Luxe Designers Buy Croc Farms

Crocodile-skin handbags can be to die for -- as is certainly the case for the animals who donate their skins. Fashionable art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network can often be seen sporting these luxury accessories.

As demand from the world’s elite surges for the skins, luxury-goods companies from LVMH Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy SA to Gucci-owner Kering SA are making acquisitions to secure supply of the beasts, whose habits can make simply collecting their eggs a matter of life and death.

Raising the reptiles from hatchling to arm candy without scratches from other crocs is a major challenge.

Exotic animal skins comprise almost 10 percent of the total revenue from handbag sales for luxury brands, at least double their share a few years ago.

The incentive for luxury-goods companies is clear: crocodile handbags can sell for 30 times more than their bovine counterparts. The luxury accessories market was worth 57 billion euros ($77 billion) last year.

Stress Free

While salt-water porosus crocodiles found in Australia are the trickiest -- with enough skin produced for about 25,000 bags a year -- no crocodile is easy or cheap to raise, and it takes years to breed them.

“If I’d known how hard this business was before I’d got into it, I may not be here today,” said Stefan van As, a former investment banker and owner of South Africa’s Le Croc crocodile breeding farm and tannery, which sends about 5,000 Nile crocodile skins to Europe each year.

To begin with, cow leather comes from animals raised for beef, and their hides are a byproduct. Crocs are raised only for their skins.

Holding pens are cleaned daily and the animals require a strict feeding routine. Only the same few handlers are allowed to approach them. They dine on chicken and selected oils to improve their skin. That all promotes growth, reduces stress and keeps their mighty jaws off each other.

Top Quality

They grow to about 5 meters (16 feet) in length and weigh up to 700 kilograms (1,543 pounds). And they will eat almost any prey that ends up in the water, including human handlers.

Keeping the animals injury-free and alive isn’t enough to sell to the biggest luxury companies. Kering and LVMH only use the top 10 percent of crocodile skins.
To keep the belly in good condition, the slaughter, skinning and parts of the tanning process are done by hand.

For slaughter, the animals are checked and stunned twice before being killed by a cut at the nape of the neck and a pithing of the brain. The skins Le Croc supplies are tanned or dyed on site.

To help avoid abuse of crocodiles and protect them in their natural habitat, each crocodile skin requires a certificate proving it is not in violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

To assure a supply of fashionable skins, LVMH in February purchased an Australian crocodile farm for A$2.6 million ($2.5 million) while Kering bought tannery France Croco a month later.

In the end, it’s all worth it to such companies and Hermes International SCA, whose waiting lists for its famous Birkin bags can be years-long. Their average croc Birkin can be crafted from as few as two skins, costing $1200 total. The bags then retail for over $36K.

View today's Homepage Featured Video to see the complex process of transforming skins into designer bags?