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It was only last year that JBS introduced the concept of Scarface to the upholstery market. This offer was developed in order to give consumers the opportunity to buy furniture which includes natural characteristics such as healed scars and other features that were previously pigmented over as "defects".
About ten years ago, ECCO did something similar with their "unleash your inner Sherpa" campaign with Yak. This put heavily scarred yak leather into rugged walking and hiking footwear while celebrating the great tensile strength and other performance features which they argued would naturally come from a hide used to high altitudes and extreme conditions. It was a very successful programme that continues today, and which hugely raised ECCO's profile as an innovative leather maker.
Over the years we can look back at many solutions tanners have found to ensure that they can sell all selections that come from a purchase of hides and skins. Yet, with the continuous changes going on in product design, consumer preferences and end uses for leather it is a never ending task. Just yesterday a highly experienced tanner told me "you must not let people talk about rejects or lower grades. This is good leather that has just not yet found the right home".
For some the easy route is to downgrade difficult selections into commodity categories that are often indistinguishable to the consumer from plastic. And, in a few single system tanneries making pigmented leathers for the upholstery or steering wheel sectors, one senses that enthusiasm for simplicity means some really good hides end up downgraded.
Yet, to consistently find the right home for all selections is a never ending task and requires a complex mix of technical skill, marketing know-how and the customers' designer adjustment to make it all come together.
I keep repeating that we have Santa Croce in the 1970s to look back on, and I know that the passage of time probably means that I am viewing history through rose coloured spectacles, but they did somehow make wonderful bags and footwear in Tuscany from what we would today define as a less than perfect raw material. Using that clever combination of skills in the supply chain and creative technical thinking in the tannery.
We now believe that leather is one of the most sustainable materials - when well made with proper animal welfare, good processing and waste management - that generally offers outstanding CO2 free care and maintenance and exceptional longevity. With such a material, we should be striving to ensure that every hide and skin gets enhanced and no piece is unnecessarily downgraded. Here is an instance where helping the planet will increase the tanners margin. Just remember to view rejects as a design failure.
9th November 2016
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