Hoping for a less turbulent year

Sam Setter
Published:  04 January, 2022
Credit: Clay Banks

Sam Setter looks back at some key moments that finished up 2021 for the leather industry and ponders what we have in store for the year ahead.

We just wrapped up 2021, a year of ups and downs. At the beginning, everything seemed to be lost, until things began to pick back up mid-year only to fall back into depression at the end thanks to the Omicron variant.

The question is what will happen in 2022, for which I send my very best wishes for health and prosperity to all of you. It is my wish that 2022 will be partly a repeat of 2021, where in the beginning the industry and people will face problems, which dissipate during the first month creating opportunities after the first quarter and that, with vaccinations reaching the highest possible levels, there will be no fallback like in the fourth quarter of 2021.

COP26

There is no way that I wouldn’t take a shot at COP26 where many had a lot to say, some of them total nonsense, and where we had unfortunately no audience at all. Just to give a quick brief example: Prince Charles mentioned that leather, if sustainably produced, would be the ideal material. We highlighted these comments on all leather related media, but newspapers gave it little or no prominence. Stella McCartney on the contrary was quoted in all newspapers as she said that leather should be officially banned.

People appear willing to listen only to nonsense and accept lies over proof. COP26 didn’t give the leather industry even a minimum chance in spite of the fact that the LHCA, ICT and Leather Naturally, backed by several leather industry associations, had prepared the submission of a very reasonable and objective manifesto to COP26.

The manifesto wasn’t introduced into the official agenda nor mentioned anywhere during the event. In short, our industry was totally ignored. Stella McCartney instead was very much standing in the limelight. Our honesty is totally overshadowed by the bias that is being launched by the anti-leather lobby. Meanwhile, little importance was given to the contradiction of more than 400 private jets flying into Glasgow carrying people who fancy that they are engaged in improving the environment and who all warn against the GHG that is produced.

EU President Ursula Von Der Leyden, just to name one, in her words at the COP26 a “staunch defender of the environment”, regularly flies short hops of even just 100 miles in a European taxpayer paid private jet.

Lineapelle

Contrary to what I thought beforehand, Lineapelle last September was a success, limited of course by the circumstances of the pandemic, but nevertheless a success. There were far more visitors than expected and those that visited did so with a purpose.

Unfortunately, the opposite is true for the All African Leather Fair, which the organisers herald as “Africa’s biggest and most important international exhibition and conference dedicated to leather, accessories, components, synthetics and models for footwear, leather goods, automotive and furniture”.

The fair was held from December 3-6 and I counted less than 10 tanneries exhibiting at the fair which seems, Covid or not, to become smaller and smaller with a lukewarm participation from the local industry. One also wonders how a leather fair can also promote synthetics, particularly in these very difficult times for the leather industry, where greenwashing of plastic alternatives is accepted and nobody listens to the arguments of the circular and sustainable performance of leather as a raw material for shoes, garments and upholstery.

Surprisingly the event did not demand proof of vaccination or negative PCR tests to enter the venue, so one entered at their own risk as the temperature check guarantees nothing in terms of health safety. This coming March, we will be able to take the temperature of the industry again in Dubai where the next APLF show will be held. The move to Dubai from Hong Kong seems to have found significant approval from the industry in general. Who knows, it might even last!

I don’t know about you, but I have invitations for an average of three to four seminars per week and, frankly speaking, this is becoming more of a burden than an opportunity to learn something. Most seminars are about sustainability and deforestation, where the undertone remains an accusatory note against our industry rather than a solution provider.

The Textile Exchange seminar mid-December was a clear example of accusations against the leather industry by people outside our industry and one wonders why they don’t clean their own house before looking at others. Maybe the focus on the leather industry is a way to distract people from issues in the textile industry. The seminar listed hides and skins as a co-product of the meat industry and, when someone protested against this ridiculous assumption, the question was summarily dealt with by one of the panel members answering “waste-product, by-product, co-product, whatever”. That is, in my view, totally unacceptable!

Mineral water from Fiji

Sustainability is now the biggest and most misused slogan around. In one of my presentations, I mentioned that transporting mineral water from Fiji to the United States, or Danish butter to South Africa is environmentally totally unsustainable. The carbon footprint for the transport of a litre of water or kilo of butter is enormous and totally unnecessarily.

We have similar situations in the leather industry, where tanneries import raw materials and/or semi-tanned leather from other continents, which has happened for decades, but previously has not formed part of an auditing exercise. In some parts of the world, tanneries or manufacturers wouldn’t have a chance to become LWG audited and certified with a Gold, Silver or Bronze medal because the local environmental situation is not compliant with LWG established standards.

However, if the tannery or manufacturer buys leather that can be traced back, according to the LWG protocol, to a sustainable source at whatever distance that may be, the tannery can be audited and obtain the LWG certification.

So, when we talk about the carbon footprint and the LCA of leather, then we should include the transport factor so as not to give any major importers an edge over local producers, where the local producers might be “punished” for bad environmental practices in the country. Most reputable raw material or part processed leather importers will of course include transportation in any company LCA and one company in the industry using a cradle-to-gate approach has calculated this to equate to around 13% of total emissions against transport using tanned materials (excluding raw materials). Most LCA’s will factor in transport in the future which will hopefully make it fairer and more transparent

And with that, let’s open the doors for 2022 and see what it has in stock for us. Happy New Year!

Sam Setter

samsetter2020@gmail.com

This article was corrected on 07/01/2022 to amend inaccuracies around transportation factors in LCA.