Mercedes’ leather jacket supplier in Pune looks farther afield

Mercedes’ leather jacket supplier in Pune looks farther afield

First it was Mercedes-Benz, now it could be BMW and Audi.

Pune, a global supplier of auto components, is fast becoming a destination of luxury car manufacturers for lifestyle accessories. City-based Star Leather Apparels and Accessories Pvt. Ltd, for one, is working overtime to meet the stringent quality of Mercedes and seal the deals with BMW and Audi.

With winter not expected to be very harsh this year, Star Leather has been told by Mercedes the jackets must be made in suede, a lighter form of the conventional leather. The colours, too, will be different this winter—beige and brown.

Headed by Ajit Jagtap, Star Leather got into the business in 2001 with a trial supply of leather jackets to Mercedes-Benz Accessories GmbH, the lifestyle accessories division of the luxury car maker that retails high-end accessories to complement the image of both the car and its owner.

By next year, Jagtap hopes to double his business, as he says German auto companies BMW and Audi too are close to signing contracts with him for supplying similar products.

“It is great doing business with Ajit. He is passionate about leather, passionate about accessories and has a tremendous enthusiasm about fine things, which is what this business needs," says Kris Nikolaus Strehle, general manager, collections/licences, who also sits on the board of Mercedes-Benz Accessories. “We used to source the jackets from Turkey and Germany, among other places, before we found him, but the quality (from Germany and Turkey) was just not as good as what Ajit gives us. We are looking at increasing the sourcing from him and extending into other products in a year or so."

The BMW order is particularly challenging as it will involve not just leather jackets for car owners but also special bikers jackets.

“Bikers jackets are a whole new ball game. They have to not just look stylish, but also provide the user with safety and protection from the elements. By next year, I will be supplying this to BMW," says Jagtap. He has also spotted a lucrative potential market in Russia, where people are happy to buy expensive lifestyle accessories. Jagtap plans to supply to Russia through high-end boutiques.

These jackets retail at between €500 (Rs28,500) and €600 at Mercedes’ customer-care centres and boutiques at international airports.

Now, the company wants Jagtap to take over supply of a range of other leather accessories, including high-quality leather cushions (currently being procured in South-East Asia), that will discreetly carry the three-pointed star emblem on them. A chance meeting over dinner with the German car maker’s manager, global materials and procurement and supplies, who was scouting for suppliers in Pune in 2000, led to Jagtap’s entry into the leather products business.

He had dabbled earlier in this sector, supplying chamois leather to auto dealerships and service centres. The Mercedes manager happened to see his personal collection of leather jackets and asked Jagtap if he would be interested in supplying this to the company.

The first order for 500 jackets came in 2003 after Jagtap made a presentation at the accessories division in Stuttgart. In end-2004, the company made Star Leather its sole supplier for leather jackets, moving its entire business out of fashion leather hub Italy.

Following the controversial recall of toys found to have toxic materials by toy maker Leo Mattel, companies have tightened their procurement procedures, especially from Asia. Mercedes has contracted France’s SGS SA, a world leader in inspection, analysis and certification, to certify its suppliers in the region. “My company has met every single target set by the French body," Jagtap says. For now, he is busy as winter is not far away and the first consignment of beige and brown suede jackets needs to be ready soon.