ILM Contributor

When we began to establish Leather Naturally, we tried to engage designers to support leather as a material. There were many great believers in leather but few willing to speak out publicly.

We were told that the design industry recognised Stella McCartney as a fanatic, but they were not willing to engage despite her talking nonsense about leather in her highly publicised videos. Others refused to help because they worried about the confusing messages coming from the leather industry itself. There was too much greenwash coming with terms such as “organic”, “chrome-free”, “metal free” and “low carbon” being promoted here, there and everywhere; mostly totally void of definitions and scientific evidence.

This was understandable as it coincided with a time, now thankfully over, when the leather industry was arguing that, as a rare and limited commodity, leather would be harmed from promotion since it would create demand that could not be satisfied. It is hard to credit the many years we listened to those arguments.

The new Leather Truthfully campaign

So, it was a revelation to listen to designers and leather product makers Anya Hindmarch and Bill Amberg as they talked about the new Leather Truthfully campaign, its mission to explode myths about the industry and leather’s role in a sustainable economy on Monocle earlier in July. This is an exceptional discussion, and so much more credible than a tanner or leather trade association chief doing the interview.

And this is not the only case of the industry engaging with designers right now. The Leather and Hide Council of America (LHCA) has involved several top designers around the world to help with the judging in the Real Leather. Stay Different design competition, adding a new level of excitement to this programme.

Even bigger than these is the achievement which Ecco has made in building a creative “community” through its Hot-Shop concept with large numbers of designers. The company has recently promoted its Hot-Shop 15 event with a six-minute video on social media, in which it is noted that there are now 2,000 “alumni” of these events working around the world.

Leather does not have any limits

As one unnamed attendee said, “from day one everyone is taking your hand and leading you from one surprise to another”, ending the video with the comment: “We are invited here to be creative without limits. I guess the only limit is leather… but leather does not appear to have any limits here.”

What more can the leather industry wish for than to have young designers and creatives viewing leather in this way? An outstanding material environmentally with the capacity to keep redefining itself that is only limited by the imagination of those working with it. While most articles have to be functional, we know they are used beyond functionality, conveying elements of identity and expressing social values.

A creative approach to leather not only benefits the industry’s ability to be understood by the consumer but to continue to produce new articles that meaningfully reflect the shifting nature of personal identity. And, since great leathers wear in rather than wearing out like alternatives, the patina developed over time often allows articles to evolve in accordance with people’s perceptions of their own status, context and circumstances, as was shown in the research by Anca Roberts back in 2008. That is why nearly every consumer has one or more treasured leather items, which carry memories and history.

Working with great creatives helps us think about leather in more creative ways, just as much as it helps the industry explain the true facts about the societal benefits of leather to consumers and other interested parties. And, if we are to achieve a truly circular economy, leather designers must understand it to the full, and design articles with maintenance, repair and end of life in mind.  

Mike Redwood

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on Twitter: @michaelredwood

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