Dr Mike Redwood

The Economist errors about leather

Redwood Comment
Published:  13 September, 2017

I’ve been a subscriber of the Economist magazine since 1971, and I last had a letter published in it around 1973. I have no idea what it was about but I do remember using the word “struthiocameline” (head in the sand), a weird word that was used quite a bit in the 1960s and 70s. 

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Dr Mike Redwood

Hijacked at the WLC

Redwood Comment
Published:  05 September, 2017

During the World Leather Congress last week (August 29) I was asked to chair, or moderate, the final session and subsequent discussion panel. It was entitled ‘The Tanners Response’ and included a couple of globally respected tanners plus representatives from ZDHC, who are increasingly being seen as well aligned to the leather industry and Lanxess. The session was to end with a discussion for which two others took the stage. 

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WLC ‘The New Consumer’ discussion panel

Doing the maths in the leather business

Redwood Comment
Published:  31 August, 2017

The organisers were rather taken aback at the third World Leather Congress held in Shanghai on August 29. They had expected three or four hundred delegates but ended up with bookings for seven hundred and fifty, creating problems with the seating and the eating logistics. 

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Dr Mike Redwood

Can the leather industry learn from its past mistakes?

Redwood Comment
Published:  24 August, 2017

This time next week I should be writing from the World Leather Congress (WLC) in Shanghai, which means that for many of us the holiday period is over and we are looking forward to being pitched back into the maelstrom of the leather industry.  I will be talking briefly about how marketing has evolved and how the volatility around us means that it is harder to pre-determine marketing strategies and most top marketers now develop programmes that are suited to being adapted as they go along.

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A future for chrome?

Dr Kerry Senior, Director, UK Leather Federation (UKLF)
Published:  18 August, 2017

Uncertainty is one of the defining features of the world today, whether it concerns the consequences of Brexit, the impact of climate change or our security in an increasingly volatile political environment. Uncertainty can cause those affected to struggle to take action or to become excessively risk-averse. Uncertainty can also lead to speculation, which, in the absence of other views or evidence, can further limit the ability of those affected to act. 

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Dr Mike Redwood

The father of the White Revolution

Redwood Comment
Published:  16 August, 2017

I did not know until a few days ago that India had a milkman, never mind that the Milkman of India was Dr Verghese Kurien (1921-2012) who with his Billion Litre Idea and Operation Flood transformed the Indian milk industry. In so doing he aided the improvement in health of the nation, the status and income of many of the poorest farmers and the empowerment of women. 

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Dr Mike Redwood

Replacing chromium

Redwood comment
Published:  08 August, 2017

There have been a number comments from people in the leather supply chain since I wrote a few weeks ago that chromium tanning is in permanent decline (click here to recap). This was based on the fact that the crescendo of attacks being made against it have gone on so long and been so loud that user opinion can no longer be retrieved however hard the industry tries. 

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Mike Redwood

For leather, change is never far away

Redwood comment
Published:  02 August, 2017

The improving understanding of marketing that is taking place in the leather industry comes in part from the fact that tanners have become much more involved in working with the full value chain. They have started to realise that for everyone in that complex network to make a profit the final consumer has to see the value in the product they are buying. 

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Mike Redwood

George William Odey was one of the great tanners of the twentieth century

Redwood Comment
Published:  26 July, 2017

Hanging prominently on the wall of the main staircase of the Lairgate Hotel in Beverley, East Yorkshire, England is a portrait of George Odey CBE  (1900 – 1985). The portrait is by the Royal portrait painter Norman Hepple and was painted in 1973. 

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Redwood Comment

Chrome tanning is in permanent decline

Redwood Comment
Published:  19 July, 2017

A few weeks ago, I ran a three-day course on branding in the leather industry at Northampton University. During the course, a couple of colleagues from some big brands, one leather goods and one footwear, were called in to talk to the students. In quite separate presentations on different days, both made the point that while they understood the science and technology that supports chromium as a first-rate tanning method they thought there was already too much momentum behind the chrome-free movement for it to be stopped. 

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Mike Redwood

Marketing is better understood today

Redwood Comment
Published:  12 July, 2017

We are beginning to see news about the upcoming World Leather Congress to be held next month in Shanghai, the day before the All China Leather Exhibition begins. It looks like being a very good event, and I hope it sees a good attendance from both Chinese and international tanners and industry associates. 

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Mike Redwood

Clarks leap forward

Redwood Comment
Published:  05 July, 2017

The announcement in the last few days that the UK shoemaker Clarks will restart making its iconic desert boot at its headquarters located in the town of Street, Somerset, is a big issue by any definition. In rough terms, Clarks sell about 50 million pairs of shoes around the world each year so 300,000 pairs of desert boots is not a lot; but it is a significant production and does need a proper infrastructure putting into place. Buyers will be queuing up for these shoes, and I will be at the head of the queue.

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Footwear is more than black, white and brown

Redwood Comment
Published:  28 June, 2017

As an industry, we get quite excited about the automobile and the leather goods aspects of our business and this is where the growth has been in recent years. All through the past hundred years, footwear has been far bigger and even the most pessimistic view of what has been happening in the past few years still has footwear using about twice the volume of leather as the two other sectors added together. 

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Mike Redwood

Passing the gauntlet

Redwood Comment
Published:  21 June, 2017

It has always disappointed me to see a small company decide to close down. Certainly, there is a time to live and a time to die for a business and not all businesses are set to survive through endless decades. When I began in industry an S&P 500 company had an average life of about 60 years, while now it is down closer to 17. 

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Mike Redwood

Deceptive and immoral tactics of leather’s opponents

Redwood Comment
Published:  14 June, 2017

Have you read Diana Kander’s digital article “Help Your Team Stop Overcommitting by Empowering Them to Say No” about how we all say yes too easily to attending meetings, events and conferences when really our work, our family lives and our whole personal well-being would improve if we just said no? Lucy Kellaway featured this point in a recent article in the Financial Times, which stood out amid the current global turmoil.

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Mike Redwood

A market for horses would be a good thing

Redwood Comment
Published:  07 June, 2017

Just two kilometres from my home we have a sanctuary for horses. It is something you would never have envisaged existing two or three decades ago.  On a much smaller scale, we did have places for retired working horses (those that went down coalmines for example) but there was never a need to save horses that were loved by the families that owned them as the continued to care for their welfare long after they were used for riding. 

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Mike Redwood

Thinking about Careers in Leather

Redwood Comment
Published:  31 May, 2017

It is a Tuesday morning and there was a penetrating heavy drizzle as I parked in the University of Bath’s car park. Not an auspicious start to a morning spent sitting in a famous sports hall, where a large poster announces that Premier League Southampton’s highly rated soccer academy trains. No sport today though. I'm invigilating a marketing exam. 

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Mike Redwood

Italian tanners provide good summer reading

Redwood Comment
Published:  24 May, 2017

If there is one book you need to put aside for summer reading this year it is the Italian leather industry’s 2016 Sustainability Report. Available in hardback, I was pleased to be given a copy earlier this year when Lineapelle came to London to give their seasonal trends forecast.

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Mike Redwood

A visit to Henderson Island will make you buy leather

Redwood Comment
Published:  17 May, 2017

Hiding down in the South Pacific, halfway between New Zealand and South America, sits Henderson Island; an uninhabited island just about 9 km by 5 km, part of the Pitcairn Islands. It is a World Heritage Site and famous for its pristine environment, which UNESCO describes as “practically untouched by human presence”. The most famous thing about Henderson Island was, until now, the failure of a programme to exterminate the rats in 2011. These were left there by mistake 700 years ago by Polynesian explorers and have been decimating the seabird population ever since.  

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Mike Redwood

Shining a light on luxury

Redwood Comment
Published:  10 May, 2017

The American leather goods company Coach has just bought Kate Spade for US$2.4 billion. It comes two years after it purchased Stuart Weitzman footwear. This looks like to be the start of creating a luxury conglomerate based in New York similar to the likes of Kering and LVMH in Europe. 

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Mike Redwood

Industry 4.0

Redwood Comment
Published:  03 May, 2017

Germany is famous for manufacturing, so the world looked on when it met at the famous Hanover Fair last week. In particular, we wanted to see how it was handling what is called Industry 4.0.

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Mike Redwood

Get-togethers returning to fashion

Redwood Comment
Published:  26 April, 2017

When the first World Leather Congress was held in Brazil a few years ago, tagged onto the back of a very successful World Footwear Congress, someone told me that they thought the industry had discovered a new appetite for big assemblies. I found it hard to believe. For some years, the numbers attending the UK Society of Leather Technologists and Chemists conferences had been declining, and it began to look like an event for a few enthusiasts to meet with even fewer elderly retirees. 

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Mike Redwood

No hang tag can save a commodity from disaster

Redwood Comment
Published:  19 April, 2017

Leather is an ingredient in one way or another in most of the articles we buy, but unlike most of the best examples of ingredient branding – Dolby, Gore-Tex, Nutrasweet or even Intel – it is not invisible. So, Philip Kotler’s 2010 title on ingredient branding “making the invisible visible” does not fully apply. 

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Mike Redwood

Good times for leather?

Redwood Comment
Published:  12 April, 2017

The industry atmosphere after the Hong Kong APLF show two weeks ago has been almost euphoric, and was further buoyed along by the LVMH first quarter results showing strong growth in fashion and leather goods. It was remarkable that a quite pessimistic atmosphere the day before the show transformed in just two and a half days.

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Mike Redwood

Stick to fundamentals and not slogans

Redwood Comment
Published:  05 April, 2017

The first International Council of Tanners (ICT) meeting I ever attended was back in the 1970s in Buenos Aires, and the first time I was asked to speak at a meeting was in Hong Kong in 1994, when branding was fast evolving as a vital concept. At that event, I walked a very large and attentive audience through some branding essentials that have not changed to this day. Since there was no one present last week at APLF in Hong Kong who had been there in 1994 I could have given the same talk word-for-word, and it still would have been relevant. It was an honour to be invited back to the ICT meeting and to see it thriving under the current Chairman, Richard Pai.  

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Mike Redwood

Tanners getting squeezed

Redwood Comment
Published:  29 March, 2017

One reason many exhibitors and visitors come to trade shows is to learn about the state of trade. If what you discover is not as optimistic as you had hoped, do you blame the trade show? It is a crazy point, yet, one often raised. In fact, if you learn that the news is bad and subsequent events prove this to be true then from an event perspective the show has been a great success. You have uncovered or confirmed in one trip vital information for your business. 

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Mike Redwood

Less than perfect digital marketing

Redwood Comment
Published:  22 March, 2017

Two years ago, Marc Pritchard of P&G (Proctor & Gamble) told Forbes magazine that he was so excited by online marketing that he was changing to building brands on a digital first basis. This was a serious point since P&G had a declared advertising expenditure of US$8.29 billion for the fiscal year 2015. 

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Preserving the leather, preserving the industry

Redwood Comment
Published:  16 March, 2017

If you buy something that is made with care and craftsmanship, you should look after it with care. That was the clear message that came from an utterly fascinating day spent with a group of owners of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars - old and new - at the UK Leather Conservation Centre recently. 

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Mike Redwood

Transparency is a lofty goal. How do you know when you get there?

Redwood Comment
Published:  08 March, 2017

When members of LeatherNaturally! talk about their policies for corporate social responsibility the term "transparency" is always widely used. But what does it mean? At the end of a day on sustainability at the Institute for Creative Leather Technologies (ICLT) in the University of Northampton, Mike Costello, who heads up sustainability at Stahl, probed the event towards the end of his presentation asking: "Transparency is a lofty goal. How do you know when you get there?" 

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Mike Redwood

Reducing beef production in Brazil would increase global greenhouse gas emissions

Redwood Comment
Published:  01 March, 2017

Did you notice that the Environment Ministry of the German Government has banned meat (and fish) from all its official events in the belief that it “must practice what it preaches” with regard to the environment? This is the danger of pressure groups, press, lobby groups and government jumping to conclusions without properly studying the facts.

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Mike Redwood

Attacking bonded leather

Redwood Comment
Published:  21 February, 2017

Just seven days ago, I used this column to discuss a two-year-old UK advertising case to discuss definitions of leather and issues with what gets called "bonded" leather. Within an hour, by pure coincidence, a colleague sent me a copy of an article from the U.S. on exactly the same subject. 

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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.  

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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).

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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? 

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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". 

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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: 

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