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With attacks coming thick and fast against the leather industry from all sides, the quiet complacency which characterised the leather industry five years ago has now gone and is being replaced by an increasing outcry that was clearly visible at the recent World Leather Congress in Shanghai on August 29.
The heightened visibility of the more aggressive synthetic competitors at our major trade leather trade shows has also been noticeable and given the realities of a competitive, commercial world will not be reversed any time soon. We will certainly see synthetic companies promoting synthetics as supposedly “sustainable” despite their petrochemical origins at Lineapelle in the next few weeks.
Rather than complaining we need to do more proclaiming, to push that point that leather is the best material for so many end uses in performance and sustainability. Over the last five years we have rehearsed all the arguments and they are freely available on the Leather Naturally website. Increasing use of our new logo on trade stands, notepaper, hang tags and the like will spread the word and support what might hopefully become a coordinated approach by the industry. For conflicted buyers of leather the clarity of a wall of Leather Naturally supporters would be significant.
The Leather Law 4.888/65
On the defensive side, we should note the important role of our national organisations. A great example is the CICB in Brazil. Back in 1965 Brazil passed a Bill that became known as The Leather Law (Lei do Couro). This was an early consumer protection move to stop buyers being deliberately confused. It stopped the use of terms like “synthetic leather” or “eco leather”. Only goods made from animal skins can be named leather according to Law 4.888/65, which perfectly equates with the most quoted standard definition for leather which says it must come from an essentially intact hide or skin of an animal.
In Brazil, even terms like “authentic leather” and “veg leather” are classed illegal alongside “PU leather”, “faux leather” and “artificial leather”. These terms will end up with a sizeable fine, or at worst a year in jail, for those who persist in using them in newspapers and magazines, advertisements or on retail goods in stores, fairs or any other communicating media, both for final products and raw materials.
The good thing is that the CICB, as the national association for tanners, have turned enforcing this law into a major project. In just a few years they have reported more than 12,000 violations after visiting nearly 120,000 establishments, finding that from the smallest bag maker to the biggest car company, when challenged, they prefer to change their vocabulary rather than risk prosecution.
On its website, the CICB helps consumers to identify leather articles, explain the legislation and where and how to report any miscommunication they discover.
This approach is excellent. In many countries around the world, the term leather is similarly protected, to varying degrees, and in others it is effectively protected by trades description legislation. The problem has often been an unwillingness to play a role in enforcement or to push against corruption; but just having legal protection without enforcement is no good. In Brazil, we have an excellent example, and Germany is another.
We are not saying all these competitive materials are bad, but we are saying they cannot be allowed to pretend they are leather and, by doing so, damage the reputation of leather in the consumer’s mind.
Dr Mike Redwood
21st September 2017
Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood
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