The Economist errors about leather

Redwood Comment
Published:  13 September, 2017
Dr Mike Redwood

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. 

I greatly appreciate the accurate and informative articles generally found in the Economist, and view it as a rare trustworthy media source. So, it was a great surprise to read their rather thoughtless article two weeks ago on “growing leather in the laboratory”[1]. It was so full of errors and inaccuracies that Leather Naturally immediately shot off a reply to it [2]. We expected to see it published while we were still in Shanghai at the All China Leather Exhibition, but no such luck; nor the week after. The International Council of Tanners (ICT) also sent off an excellent letter and, so far, have had no luck either. So, the best we have been able to do is to join a conversation on The Economist Facebook page where they have a simplified visual on the story. It is heartening to see that most of the comments are questioning the logic in the article.

Logic is the problem

It is good that this is the case, as logic is the problem. They suggest that cows are killed for leather; it is hard to imagine how a serious journalist could write this today. They say since historic leather making was unsavoury therefore modern leather must be too. If they applied the same logic to paper (huge users of urine) or to cosmetics (loaded with lead, mercury and arsenic), or most other industries with history, we would be unable to live a normal life today. They assume any sheet material that can be used in a garment can be called leather. They praise a material made using biotechnology while condemning leather for historically being a world leader in this area. They say the same tanning process used for leather is apparently OK when used on a material built out of yeast. There is not a lot of logic in all that.

When we began Leather Naturally we were faced with some sections of the industry arguing that leather was unchallenged and as a by-product of limited 

availability it would see both demand and profitability rise over time. Yet leather has never existed in a vacuum. It made great boats, but not as good as wood or iron. It made great material for writing documents that last forever, but not as good as paper for everyday books and notebooks. It made great armour but not as good as metal and Kevlar.

For a long time, we have said that leather wins where it’s beauty and it performance beats competitive materials, and for success tanners have to make this work across all selections as well. It is a complex business and the competition is getting tougher.

Level playing field

Given a level playing field we can show leather to perform well and to be a uniquely sustainable material that the consumer likes and keeps.

The war we are in, and it is a war, is to fight back against the dishonest claims about alternates which usually turn out to be based on fossil fuels and with limited life in everyday use, or the wickedness of cows which is usually based on misrepresenting the facts, often deliberately, by animal rights absolutists.

A quick read of the Economist soon reminds us this is not the time for the leather industry to be “struthiocameline”!

Dr Mike Redwood

12th September 2017

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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