The much needed promotional and educational booklet on leather

Redwood comment
Published:  20 April, 2022
Credit: Kira auf der Heide

Two weeks ago, the UK based Leather Conservation Centre held its first three-day residential course for conservators since December 2019. It was a big moment as this normally annual course attracts conservators from Museums all round the world. 

It is not surprising. Leather is a versatile and long-lasting material which has been an essential element in helping society advance from its very foundation when it was the first “sheet material” available for covering and carrying.  Consequently, almost all historical museums have lots of items that are made in leather, at least in large part.

Along with material on the history of leather, methods of manufacture and the chemistry involved, attendees were sent in advance a pdf digital copy of the Guide to Modern Leather Making scroll down to the bottom of the page and fill in the form; the guide is free to download and in a number of languages).

Filling the education gap

All through the twentieth century leather organisations in the larger leather producing countries published promotional booklets to explain and promote leather to different groups in society, from schoolchildren upwards. As the industry changed its structure from the 1970s onwards this all stopped so that careers councillors, retail staff trainers, teachers and endless other groups have had little or no material to hand out to explain about leather and its production.

This has been a problem. The challenges faced by leather have increased and the issues raised are contentious and often inaccurate, sometimes deliberately so. It is therefore good to have the Guide to Modern Leather Making to fill this huge gap. It is readable, thorough, scrupulously adherent to the true science, as well as being entertaining. 

Some say that the industry’s battle for more cooperation and cohesion is about a desire for centralised control in some way. That can be easily rejected. The leather industries in Brazil, France and Italy are clearly distinct before even looking at countries such as Ethiopia, India and China among so many more. The rare oak bark tanners and shell cordovan producers are quite unlike the enormous side leather tanners producing footwear upper leathers for major brands, while automotive leather companies live in an entirely different world of tightly controlled specifications and relationships. We celebrate this huge diversity.

No centralisation

The leather industry should not be centralised but it should coordinate better and unite more to create funding levels better able to match its formidably rich supporters. Equally while all organisations need to be creative in their own way all their messaging needs to be transparent and honest. Time has passed when greenwashing, relentless nostalgia and anger can form the basis for marketing leather. In that regard the Guide to Modern Leather Making is a tool that can be deployed in almost every scenario around the world to kick off the conversation leather is still one of the most versatile and long-lasting materials available.

I believe and hope that all attendees on the Leather Conservation course found value in their studies and left with a better appreciation of leather. With its charitable commitment to research and education as well as leading skills in conservation of all things leather the Leather Conservation Centre plays a big role in supporting the wider leather industry. Certainly, the digital booklet helps in this work. 

I also know that in reading it consumers will learn that leather is one of the most sustainable materials, and one whose performance, character and beauty makes it a delight to own and look after: just like so many of the remarkable items that fill our museums. 

Mike Redwood

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on Twitter: @michaelredwood

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