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Opinion » Comment

Mike Redwood

The power and importance of definitions
Redwood Comment
Published:  16 February, 2017

In July 2015, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK made a ruling about the advertising for a “Leather Corner Suite”. The purchaser who bought the suite said that while it had been advertised as leather, it was actually what is known as “bonded leather”, and calling it leather was misleading.


Martin Ricker

The death of the leather fair – as we knew it
ILM Editorial comment - Martin Ricker
Published:  09 February, 2017

The role and scope of the modern leather fair is changing fast. Gone are the days where a fair would be all about leather. Where buyers would not only look at the latest materials but would also view the latest in chemicals and machinery. A show where everything was dedicated solely to one material and its manufacture. 


Mike Redwood

Long term trends and trade policy
Redwood Comment
Published:  07 February, 2017

For many the concept of globalisation was to open up the world so that companies from a few powerful countries could dominate trade and grow stronger. The arrival of the Internet and modern communications has changed all that. 


The National Leather Collection
Redwood Comment
Published:  02 February, 2017

The first phase of the relocation of the famous leather education and history activities to the centre of Northampton, situated in the East Midlands of England, is underway. It's February 1 and we are high up in a busy Shopping Centre above the ancient Market Square, where the Museum of Leathercraft has been given two huge floors. Only it is not the Museum of Leathercraft any more: it is now called the National Leather Collection. 


Mike Redwood

Leather obsolescence
Redwood Comment
Published:  24 January, 2017

At a Burns Supper (a Scottish traditional dinner to celebrate the poet Robert Burns) organised by my old school last week, I sat next to a classmate who has spent his entire career at the leading edge of the electronics industry. Much of his time was working in Japan alongside the top Japanese companies that drove the sector forward in the 1970s and 1989s. 


Mike Redwood

Making leather efficiently
Redwood Comment
Published:  18 January, 2017

Do you remember the days when we started looking at the leather making processes using little symbols that showed us when the leather was being transported, inspected, delayed (the most frequent aspect), stored or actually processed? In fact, Process Flow charts were first introduced back in the 1920s but, true to its style of late adoption, the leather industry only got really enthusiastic about them in the 1960s and 1970s.  


Mike Redwood

Stopping the bad is more important than promoting the good
Redwood Comment
Published:  10 January, 2017

Marketing today is increasingly about branding and a basic way to view a brand is to compare it to a savings account with a bank. You make both deposits and withdrawals so to increase the value of the brand it is important that the withdrawals are always smaller than the deposits. 


A marketing giant without realising it
Redwood comment
Published:  05 January, 2017

Today you can buy a leather version of a 1972 Nike Classic that changed the running shoe market. The red leather Cortez. It's existence is like a three dimensional history of the past 50 years in our industry.


Where’s the beef?
Redwood comment
Published:  20 December, 2016

Every time I have had the opportunity to listen to Paul Pearson, the long-time Secretary of the International Council of Tanners, talk about the future for leather he has included one slide about the expected demand for meat. In doing so he notes that the supply of raw material tanners have for all but a minuscule part of our production is totally dependent on others and it is future meat demand that is an important indication of the supply of hides we can look forward to. 


Mike Redwood

Constant vigilance and adaptability required
Redwood Comment
Published:  14 December, 2016

An editorial in the Economist asks "is 2016 over yet?" A year in which the famous Oxford Dictionaries named "post-truth" as its word for 2016 is clearly one we should want to forget. It is also one in which the leather industry finally realised that hides and skins are not like fine wines, a material whose value can rise with scarcity. Instead, it is a component whose qualities of performance and beauty need stating over and over again via advancing technology and strong investments in proper marketing (not just noisy advertising).


Mike Redwood

For tanners exchange rates are important
Redwood Comment
Published:  07 December, 2016

The political events that have hit the headlines in the past few months, such as the UK referendum, the American election and the Italian referendum, have created great concern with their long-term implications. How will geopolitics look if the U.S realigns its positions on China, Russia and Iran? What does the future of world trade look like after many decades of generally full supported growth? Will the EU and the euro survive, and how will the complex regulations and agreements that exist at the moment look with a waterfall of events all cascading from it? 


Mike Redwood

Technical systems to help innovate and move forward
Redwood Comment
Published:  30 November, 2016

If you are interested in technology, you will know that a single tool is rarely enough to get the job done. Ruth Schwartz Cowan from the University of Pennsylvania makes this clear in her book on the history of technology, published twenty years ago. Instead, we have arrays of technologies which she defines as technical systems. These can become large and complex; think of what is needed to make a computer work from keyboard, through software, hard drives, Internet connection and cloud back-ups.


Mike Redwood

Emphasis on quality not a preoccupation with branding
Redwood Comment
Published:  23 November, 2016

I write this in a very happy mood. I have found a hero for the week, perhaps longer. I have regularly argued on these pages, in the print magazine and elsewhere, that what the leather industry has built its reputation on, and can thrive on in the future, is lasting high quality; and that neither a rush to fast fashion nor solely chasing luxury is the correct route for most tanners. Well, I found Anders Ojgaard, a Dane living in Valencia, via the weekend newspapers. 


Mike Redwood

Tell that to Apple when your battery runs out
Redwood Comment
Published:  16 November, 2016

Piccadilly is an upmarket part of London. There you will find Fortnum and Mason, the Royal Academy and the Ritz Hotel. You will also find two pieces of retail history that remind us of how European shopping once looked.


Mike Redwood

Help the planet and increase your margin
Redwood Comment
Published:  09 November, 2016

It was only last year that JBS introduced the concept of Scarface to the upholstery market. This offer was developed in order to give consumers the opportunity to buy furniture which includes natural characteristics such as healed scars and other features that were previously pigmented over as "defects". 


Martin Ricker

Leather buyers need to back words with action when it comes to the environment
ILM Editorial comment - Martin Ricker
Published:  07 November, 2016

There is a positive trend in the leather industry towards greater environmental sustainability through the supply chain. The parameters range widely from good animal welfare, safe chemical management and usage, better energy and water efficiencies and stricter controls of airborne, solid and end-of-pipe liquid wastes. It is undeniable that this is the correct direction of travel for the industry as we all need to protect our planet and its finite resources. The tanning industry is investing millions of dollars globally to ensure this happens although there are certainly some parts of the industry where there is a real need for improvement even at the most basic level.


Mike Redwood

Gender parity needed in leather making
Redwood Comment
Published:  02 November, 2016

Last week I met with a group of academics who are researching "Gender, Power and Materiality in Early Modern Europe" and whose current area of focus is on gloves from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. This involves looking at their historical lifecycle from commission and construction, through consumption and gift-giving to their later transmission and archiving in modern day museums.


Mike Redwood

We need more than anecdotal evidence
Redwood Comment
Published:  25 October, 2016

A couple of months ago I wrote about the problem of the declining quality of our raw material. It was an item that received a lot of comments, every one indicating that this was a worrying issue for the industry. 


Mike Redwood

Leading the way with ZDHC
Redwood Comment
Published:  19 October, 2016

Last week I had occasion to read leather chemical maker, Stahl’s website. One paragraph stood out: 


Mike Redwood

Tanners may not be so lucky next time
Redwood Comment
Published:  12 October, 2016

Once upon a time most people who wore shoes had leather ones. Canvas footwear was for lawn tennis. As the world population expanded, industry realised that it would not be possible to keep the per capita supply of leather level with the coming growth in demand. 


Mike Redwood

Leather leading a new renaissance
Redwood Comment
Published:  05 October, 2016

Professor Ian Goldin will have long forgotten about leather. It does not get a mention in his most recent book "Age of Discovery". Yet, long before he was personally head hunted by Nelson Mandela as an advisor and as CEO of the Development Bank of South Africa, long before he became Vice President of the World Bank, and even longer before his appointment as Professor of Globalisation and Development at Oxford University, he worked for a business called Landell Mills and spent time looking at the global leather industry. 


Mike Redwood

If you want to make money – open a coffee shop
Redwood Comment
Published:  28 September, 2016

In pretty much every city in Europe and China that I have been recently, the retail traffic appeared significantly down compared with a year ago. Part of this is the big shift to online purchasing as more and more consumers find smartphones and tablets a very convenient way to buy.


Mike Redwood

Remembering John Basford
Redwood Comment
Published:  20 September, 2016

I imagine that most people who are reading this knew John Basford either personally or by reputation. What you may not know is that he died last week, leaving behind a huge gap in the knowledge of leather making, and an even bigger one in the friendship and fellowship that makes our industry so special. 


Mike Redwood

Japan can unite craftsmanship with technology
Redwood Comment
Published:  13 September, 2016

It is early on a Tuesday morning and I am once again at Heathrow. I am heading to Japan, where I will be spending some time with the tanners around the ancient leather centre of Himeji. 


Mike Redwood

China's importance to leather
Redwood Comment
Published:  06 September, 2016

I was delighted to be asked by APLF to interview Mr Su Chaoying while we were at the All China Leather Exhibition (ACLE) last week. Mr Su has been part of the China Leather Industry Association (CLIA) for about 3 decades, with the last five years as Chairman and he has just moved to the more relaxed role of Honorary Chairman. 


Mike Redwood

Challenging low margins with optimism
Redwood Comment
Published:  31 August, 2016

As the industry gathers in Shanghai no one is saying that the state of trade is good. Some tanners are quiet, but even in the busier areas margins are being squeezed hard. Yet, it would be wrong to say this has brought with it a sense of pessimism - quite the reverse. Tanners are laying out their long-term plans and are positive about them, and there is an interest in the strategic, as compared to short term tactic, that has been noticeably absent in previous years. 


Mike Redwood

Two simple questions: no simple answer
Redwood Comment
Published:  24 August, 2016

Next week the end to the holidays is marked by a series of trade fairs put together in a way that ignores completely the fact that the task of the tanner is, first and foremost, to produce leather. We start as ever with the All China Leather Exhibition in its usual slot at the end of August. International visitors who attend this show have steadily filtered down to those with a specific interest in China and the surrounding Pacific and Asian countries. They travel to Shanghai with clear objectives. 


Martin Ricker

Great expectations
ILM Editorial comment - Martin Ricker
Published:  17 August, 2016

A lot rests of the amount of business that will be carried out as a result of the upcoming trade fairs in Shanghai followed by Paris and Milan this September. With maybe the exception of the automotive upholstery segment leather consumption is down across all the other major segments. For many tanners there is a lot riding on the next buying season after a difficult 2015-16 period.


Mike Redwood

Indian leather should have a bigger share
Redwood comment
Published:  16 August, 2016

In 2015 the per capita GDP of China was US$7990 while that of India was only $1617. Quite frankly this is astonishing. Looking back at the China and India I visited first in the early 1980s India was far ahead, and the factories in China were truly reminders of a different, rather primitive, age. Trying to get sensible meetings with staff who worked in dreadful offices along the Bund was difficult and getting round Shanghai, which was just seething with bicycles and poverty, was extremely hard. 


Mike Redwood

Understand the associated responsibilities of leather making
Redwood comment
Published:  10 August, 2016

I was told off the other day for not having been to Bangladesh. I had just finished presenting a view on our industry that had two themes. I argued that cows are good for the planet and that leather is one of the best materials to use from a sustainability point of view. 


Placing leather in the correct space
Redwood comment
Published:  03 August, 2016

In a long career you will make a lot of mistakes, you are just trying to avoid making too many big ones. Perhaps more important is not to dwell on your decisions too much and let them prey on your mind. So when I was challenged in a seminar in GDS Düsseldorf last week and failed to respond effectively it has aggravated me that I have struggled to move on and get it out of my mind.


Mike Redwood

Cradle to Cradle revisited
Redwood Comment
Published:  27 July, 2016

Cradle to Cradle thinking is getting a lot of attention in the leather industry these days. It seems late in the day as I was sent the book over ten years ago by an old colleague and got so excited I now recognise I never sent it back. That book was written by a chemist Michael Braungart and an architect William McDonough in 2002, and they own the term Cradle to Cradle as a trademark. 


Mike Redwood

Are you looking at your supply network?
Redwood Comment
Published:  20 July, 2016

Every major company is now re-examining its supply chain. If they are not, they should be. For years the primary parameter has been price, and the rush to lower costs in Asia overwhelmed everything. In most industries, modern manufacturing methods meant that mass produced items from Asia matched the quality customers were used to and, in some instances, offered an improvement as plant and machinery was newer, and the staff better trained. 


Mike Redwood

Pressures on hides and skins
Redwood Comment
Published:  13 July, 2016

Our success in making something of beauty out of a natural material is largely dependent on the quality of the hides and skins out of which it is made. Yet despite our best efforts, the financial pressures on farming and other social and economic trends seem to be forcing quality down when we need it to improve. 


Mike Redwood

Behind the numbers
Redwood Comment
Published:  05 July, 2016

These days the leather industry cannot be without meetings, conferences and seminars. They were once few and far between, even noted by some U.S. tanners who used them to make up for incredibly poor holiday entitlements. So many events means lots of opportunity to voice opinions, which you would think must be a good thing. Except that these days most of our industry opinions have to be just that, opinions, since the statistical evidence to support them no longer exists.


Mike Redwood

Leather industry is impacted by global events
Redwood Comment
Published:  29 June, 2016

More than most industries, the leather industry is impacted by global economic and political events; goodness knows we have enough of these going on right now with the weakening Chinese economy, sanctions against Russia, wars in the Middle East and terrorism penetrating into the heart of our cities. So it seems rather careless for the UK to drop a shock referendum result into our lap just at the moment when everything is so fragile.


Mike Redwood

The hundred year old employee
Redwood Comment
Published:  22 June, 2016

For centuries the leather industry never changed. Then, in the nineteenth century a few things happened. Having trashed some top forests, we learned how to ship extracts and build big factories using water power and, then, steam to drive machines. Just as the century ended, we started to use chromium.


Mike Redwood

Russian leather – a lost opportunity
Redwood Comment
Published:  15 June, 2016

Over the years, I have sold a lot of leather to Russia but until two weeks ago I had never been there. I went on a brief trip to St. Petersburg, although it was an “accidental” trip as my real plan was to see the Hanseatic Ports of the Baltic. I find the Hanseatic League utterly fascinating. 


Open letter to the entire leather supply chain
By Steven Jeske, GST/Seton Autoleather
Published:  10 June, 2016

Stephen Jeske of automotive leather maker, GST/Seton Autoleather, writes an open letter to ILM. Below is the text of the letter which was first published in the May/June 2016 edition of International Leather Maker.


Mike Redwood

A talent for following the ways of yesterday is not sufficient to improve the world of today
Redwood Comment
Published:  08 June, 2016

I have spent a good part of the last two weeks studying the Hanseatic League. This was a quite fascinating organisation in which a number of north German towns and cities built a loose, and then, more formal structure around trading in the Baltic and the North Atlantic.  They were a major force from the 12th until the 16th century and changed that part of the world from one of bandits to one of traders.


Mike Redwood

The global village
Redwood Comment
Published:  31 May, 2016

I wonder how many people who read these articles will have heard about Marshall McLuhan, who wrote The Gutenberg Galaxy in 1962. I have to admit that I had not until I was marking exam papers at the University of Bath recently.


Mike Redwood

Education for the leather industry
Redwood Comment
Published:  24 May, 2016

The recent announcement in our trade press about the new developments in leather education and research at the University of Northampton was very welcome news. At the recent APLF Hong Kong Fair alumni and friends of the University were given a preview of the new plans, but were told that they were subject to obtaining final approval from the Local Authorities.


Mike Redwood

The shape of a tannery
Redwood Comment
Published:  18 May, 2016

Yesterday, I sat in a tannery meeting listening to the Board answering questions. One venerable shareholder asked a question highlighting the big difference between making high volumes of leather for big brands and much smaller bespoke quantities for the premium luxury sector. The question was well answered although I am not sure it was really pertinent in this case.


Mike Redwood

Heritage can breed innovation
Redwood Comment
Published:  11 May, 2016

Vibram, the clever company that makes soles for footwear is well known as a very innovative business. Right back to its founding 80 years ago, when it responded to a tragic accident in the Italian Alps that was largely caused by inadequate footwear, Vibram's blend of knowledge and technology has allowed it to continue to produce advanced new concepts and new products.


Mike Redwood

Eat more beef to help the planet
Redwood Comment
Published:  04 May, 2016

Every Argentinian on average eats 56kg of beef a year, but in the first quarter of this year this dropped by nearly 6% compared to 2015. Instead, they are switching to cheaper chicken and pork. Apparently, inflation at 40% has priced beef out for many ordinary citizens. This is becoming serious since for the last sixty years beef consumption in Argentina has actually averaged 78kg.


Mike Redwood

William Shakespeare knew about leather
Redwood Comment
Published:  27 April, 2016

We have just celebrated the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. It is a useful moment to highlight how important leather has been in history, and the neat balance between its functional and its aesthetic properties.


Mike Redwood

Being transparent about leather
Redwood Comment
Published:  20 April, 2016

This week is Fashion Revolution Week. As part of it, Fashion Revolution have launched a FashionTransparency Index. For this Fashion Revolution and Ethical Consumer partnered to publish the first edition which covers 40 of the biggest global fashion brands and ranks companies according to the level of transparency in their supply chain.


Mike Redwood

The concept of disappearing concepts
Redwood Comment
Published:  13 April, 2016

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I highlighted how we like to rationalise macro-environmental trends into irrelevance as far as the leather industry is concerned. Burberry's plan to sell directly from the catwalk gets the response "this will never affect us" from smiling tanners, happy in their false security that nothing changes in leather.


Mike Redwood

Silence from Bangladesh does no one any good
Redwood Comment
Published:  06 April, 2016

Before travelling to APLF, I tried to arrange meetings in Hong Kong with senior representatives from Bangladesh. They never took place. This may have been my fault; with a hectic fair meaning you are not always in the right place when people come looking for you.


Mike Redwood

The new China
Redwood Comment
Published:  30 March, 2016

There is an understandable tendency to see the world around us as in a steady state. Perhaps given current events we would all shout out they we hoped not, but business-wise I have worked with many Chief Executives (with a couple of noted exceptions in Latin America and the USA) who look at the previous ten years and argue strongly that the future will be the same. "This is how it has always been and nothing significant is going to change." Most lost either their business or their job, or both. 


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