No greater achievement than a few well publicised prosecutions

Redwood Comment
Published:  03 June, 2020
Dr Mike Redwood

The Italian Leather federation (UNIC) announced late last week that after a long battle, it had been successful in persuading the Italian Government to adopt a legal definition for leather that will stop the term “leather” being used for anything not of animal origin.

While over the years I have learned to have an intense dislike for lobbying, so often signifying little more than the abusive use of cash to support things which are inappropriate, at variance with science, or intended to slow useful change, one has to agree that this was a battle worthy of engaging and where congratulations are due for the success achieved.

The fact that we have reached 2020 with so many ridiculous terms being attached to leather – synthetic, vegan, mushroom, wine, faux – feels quite absurd. To be able to ship people and objects out into low earth orbits at less than $2700 a kg, using equipment that is about 80% reusable, while we are still trying to pretend that objects made out of fossil fuels are the same as the complex and beautiful protein networks built up in nature is utterly incongruous, and a shameful abuse to the intelligence of consumers.

Hopefully, this will spread elsewhere in Europe and around the world. The tanners’ assembly in Portugal last year gave us hope that new moves would be initiated in the EU as a whole, as it looks like individual countries have limited powers as the EU is only as good as its weakest member. Will this law successfully stop the mass of “synthetic leather” exhibitors we have got used to seeing at trade fairs? Let us hope so. With luck it might also help us with some of the hybrid types, like e-leather, which make good use of tannery materials but appear willing to allow claims to be made which do not match the reality, and certainly damage leather’s consumer image.

A few years ago, we were often told there was no problem here as all the leather we could obtain from hides and skins was made and sold. Then we were told that it was too difficult to get the laws changed, or that it would be impossible to enforce them.

Yet, we have seen the law made a few decades ago in Brazil being successfully enforced and gaining great publicity for leather while doing so. We have seen in the U.S. and the EU court cases where consumer legislation has been strong enough to fight advertising both ‘bonded’ and ‘synthetic’ leather as the real thing.

Let us congratulate and celebrate this action by Italy
So let us congratulate and celebrate this action by Italy, and let us push other trade associations to get into action on the same topic. Let us compete with other materials on a level playing field, not with them stealing our clothes by pretending they are the same thing, or leaving the consumers scratching their heads about what they are. Let the competitors find legitimate ways to describe what they are. Sorting out these major aspects of the leather trade allows us to focus our marketing and communications on the positives of leather, which is long overdue.

This brings us to a second point. There is no value getting here without enforcement. UNIC will require to put in place the resources to enforce this law so that every competitor knows that transgression will not be tolerated. There will be no greater achievement than a few well publicised prosecutions.

Mike Redwood
June 3, 2020

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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