Katie Kutskill

Technical Director

Sustainable Leather Foundation

There are six screens within an arm’s reach. All in one room. A laptop, extended display, television, digital photo frame, work phone and personal phone. Scratch that, seven. Almost forgot the smart watch. It is a beautiful thing to be so connected to our world, our families, our friends, but how does the mass of information at our fingertips affect our attention spans, focus, intellect or our values? These questions have all begun to flood modern day psychology and sociology research, and yet we are still the living subjects of this ongoing experiment every day: how is the Information Age affecting us?

We can all feel it but struggle to find words that describe its impact on our lives. Burnt out from taking night-time work calls, managing what children have access to, needing to rely on apps to buy groceries, schedule our lives, chat with global friends and so much more. The ease of use of the Information Age allows us to do more with less and, while this has characteristically improved our lives, we can see this same thread of truth in the products we buy.

Buy more, pay less has become the norm

Do more, use less. Complete more tasks, using less time. Manufacture more products, using less resources. Purchase more items, using less money. This is the only world we have ever known, a world where we are continuously striving to improve, but improvement relies upon measuring the tangible aspects of our lives, leaving behind much of the nuanced, personal attributes that we cherish.

Can we see this phenomenon occurring throughout our lives? Frozen meals and fast food taking a front seat to a homecooked meal, opting to skip the book and watch the television remake instead, getting a quick walk on a treadmill rather than spending time in nature. These options are the beauty of our era but, in each of these decisions, we are choosing our values. This point is not to shame, but rather to help us see how we wish to connect with our world and ourselves.

It is in this same pattern that we can draw parallels to the pains we are experiencing in the leather industry. For some, the push to go vegan is purely about animal rights, but those in marketing know that vegan is a fantastic sell for the lower cost, synthetic option. Buy “more”, pay less. Are we as an industry truly fighting a major shift in animal welfare awareness? I largely think not. Rather, we are battling generations of people that are shifting in values, with the influx of incomplete information.

We don’t have a metric yet to place a value on the craftsmanship and artisanship that goes into a handcrafted leather product. Nor a measurement to show the passion, experience and history that goes into one of the oldest known trades in our world. We don’t have an easy way to teach younger generations that the delayed gratification of investing in a handmade, lifelong leather product will bring lasting satisfaction over the two-day delivery, one-season throwaway.

However, it is in this sacred space of non-measurable value that we can begin to find solutions. Solutions to reimagine our values, adjust them where necessary to blend the old with the new. Solutions to find ways to teach each other about how products such as leather celebrate us as humans, evolving and sharing our culture worldwide. We can do this by engaging in conversations with our co-workers, family members and friends to talk about the values that lie in between those which are measured by our Information Age.

A personal connection

If we first connect with ourselves and ask: “Why do I cherish the leather belt my grandmother passed down to my mother, and then to me?”, we understand what we feel – and if we understand what we feel, we can then sell our product on more than its stunning performance; we can sell it on how it connects us with our past, present and future. How leather products showcase an industry built on a trade that stretches across every region of the world.

We must begin to talk about the generations of tanners and leatherworkers and share their stories with young generations just beginning to dream of what they want to be when they grow up. Begin a cross-corporation pen pal or mentor program for young people choosing a career path. Utilise existing organisations and companies to offer scholarships and introductory courses for highschoolers to try out leather before they attend university.

We have these connections in our industry, we have the passion, we have the story – it is up to us to connect with ourselves and ask ourselves “why leather” and then boldly share it to those up-and-coming generations. Our history speaks for itself and, if we only focus on the tangible metrics, we are in essence stuck forever on the treadmill, never making our way back out into nature.

This is how we can keep leather alive in the Information Age. This is how we can use the Information Age to instil the value of craftsmanship for generations to come.