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I was reading a recent article by Esha Chhabra in Forbes magazine about an Australian leather handbag company. It was one of those initially annoying articles where a clever bit of PR is dressed up as something new, promoting this particular range of handbags as ethical because the production is small and the tannery has an effluent plant.
That said, the article was well written and solicited a sharp response from the business owner when so called “vegan leather” was mentioned: "marketing of products as “vegan leather” and claiming it to be a more environmentally friendly option is misleading”, she said. “For one, it’s not leather and two, it’s a petroleum product which has the same, if not greater, environmental impact as the tanning process for leather".
Despite my concerns, the approach to both sourcing the leather and the bag manufacture is straightforward and to be commended. We need more start up businesses like this. What really made one sit up when reading the article was a later comment about our industry:
"It’s such a male-dominated industry perpetuating chauvinist attitudes! Workers at workshops I’ve seen and worked with are 95% male, and some employ no women at all. Tannery owners are almost always male. In fact I’ve never met a female tannery owner."
To read this in 2015 is pretty shocking. I've had the opportunity to work with some top female executives but I have to accept that I only know one lady who owns and runs tanneries out of all the hundreds of tannery owners I know and have met over the years.
It is recognised that a Board of Directors with female members generally works better than male-exclusive ones. This has certainly been my experience. So although more and more women are entering the leather and leather using industries, we do need to deeply reflect if we are doing enough to get them into senior tannery management roles. It does us no good in today's world to be an industry described as "blokey" (mainstream male culture) or even "disdainful" of women when we so clearly would benefit from their skills.
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