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If there is ever a time to change the narrative about leather it is now. Throughout the 20th century, leather was something that tanners produced and sales staff sold.
As marketing evolved into a studied and taught subject, increasingly utilised in business, the leather trade decided it was not for it, despite the remonstrations of Guy Reaks at the ICT (International Council of Tanners’).
Historically, the leather industry had not been bad at marketing from quickly developing specialist leathers for the industrial revolution – from textile roller leathers to gas meter leathers – and branded items like Daisy Kid in 1880, specially designed to meet the need for lighter weight ladies city footwear in the U.S.. Somewhere along the way though, we lost the plot.
Yet as we moved from the 20th century, our industry remained decidedly complacent. Make good leather and it would sell itself, and for the lower grades it was merely a matter of price. Marketing would raise the cost of raw material rather than finished leather. It felt like a risky approach for a world changing so rapidly and it was to prove so.
Today, matters are quite different. Order books and future prospects demonstrate the damage that this inactivity has done. Instead of saying that we should not “take on” those who attack leather the industry has started to fight back. The industry has combined to start a new programme of communication with a digital campaign targeting Gen-Z and Millennials. It is not before time.
An industry defined by outside sources
At an intensely useful dinner event I was invited to the night before the APLF Fair in Hong Kong, I found myself listening to a senior executive from the textile trade quietly commenting that “the leather industry has allowed itself to be defined by outside sources”.
This simple statement sums up the result of decades of inaction and assumption about the unassailability of leather. We have handed our narrative to others and have been so late to realise it that we are already feeling the pain. Hides and skins being thrown away, the clothing industry clearly in difficulty, the footwear industry disrupted and even the medium term future of the automobile sector looking shaky.
The new digital campaign aims to promote the use of responsibly made leather, seeking to inspire and inform designers, and consumers about its beauty, high quality, and versatility. Yet our industry needs to recognise this is a long continuing process that we are all involved in, not something that gets solved in one press release or by merely delegating. We must all become involved in promoting the fine characteristics of leather and the immense contemporary value it offers in everyday life, picking the language of the programme and reinforcing it in every way possible.
Dr Mike Redwood
March 27, 2019.
Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood
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