We cannot control the media, but we can control the message

Worldwide
Published:  06 July, 2020
Picture: The Climate Reality Project

Despite what are arguably more pressing problems that the world is facing right now due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, the attacks on leather and the wider industry are not letting up, with certain lobby and interest groups continuing their slander of our sector, processes and products.

The latest ‘victim’ are producers of extracts for veg tanned leather, with a badly researched and misleading press release being circulated among international media outlets that claims that “veg-tanned leather could cause devastating environmental effects and lead to future pandemics” and that it is “not safer or as eco-friendly” as implied (read more about it here). Naturally, there has been collective anger and frustration from the industry over this article, which is perpetuating the negative image of all leather, not just the veg-tanned variety.

While it is imperative that we call out these false claims, inaccuracies and lies and challenge the damaging narrative, I feel it is even more important to enter into a constructive dialogue with media to arm journalists with the resources that will enable them to differentiate propaganda from truth and report in a balanced way. We advocate transparency throughout our processes and supply chains, and we must offer the same transparency when it comes to communicating about our industry and how it operates, even the uncomfortable issues that the sector is working so hard to tackle. We must not forget that for people outside of our industry leather making seems complex and intangible, opaque even, and the more open we are in our external communications, the better.

Obviously, Leather Naturally is doing a great job on this front, and indeed, its chairman, Egbert Dikkers responded to the author of the above mentioned press release with a very measured reply, offering LN’s pool of information and making its experts available for questions and clarifications. Moreover, he actually received an apology from the author in question – a big achievement, as this is so rare, which I’m sure had something to do with the dignified approach of LN rather than aggressive counter-attack. I do not feel, however, we should be scared of inviting debate, head on rather than in defence.

In early July, I had the pleasure of being invited to an exclusive media masterclass via Zoom, organised by luxury fashion group Kering, which aimed to “take a sharp look into one of the fashion industry’s most important, yet also difficult sustainability issues: Biodiversity.” The hour-long meeting featured a high-profile panel of speakers - including Kering’s Chief Sustainability Officer Marie-Claire Daveu, as well as representatives from Conservation International, Global Fashion Agenda and sustainability advocacy organisation Red Carpet Green Dress – and highlighted the biggest challenges the fashion industry is facing in terms of preserving biodiversity and diminishing the impact on eco-systems around the world from sourcing and manufacturing. Journalists were presented with key information and were given the chance to question the expert panel on the topic and to tap into their expertise, while also having a constructive exchange of viewpoints which were addressed by the panel. As press briefings go – and I have attended many over the years – this was a very effective way of communicating and steering the conversation. After all, it was no coincidence that the briefing coincided with the launch of Kering’s Biodiversity Strategy. But rather than the Group passively feeding journalists information, it invited critical discourse and promoted a wider understanding of the issues.

I cannot help but feel that this could be a good way for the leather industry to take more charge of its narrative, too. Initiatives such as Leather Naturally, One4Leather, or indeed Industry Associations on national and regional levels could organise similar press briefings or media masterclasses which proactively present the leather industry’s positive efforts on sustainability, environmental processes, auditing, animal welfare and indeed the natural credentials of the materials itself and drive meaningful dialogue, as well as giving journalists the tools to differentiate between fake claims and facts and ultimately making them more accountable - before articles are written and the damage is done. While we cannot control the media and ultimately their output, we can control our message and the way we deliver it, and it has to be proactive and positive. Is not the best form of retaliation, education?

Isabella Griffiths, Editor

isabella@edifydigitalmedia.com