murvanidze, D. S. Osnovnye napravleniia razvitiia obuvnoi promyshlennosti. Moscow, 1968.


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