Is it time to give up leather? – A response

Redwood Comment
Published:  16 March, 2016
Mike Redwood

It is hard not to talk about an article that appeared in a British national newspaper last Sunday entitled Is it time to give up leather?

We see a lot of articles like this and most can be brushed aside as written by those who start with a predetermined opinion and only look to cherry pick the facts to find evidence they can piece together to support that point of view. They are absolutist in their approach and will never change their minds.

The problem for me is that this article was written by Lucy Siegle, a respected journalist in print and on television. Her 2011 book To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? was a thorough discussion of the worst aspects of fast fashion, the peer pressure to buy popular brands at often unaffordable prices and the allied huge consumer enthusiasm for cheap clothing. It was disappointing that her view of leather was based on a visit to the worst unregulated parts of Kanpur. I have often used her chapter on leather as an example of the perils for the leather industry of having these locations where comparatively tiny production zones can hugely damage the "brand" leather.

But this article is different. It is a compilation of all the negative things that Ms Siegle can find to do with leather from animal welfare in India, through the Amazon deforestation issue, child labour in Bangladesh, greenhouse gas emissions and, of course, undefined "toxic" chemicals everywhere. Each of these issues is serious, but each needs to be examined in detail and placed in perspective. We have a highly responsible industry where 95% if not more of all tanners behave impeccably. We are an industry that is very far from perfect but which has and continues to make unbelievable strides forward. Modern tanneries that make the vast majority of our leather are among the top tier of quality manufacturing world wide, and their hides come from carefully managed herds with animal welfare at top of mind.

The article carelessly adds together every evil, proven and unproven, and assumes that every emerging country from Ethiopia to Vietnam must be at the worst end of the scale. A little research would have shown her that both these countries have large plants run by two prominent members of LeatherNaturally!; Pittards and PrimeAsia to name just two.

The ultimate thrust of the article is the hardest to understand as it argues that fashion is making leather more popular and driving it away from long lasting articles towards disposable fast fashion categories. This means, she says, that animals are going to be killed for their skins albeit there is no supporting evidence for this; and very much at odds with the history and all trends in the industry.

Advising us that a plastic handbag from Stella McCartney at £1500 (US$2,115) is a better bet for the consumer is hard to take. One has to say that if this is journalism; it feels more like politics than scientific or environmental journalism. Hopefully, our responses will be published both online and in print, and that others will respond and join in making the case for leather.

To view the article click here.

Mike Redwood

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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