Leather is a complex brand

Redwood Comment
Published:  05 December, 2018
Dr Mike Redwood

I spent most of the day yesterday working with an Executive MBA Class on brand authenticity and repositioning. To be in the course, the students combine academic requirements with considerable business experience. They are mostly quite senior people, so everything gets critically evaluated.

I found myself being criticised a few weeks ago for calling leather a “brand”, but leather walks, talks and behaves like a brand and all who work in the industry are impacted by consumer appreciation of that brand. There was no question yesterday about leather being a brand, that is not in doubt.

What is less clear is how consumers view “brand leather” as it comes with significant negative stories to match a long history of developing an image of quality and durability. Telling the back story of leather is not always easy, and more often than not descends into “industry speak” as we romance the product rather than try and understand its role in today’s society. Leather is a very complex brand; a tainted beauty that requires healing help.

There is a tendency creeping into the system to set up leather sub-brands to side step the real and perceived issues of leather coming from factories or regions where regulations are not enforced and labour and the environment get mistreated. These can be groupings by tannery type or regional origin. This is normal in many ways as one tannery has to differentiate itself from another in a competitive world.

Historically, however, this fragmentation by raw material, process method or geography has been what has stopped the industry uniting to promote leather effectively on an international basis. While we have seen outstanding moves in recent years by Brazil, Turkey and the Italian vegetable leather tanners (Consorzio Vera Pelle Italiana Conciata al Vegetale), among others, none of the campaigns have spread beyond a limited target audience. As such, the negatives which surround leather regarding processing, waste management and health and safety of workers is not addressed and the muddled image of leather, “is it really a good or a bad material?”, remains.

More than ever now we need to come together as an industry to work on two fronts. One to find ways to bring to an end each and every instance of improper processing and second to support the global promotional programme proposed by Leather Naturally. Segmented approaches remain perfectly valid, but they should come second to supporting the whole industry, and the fundamental “brand leather” should get modern, appropriate messages across to worldwide audiences.

Dr Mike Redwood

December 5, 2018

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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