We have long known that leather was facing competition in every sector, and that many alternates were simultaneously getting technical better and promotionally more aggressive, but as raw material prices collapsed the usual recovery in volume sales did not happen. This took the industry by surprise. The decision of the footwear industry to reduce its consumption of leather, preferring easier to cut synthetics, caused great consternation. It appears permanent.

The garment market also got into distress and was the first area where we heard of raw skins being thrown away. The industry response was measured, but there was a strong element of shock, and anger at competitive materials passing themselves off as leather.

Suddenly, our industry that has a history of being introverted and product oriented began to break out and jump into promotional ideas and bursts of aggressive PR. All at a moment when more than ever, and better late than never, the industry needs a considered, balanced ongoing programme to put leather back into its correct market position. It will not be aided by knee jerk narrow acts of promotion.

Let’s get the Leather Naturally campaign on the road

The issue of synthetics being indestructible plastics made from fossil fuels, having already put more pieces of micro-plastic in the ocean than there are stars in the Milky Way, looked like a potential saviour and there was a rush to emphasise the natural, renewable nature of leather.

This is good argument which we must maintain, but 2019 looks like it will be a year of more sustainable alternates with cellulosic non-wovens and more recycled materials. A glance at the press over the last three weeks makes it clear this is an easy topic for lazy journalists to write about.

There is one way to start the push back, and that is to fight by promoting and explaining all that is good and valid about leather to the new younger generations who are hungry for integrity and transparency in materials. The Leather Naturally campaign deserves full support from tanners and other industry stakeholders.

This demands that we keep our leathers up-to-date for the modern consumers with new types, creative ideas and exciting end uses. Leather is not all about classics. Classics are important in certain markets, but the excitement of leather has always been its ability to evolve, to fit into the needs, the styles, the end uses of the contemporary world. We are not sailing in leather, making shields out it, or carrying wine in it any more.

Century after century some end uses have been lost and others have appeared and been filled by the innovative craftsmanship of our industry and versatility of our raw material.

To meet the challenges of 2019 let’s get the Leather Naturally campaign on the road and keep the innovation alive.

Dr Mike Redwood

December 19, 2018


Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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