Is the global malaise pushing us all into a rut? We spent years talking about the speed of change and searching the horizons for disruptive change that would revolutionise our marketplace. With new synthetics, the accelerating environmental agenda, changing generations and ageing societies, the global economic centre of gravity shifting eastwards and the massive increase in the dominance of urbanisation, it has been a busy century so far.

But all that has been made to seem mundane by the totally unexpected events of the past three years, loaded with complexity and uncertainty. Everything is now in so much flux that consumers everywhere are confused for all sorts of reasons.

In many poorer countries, millions have slipped back into poverty and are threatened by hunger, and even in quite large parts of Europe, despite being in work, many people are finding rising daily costs impossible to live with. Yet, in much of Europe and the U.S., there is a shortage of people applying for jobs so, in some sectors, wages should rise rapidly.

In China, as cities come out of lockdown for however brief a period, we are seeing signs of “revenge shopping”, splurging on luxuries mixed with a rush to the experiences consumers are totally deprived of while locked away.

Rising unemployment

Despite initially managing the pandemic well, China now looks quite a conflicted place. A lot of young graduates are struggling to find work and are disillusioned about the approach to dealing with Covid that offers no obvious exit. Urban unemployment for young people has jumped up sharply to 18% with the Bank of America suggesting this will soon rise to 22%. We are being told of new ideas circulating among Chinese youth such as “letting things rot” (bai lan) and even working out how to leave the country (runxue).

The world is in a muddle and getting ever more miserable. In the leather industry, it is no different. We are down in the trenches battling false science being spread about methane, meat eating, competitive materials and the chemistry of leather production. All vital areas in which we need to retain our attention.

Staying positive

But, amid all this misery and depression, we must retain our creative and positive attitude. With unpredictable spending, consumers need to be reminded of the value of buying leather. Longevity, value per use, repairability and utility are all valuable underpinnings for items made of leather, but we do need to be involved in producing innovative articles that will uplift communities around the world.

Promoting new leathers

Let us spend more time promoting our new leathers and the articles made from them. Let us build on the ability of leather to move with the times and find its place in the contemporary world as well as the classic one. Let us push the brightness, the beauty and the nature of leather much harder.

The fact it gets better with use, rather than wears out; the beauty of the patina of many leathers evolving over time and creating a unique personality for items that soon become treasured. That is why it is such an easy task to ask people about a leather item that means a lot to them, as products made of leather hold memories of adventures past and future possibilities.

We are told bomber jackets are back (hopefully not only in heavily pigmented black pigmented leathers, important as they are) – are we really seeing them? Some of the other new jacket styles are perfect for leather and suede, but why is it hard to find a leather chore coat? Equally a lightweight travel rucksack in leather seems to be a rare thing.

Leather helped shape society as we know it, provided warmth and comfort in homes with wall hangings, upholstery, bottles and drinking vessels, helped the transition from country to city with strong, lightweight kidskin leathers, made specialist leathers for equestrian times, and technical leathers for the industrial revolution; and it played a huge role in fashion and lifestyle. 

Now that times are difficult for everyone, we must make consumers smile, we need to offer a positive direction. Find a way to keep investing, keep developing new leathers and work with our customers to ensure we make the world a brighter place.

Mike Redwood

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on Twitter: @michaelredwood

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