Redwood Comment
Published:  20 August, 2020
Dr Mike Redwood

Conversations regarding the ongoing, and apparently never-ending pandemic, are dominated by the desire to “return to normal”. Like nearly all the terms in common use related to leather no one sees any need whatsoever to define what “normal” might mean. Definitions are a matter of what fits the moment.

For the tanning industry hopes were for “rebounding” and preferably a rapid V shape rebound; but as time has passed the complex nature of this virus has become clearer, and it continues to linger even in countries where its successful management had received high praise.

For the consumer, uncertainty has started to dominate. With unemployment greatly increased in almost every part of the world, pushing large numbers suddenly back into poverty, many consumers are clearly very nervous about spending. With the mainstream press relishing uncovering tales of misery, which are all too easy to find, and the alternative sources of information increasingly occupied by conspiracy little is happening to inspire confidence.

According to the recently published ‘ILM Tanner Business Confidence Survey 2020’, tanners are feeling this uncertainty. Many tanneries around the world re-opened hoping for a fast return to prior production levels but, as soon as a few in hand orders were completed, new orders were absent. Stores had been closed with sales hugely impacted. Huge quantities of spring summer 2020 items were in stock occupying the cash and space needed to move forward.

So when tanners say that one to two years will be needed to recover, it is probably a mix of both hope and uncertainty. No one really knows, and as the report indicates, the global economic situation and increasing trade barriers have only made matters worse. What are consumers to make of the upcoming U.S. election, the growing number of world leaders being in denial about the virus or incompetent in its management and doing unpredictable things to deflect attention?

A bundle of severe market issues creating headwinds

But a few things come across clearly from the ILM study, which is very well worth a read, and one is that there are now quite a bundle of severe market issues creating headwinds for the sale of leather. They are hard to separate and prioritise and many tanners think they need facing as a group; a difficult task. Thankfully, a huge proportion have now grasped the leadership role of Leather Naturally in the consumer communication area, and hopefully that means they understand that balance between careful education of all parties, including groups like the press and designers, in the truth about leather as a sustainable material and getting to the new younger consumers through more innovative tools like

All this is counterbalanced by a couple of areas that must cause concern. One is that instead of accelerating IT expenditure to fit one change that has certainly resulted from the pandemic, we appear to be backing away from it. It is difficult to read that there is a “distinct lack of e-commerce presence in the industry”, and that “e-commerce is still an area many tanners seem to shun” when the role of the Internet has increased so much in work, communications and retail.