While we have been waiting, and battling, for action, the consumer world has moved on. Not once, or even twice, but exponentially. Our consumers have shifted rapidly through two generations which would be complicated enough, but they have also grown up in an era of entirely different communications. As we struggle to work with Facebook and tread ever so gently onto Twitter, they are already departing Instagram for TikTok and WeChat; which makes another point – these new consumers are predominantly from different continents and from generations recently pulled out of poverty.

So, if you are older, or old in mind, do not expect to fully understand this communication or innovation. It is quite likely to be largely incomprehensible as our new key consumer groups live in an entirely different environment than any we have seen before. At ACLE and Lineapelle we began to see some evidence that this is getting through.

Innovation Square in Milan showed how leather is going to have to find both dramatic and elegant ways to integrate itself with new technologies and cannot survive solely on the manufacture of beautiful traditional items in the assumption they will sell themselves. We still make wonderful saddlery leather as we did 100 years ago, but without the saddles being made, there are only so many bags and belts suited to take the same item.

Some of our top tanneries have already grasped this and have adapted well, but, given the closer relationship between tanneries and customers that has arisen from industry consolidation, it is less obvious to the industry at large. Yet, if this thinking can start to get embedded in the industry, then we can say leather has moved on.

As we steadily evolve our leather to keep it relevant for a changing world, we have a task to bring lost consumers back to these new products. There is a lot of evidence that the silent assumption that what leathers we make can be sold no longer works.

Leather Naturally having an impact
The growth in the middle-class consumers of the future will be in Asia and Africa more than Europe and the USA, and we need to communicate with different tools. To see this starting with metcha.com is vital for us to prosper, and a learning process for us all in recognising where our future income will come from.

Certainly, to work with some designers, brands and retailers, more conventional materials will be used, but getting the elements even for this by stepping back from the front lines is better than nudging forward with baby steps while competitive materials have been making the running for the last decade.

This is one moment in time when certain generations need to recognize that if they understand it all, it is probably wrong. The fact that we are seeing communications and innovations that are hard to comprehend is probably the best sign that we are at last on the right track.

It is time to support and believe these new directions in innovation and communication, knowing that we are indeed on the right track.

Mike Redwood
October 8, 2019

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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