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.


A final concern has risen throughout the last six months and that leads into more than half of the issues that tanners are worried about damaging the leather industry. Animal welfare, supply chain transparency, anti-meat campaigns and the rise of vegetarianism should be playing a lesser role for tanners than before. Determined action, including specific work with the EU, has provided clear evidence of the by-product, or near waste product, nature of leather’s raw material. We need to get on promoting leather.

What is more, the work from Oxford University and UC Davis has provided first class scientific evidence on methane and how livestock need to be viewed as a benefit to society rather than a climate liability. Add to that the clarity with which the EAT Lancet report from 2019 was repulsed and discredited, the meat and livestock sector should be busy with a worldwide campaign to build its reputation and fight off the pressure groups. It should not be left to parts of the leather trade and a few determined academics.

Instead, the worldwide meat industry, be it beef, chicken or pork, continues to hit the headlines with temporary closures and resets. Be they from Germany, the UK (where another chicken plant has been closed in the last few days), the U.S. or elsewhere, the reports have all followed very similar patterns. It looks like this would be best countered by making changes in the plants rather than defending the status quo. Some of these companies own outstanding wet-blue or full tannery operations; we know they have the skill and the finance to make the changes.

It is clear that to turn the hopes of a recovery in either one or two years towards more stable working we have, as an industry, to show a more united and strongly positive attitude and turn our minds to fighting for the future of leather. Among all the misery around the world, leather does have the wonderful stories that consumers need to hear. We must have the space, the tools and the determination to tell them.

Dr Mike Redwood

August 18, 2020

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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