A pretty full house heard Ralph quietly raise the sustainability conflict that can exist with businesses putting ethics and sustainability into their mission statement, yet, adhering tightly to the modern demand for short-term thinking and ever-increasing profitability. Linked to that, he discussed the allied conflict of consumers who want to be sustainable, what would involve buying less and keeping it longer, yet are driven by the peer demands of defining themselves by endless images on Instagram wearing new styles of footwear and clothing. Perhaps, he thought, the new trends of renting and second hand (pre-loved) clothing might offer a solution, but the huge numbers of new items being offered weekly by some brands was frightening.

The biggest apparent conflict, or perhaps disconnect is a better word, was the fact that in the cramped Leather Hall downstairs so many tanners were carrying on as normal. Clearly trade is difficult as the tight stands in narrow corridors were overloaded with extra items so that any passing buyer could be offered every possible option from stock or catalogue. Rather like an ancient souk. The message that came across was that for many tanners the current issue is cyclical, and the way forward is to struggle on as normal until things get better.

The fundamentals have changed

Yet it is demonstrably clear that some of the fundamentals have changed. The jargon would say the leather industry is being disrupted. Sadly, the main issues are those that were long forewarned – new younger consumers who do not understand the values incorporated in leather and the ever improving quality of alternatives. One new item entering is robotics, which finds leather problematic, but are needed in places such as China where there is a shortage of young workers. Some rebound in footwear is possible, but the industry will have to work hard to stop it being a dead cat bounce. Change has happened, is continuing and will only accelerate. Have no doubt about it.

Luckily with convergence, and conflict, we saw collaboration and the final “C” of cooperation coming to the fore last week at the breakfast meeting of Leather Naturally. It is great to see the major institutions linking in to support a new campaign across the world to target the younger generations and make leather cool again. I know this has been difficult for some, so it is much appreciated.

The campaign is only a drop in the ocean, given the many negative forces the industry faces, but with everyone cooperating and the industry more united we at last have a chance.

Dr Mike Redwood

March 20, 2019


Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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