Thai crocs feel bite as financial woes dull taste for luxury goods

SAMUT PRAKAN, October 29, 2008 (AFP) – At the Elite Thai Leather factory in Bangkok, craftsman contort tough Thai crocodile hides into any style of luxury handbag a fashion designer wants.

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Bright blue handbags made from the dyed rough hide with the intact crocodile head transformed into a clasp are a huge hit in Asia, while Europeans prefer their accessories made from the smoother skin from the reptile’s belly.

Luckily for all but the reptile itself, the ridge-headed, smooth-bellied Siamese crocodile meets both those needs and has helped send the Thai reptile hide industry rocketing.

But despite its many qualities, even the tough-skinned Thai croc is not immune to the global financial slowdown, which has seen stock markets around the world plummet as consumers tighten their purse strings.

Last year, Elite Thai Leather earned about 10 million baht (293,000 dollars) selling exotic leather products, said president Panotkorn Usaiphan.

Until late summer, the company’s plans to earn the same this year seemed on target, he said, with orders between