Managing the word "leather"

Redwood Comment
Published:  31 July, 2019
Dr Mike Redwood

Last week we saw a welcome but rather unexpected move by the China Leather Industry Association (CLIA) to stop the confusing marketing that arises from the historic usage of the meaningless term “synthetic leather”. It is something that has infuriated the industry as they travel around the globe to leather shows where leather sits alongside other materials to help buyers who want to make their international visits more efficient.

Quite a number of fairs fit into this “preselection” category where for example the footwear industry gathers to look at everything from design, through heel inserts and eyelets, to upper and lining material. Although the set-up at ACLE in Shanghai is a bit different, the same principles apply, and also the halls intermingle more than in other fairs so tanners are faced with synthetic promotions more obviously than in most other fairs. It is also a fair jointly run by the APLF and the CLIA – two bodies that are deeply embedded in the global leather industry.

The APLF was a founder member of Leather Naturally and Michael Duck and Perrine Ardouin have been major supporters from the start, with the founder of APLF, Derek Dickins, whom some may still remember, a vocal proponent a decade ago. Their involvement, facilitation of events and ideas have played an essential part in getting Leather Naturally to this stage. During this decade, the CLIA has steadily become more involved in the international bodies and in the many discussions related to building a secure future for leather. A decade ago, the industry thought the future secure, but now we see it undermined by a multiplicity of issues of which nomenclature is only one, yet, one of the most important. Given the significance of the announcement it is worth looking at it in full:

“The All China Leather Exhibition is one of the most renowned professional leather exhibitions in the world, with synthetic materials an integral part of it. In recent years, international exhibitors and international buyers have complained to our association that some synthetic material exhibitors use the word ‘leather’ in their English promotional materials. There is legislation in many countries stating that ‘leather’ refers to the materials that is processed from animal skin and is protected by intellectual property rights. 
In order to further standardise and internationalise the All China Leather Exhibition, all synthetic material exhibitors are not allowed to use the word “leather” in any English promotional materials (including company name, product introduction, company profile, booth fascia, etc).  Exhibitors should replace ‘synthetic leather’ with ‘synthetic materials’, and ‘artificial leather’ with ‘artificial materials’. All exhibitors are requested to prepare relevant publicity and display materials in accordance with this notice.” China Leather Industry Association.

Given all the factors involved – the history, the registered company names, the already prepared materials, the relationship between the leather and synthetic side at ministry level in China and the size and significance of the synthetic industry – this is a major move for which the CLIA has to be congratulated. Also, as an industry, we need to thank APLF for never giving up pushing for this change, even while suffering from many unjustified complaints from western tanners. Some years ago, I observed a battle as a major European chemical company demanded the right to run a seminar entitled "sustainable synthetic leather by waterborne PU dispersions", so it is not always Asian companies at fault here.

This move by the CLIA is, of course, only a start. We have to extend the battle for the definition of leather to be properly adopted, and enforced, all around the world. We have many countries where the ICT definition is defined in law, and others where court cases have been won against misrepresentation based on trades description or consumer law, even where the legislation on terminology is not as precise as it needs to be. At the Portuguese leather industry meeting earlier this year, there was a very positive discussion about restarting an EU push for tighter definitions after the recent elections. Examples include one against Mercedes in the UK Courts and a number in the US related to “bonded leather”.

We now have a lot of very active trade bodies involved in leather, and we are seeing some successes, so in all these areas we must ask them to be active and watchful. With the global promotion of leather now starting, we should not forget the importance of fighting on all fronts for the future of leather.

Dr Mike Redwood

July 30, 2019

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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