Innovations can take many forms from the incremental through to the disruptive. Tanners tend to work on seasonal ranges, where colour and texture is varied, and more fundamental developments for which they often rely on their preferred chemical suppliers. Making signature leather in addition on top of these can be a game changer. It indicates additional technical and developmental skills inside the tannery, rather than a total dependence on suppliers, and it implies a close understanding of customer needs. Tanners invested heavily in developing these leathers as they set them apart from the rest of the market and secured much stronger order books. For many years Salz Leather would hire a consultant, Karl Klanfer, for three months at a time just to aid developing new products. Becerro was one outcome, which used dicarboxylic acids to create a vertical fibre. This pulled the pores together creating a calf like appearance with the grain. The vertical fibre weakened the tensile strength but with care this could be managed. Becerro was regularly sold out eight to ten months ahead.

Mostly the leathers were distinguished by a surface appearance, or as with the soft drummed floater its overall look, touch and feel. Pittards probably pioneered the segment of performance leathers with their WR100 range when they extended the water resistance and quick dry elements developed in their gloving range into bovine footwear leather for the outdoors.

What is innovation today?

From the outside at least the last ten years have been disappointing. Despite innovation being frequently identified as a key performance indicator we do not appear to have any outstanding 21st century products to match those achieved just a decade or two ago. Most of the new products we have seen have related to chrome free products, and more often than not come with rather spurious environmental claims. This feels like a response to a fabricated consumer need rather than a real one.

Perhaps this is an unfair criticism but in a world where the competition is proving very creative with synthetics the need for strong innovation is greater than ever. Getting close to the customers we work with, and even more importantly with the ultimate users, needs to be ingrained into a new determination among tanners to elevate innovation to a whole new level. The fibrous matrix we are so proud of is a wonderful basis for creative technological developments.

Mike Redwood