It had not started well. Some ideas from the University of Leeds (that’s in the north of England, where once upon a time the SLTC used to go for meetings) they had this idea of washing your dirty linen in rubber balls. Well, they would have that sort of idea in Leeds. And then they collected £30 million (US$47 million) based on it to set up a company in Rotherham where they disguised it by calling it Xeros, just to confuse it with a photocopying machine.

But tanners, old or young, soon know when they are hearing something significant. One of their team had made a journey to the University of Northampton to enquire about leather and now at the Institute for Creative Leather Technologies a team of two are busy warehousing a clutch of patents for machines and associated processes that just might stand our industry on its head.

The future of leather making, being developed at the University of Northampton

Yes, old tanners know all about putting rubber balls in dry drums to increase the action, long before those clever people at Erretre added a touch of proper science. But this is different. While using the balls in a dry washing machine to extract dirt, as we were told had now been adopted by many top hotels, this reverses the concept and uses balls of a different plastic to get chemicals into the leather. The water retained inside the leather after liming is largely used instead of a traditional float.

The outcomes: fewer chemicals, less energy, less time and almost no effluent. The areas being developed are tanning, retanning and dyeing. We did not see any leather but the videos and the explanations all sounded plausible. A tiny somnolent audience were not just awakened but became excited and agitated. Questions were thrown about for nearly as long as the talks and videos; all were thoroughly answered.

Perhaps the audience thought we had just seen the future of leather making. Invented in Leeds, developed at the University of Northampton.

Mike Redwood

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