Can the leather industry learn from its past mistakes?

Redwood Comment
Published:  24 August, 2017
Dr Mike Redwood

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.

Last December, I wrote that 2017 would be the year of major currency volatility. While most companies have had to deal with issues, they have been less extreme than I anticipated. It is the other changes that are harder to measure as we leave this holiday period. Perhaps the WLC will bring some clarity.

Toffler’s comment that “change happens faster than you expect, and in the wrong order” is certainly now in play as things that we thought were a long way off, or inconceivable, look more likely to catch us out.  

Is ‘Economic Deglobalisation’ the new term we will be living with after half a century of growing international trade and financial flows? Will the attacks in and around the Indian leather trade by the government and its party members continue? What is going to happen to the automobile industry in the face of urbanisation, electric power and self-driving trends?

China is still the dominant shoemaker in the world, but it has started to lose market share. How much does it really want to hold on to the massive volumes, and will the trend to plastic alternates continue? The marketing onslaught from synthetic materials looks set to grow louder, supported by a noisy animal rights lobby.

Today’s consumers have different expectations regarding how they acquire and utilise products, about how they view a sustainable world and how they obtain their news and information. Even the concept of ownership has started to change.

Marketing communications are not just about selling product. We need to fully appreciate the reality of today’s communications, and how consumers learn about leather and competitive materials.  

About Chromium - “Well put, Mike! Pity but true”

I wrote a few weeks ago that a lot of senior people in our industry thought consumer opinion has gone too far to save chromium as our main tanning method. The people I spoke to are much closer to consumers than we as tanners, and they understand better the way media changed the way we interact with products and brands.

When PETA attacks leather with false information Leather Naturally fights back.  But the reaction to what we write is not a single answer from PETA: it is thousands of responses; occasionally tens of thousands. This is how communications spread today; with no guarantee that logic and truth will win. This is why our teenage children come home from school and tell us working with skins from cows “is a bad thing”.

So, while I know there are some who object to my comments on the end of chromium I do think they will prove to be correct and prefer to quote a colleague who commented on line “Well put, Mike! Pity but true”.  The question to ask is whether we can we learn from this and avoid more unintended consequences in the future.

Dr Mike Redwood

August 24, 2017

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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