I recently had a conversation with the 2022 winner of the APLF Design-a-Bag Competition. It is the third year I have done this and all three winners have been exceptional. The competition seems to have a knack of uncovering young people who are great at design and have sought to acquire a huge knowledge of materials; out of which they have a found a love for leather.
In recent days I have been hearing about how so many school-leavers around the world are pushed into careers where their parents believe the future lies while actively discouraging them from joining legacy trades such as leather.
Listening to this year’s winner, Neil Bryan Capistrano from the Philippines, is atypical as his post school training was for preparation for medical work. He is incredibly excited with the impact from winning the competition, the publicity he has obtained including a TV interview and the benefit he will gain from the five-week bag design course at the Arsutoria School in Milan that comes with the prize.
An industry like leather cannot be static, there is always life and death. So, it is vital that new entrants work with leather and introduce a constant stream of new ideas, fitted to the changes ongoing in society. Any one of the last three winners – Mary Chan, Valeria Zingaretti or Neil Capistrano – could create a huge new major brand; I have no doubt their skill, imagination and effort deserves success. We should not forget how many great brands had simple beginnings; Mulberry began with a single sewing machine and an idea only a few kilometres from my home.
Our winners will excite large numbers of their contemporaries to get involved in the beauty and versatility of leather. Effectively those who enter all these competitions are ambassadors for and future users of leather.
Thomas Strebost of German tanner Heller Leder writes in the May/June edition of International Leather Maker that brands, retailers and OEMs cannot be trusted to be fair and honest about leather in their messaging, so the leather industry must itself “support massively” getting out the informed facts. Encouraging young designers is an important part of this.
Through competitions and grants such as those being offered this month in the UK by the Leathersellers Livery Company the true leather message gets distributed into the channel of today’s thoughtful and influential youth while the feedback is important to understand how an ever-changing society views materials and products.
For a long time, leather had two abiding messages both of which led to silence and inaction. Tanners used to say that the industry was “so special” that normal macro-economic influences did not apply. They then said that since the raw material available was limited by the size of the meat and dairy industries supply would always be lower than demand as the world population grew and consumed more. As leather became less available, the price and margins for tanners would increase. They even produced slogans saying “nothing could replace leather”. How arrogant we were.
As we find hides and skins being routinely dumped into landfill around the world, attitudes have changed, but a few well written press releases are not enough to change the tide that is running against leather. It does indeed need to be “massive”, wide and deep. We must use every creative way possible to reverse the negative flow of sentiment running against leather.
Offering engagement, the opportunity to touch and feel the product, tour tanneries and be briefed for competitions must all be part of the mix if leather is to widen our network of friends. We must open up our closed industry and recognise the vital role beyond a cosy relationship of farmer, tanner and a brand or two.
An open and welcoming family
This creates an opportunity for every stakeholder to find a role in the promotion of leather and the provision of true information so consumers and designers can make properly informed decisions. The leather industry needs to become an open and welcoming family.
There are exciting opportunities for creative minds in this area and now is the time to get them working. Experience shows that more often than not we find people young and old are keen to have the facts and pleased and impressed about leather when they hear it.
Find the conversation between Mike Redwood with the 2022 winner Neil Bryan Capistrano on the APLF YouTube channel.
Follow Dr Mike Redwood on Twitter: @michaelredwood
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