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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.
In some articles leather is not so much “invisible” as the sole material that is used. A leather handbag or a pair of welted shoes will have accessories such as zips, threads and eyelets but they will be essentially leather. Our concern as tanners is that these minor components are carefully chosen to be compatible with the long life of the leather as most failures come from the zips and stitching rather than the leather itself. And we now need to work more with designers to ensure that the design allows for easy repair, as we know that leather does not fit the throw-away society.
Where leather is not the primary material, as with anything from an iPhone cover to an automobile seat, it is there because it does offer real differentiation, and it is seen to add value everywhere it is used. Consumers will pay more for a branded product than a generic one, which is why we so often talk about leather in terms of “brand leather.” Fortunately, consumers trust our brand and we, as tanners, must always work to secure and reinforce leather’s brands values. Like an old-fashioned bank savings account good activities steadily increase the balance but careless behaviour will soon deplete it.
Leather is versatile
We are lucky that leather is such a versatile material and can be adjusted to an almost infinite degree in terms of its performance and its aesthetic characteristics; but it does not do well against the competition if it is commoditised to a level where the consumer cannot tell it from plastic. That does not mean that pigments and defect cover are always inappropriate, but it does mean that however the tanner makes the leather he or she needs to be aware of what characteristics are being engineered into it so that it is differentiated from plastic or textile material competitors.
Many people have talked about ingredient branding as though it was only about hang tags. Although tired these days they are relevant still, but only at the end of a programme which starts by making the leather differentiated in some meaningful way and builds up all the other brand elements. Without differentiation it is a commodity, and leather is too expensive to succeed as a commodity. No hang tag can save a commodity from disaster.
19th April 2017
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