Things tanners need to do to make great leather

Redwood Comment
Published:  29 January, 2020
Dr Mike Redwood

 1.   Make it properly and don’t cut corners with cheap chemicals and badly maintained machinery. Hides and skins may be renewable - up to a point - but they are a costly, valuable resource. 

2. As a tanner, the environment is your responsibility, not your government’s, UNIDO’s or anyone else’s whose name comes to mind. A good tannery treats the environment properly and has complete waste treatment and solid waste disposal. No sneaking partially treated wastewater into a river in the night. If in doubt, read ‘Cradle to Cradle’.

3. Don’t view every scratch and damage as something that needs to be covered in paint, so it looks like plastic. Be creative and innovative. Remember two things: Leather is natural and consumers understand that, even if some brands and retailers do not. Also, Santa Croce in Italy made its big profits in the twentieth century by making top class leathers from what were considered low grades of raw material.

4. Don’t sell your leather as a commodity or let the raw material that passes through your tannery be downgraded to just another material. All materials tend to slide towards commodity pricing over time, but when it happens to leather, it’s our fault. Think about what you are selling and its place in the market. In some sectors, such as furniture, leather has been over distributed and is losing its value and image with consumers.

5. Don’t greenwash. Making claims about leather from an environmental point of view must be done with care. Involve your technical staff and be truthful. Is your "chrome free” leather really chrome free? Have you used dyes containing chrome or drums with chromium residues? And are you sure your process is better anyway. Most claims for "organic leather” involve leather that has been treated with lime, sulphide and all sorts of other inorganic material. You are doing the industry a big disfavour if you are being careless with your terminology.

6. Work with the designers and engineers at your customers so that they understand leather as a material and how to use it. With knowledge they will design products that better accommodate the natural characteristics of your leather but still meet the consumers’ expectations. It will also help you decide how to develop new leathers and commercialise the full range of grades.

7. Help your customers educate brands, retailers and consumers. Your material deserves it, and you will see the benefit.

8. Understand that customer expectations change over time. The consumer group buying a lot of leather products today is moving to the emerging nations, especially the East, getting younger, more urban and they consume media differently than any group before.

9. Join Leather Naturally

As it happened, all of this was written in May 2012, and published then on the APLF, Hong Kong Leather Fair website. It has stood the test of time, since although you might change the language and a little detail, today it essentially stands. You may say we are boring, but you must also agree we are consistent.

It is worth adding that today the reality of our social responsibility makes it very clear that we must pay great attention to the working environment and the fair treatment of our workers, none of whom can be under-age. So, deciding what we really mean by responsibly made leather is an issue, as the points above make it clear for leather to be ‘sustainable’ by any definition, there are some unwritten rules.

Finally, the predicament in which the leather industry finds itself today, making some raw material not so very valuable, requires a whole new communication platform to meet the modern consumer who is definitely ‘younger, more urban and… consumes media differently than any group before’, which is exactly why we need the Metcha global campaign to lead the more standard supply chain educational material. So the tenth point, which is essential today, is to not only join Leather Naturally, but to support the continuation of the Metcha campaign and recapture the spirit of leather in the minds of the younger consumers.

An old fashioned campaign suited to the media expectations of the over 50s is not what is required. Indeed, misunderstanding this is exactly the issue that has started to confound so many politicians worldwide, who have grown up in a bubble of historic communications and think that adding on a few Tweets is all they need. The leather industry position is deeply competitive, and our competitors have momentum, so we need to be united and professional. In that regard, I commend the words of the incoming president of the IULTCS that “now is the time to leave egos aside and have all the leather related organisations working together”. Hopefully, the many leaders who lined up to congratulate Luis Zugno when he published this on LinkedIn and elsewhere are seriously reflecting his words.


Mike Redwood
January 29, 2020

mike@internationalleathermaker.com
Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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